Redefining Education Industry with Cloud Computing

By Michael Mundrane, CIO and Vice Provost, University of Connecticut

Michael Mundrane, CIO and Vice Provost, University of Connecticut

Cloud Computing—Nothing more than Outsourcing

On some level, cloud computing is nothing more than outsourcing with finer granularity and metered expense. When a cloud service meets our need, a cloud provider has stability, UConn is effectively small compared to the provider’s overall asset, and our specific use case is well aligned with their general business model, I have every expectation that our experience will be satisfying. Deviate from one or more of those qualities and I would project that UConn will be unhappy with the service. This perspective is broader than the evolution of contemporary services (often delivered as cloud based platform or software) which have new qualities that are attractive to my customers. I neither avoid cloud computing nor do I myopically pursue it. I assess available cloud options like I assess every other option and I select whatever provides the greatest practical value for the institution. In general, systems services and capabilities are chosen based on whichever approach represents the most advantageous ratio between realized benefits and actual costs and qualified by any associated foregone opportunity benefits.

"Contemporary resource constraints are the new norm and most universities are re-evaluating their past decisions from the perspective of maximizing their return on allocation"

Longitudinal Analysis of Data

Data as a strategic asset is a major element of the university IT Strategic plan. Recognizing its inherent value is, of course, much easier than unlocking it. If one procures products from a single vendor, they will often incur the cost of integration and reconciliation as part of their own internal development. Unfortunately, UConn is similar to many other large, complex institutions. Its data is locked up in a wide variety of systems with a family of locally developed and maintained integrations. The data is not difficult to access within the context of single systems. There are reports that validate transactional validity and most key systems have independent reporting instances where data is readily available. These systems and reporting capabilities all evolved for specific purposes. It is the longitudinal analysis of data—analysis that crosses systems and, hence, inherently crosses purposes that is challenging, but this is precisely where the creative value of data can best be found. UConn is pursuing this challenge from a fairly realistic perspective. We have defined a family of reporting products that span simple departmental access, business intelligence, and complex statistical analysis. We are carefully distinguishing transactional validation reporting from institutional analysis. We have begun a transition to a common, high performance underlying data infrastructure that will first improve reporting within existing administrative contexts and then longitudinally as we better normalize independent data marts and leverage progress to our data definitions. All major projects are pursued within a common oversight framework as the key data centric portions of the institution work together to meet their respective challenges.

Aim to Maximize Return on Allocation

Universities today are dealing with two very different drivers to change. The first broad category can really be termed efficiency. Historically, institutions were complex places with many different priorities and fundamentally distributed decision making. They sacrificed efficiency by allocating resources broadly but achieved fairly good alignment via this process. Contemporary resource constraints are the new norm and most universities are re-evaluating their past decisions from the perspective of maximizing their return on allocation. Alignment emphasizes this return based on local considerations, but efficiency demands a global context. This is a normal IT challenge and universities that fail to effectively pursue it will find that they have almost no resources outside of basic, structural services. The second broad category is technology centric to the extent that IT makes new options available, but is fundamentally rooted in our evolving insights around pedagogy. The teaching/ learning endeavor is in no danger of disappearing, but its fundamental nature is changing dramatically. All institutions are attempting to evolve the education enterprise by rethinking the two associated key roles of teacher and learner. Outcomes assessment beyond terminal grades has become a dominant consideration as institutions try to objectively prove the value proposition of education. Institutions that fail to innovate along the lines of assessment, that continue to view their activity along traditional dimensions, are going to find that their customers will move to their competitors.

Innovation comes from insight. Insight comes from understanding. Understanding comes from curiosity. Any institution that leaves decision making in the hands of the most entrenched and comfortable individuals is going to find that they struggle to innovate and that this failure occurs farther from the opportunity than they realize. Complacency kills curiosity. The push for bi-modal IT, while typically unstated is predicated on this reality. General operations within a mature area benefit from a rather staid approach. Cost effective delivery of stable services is being the touchstone. The alternate approach, selectively applied, is largely the opposite of all that we term traditionally define as best practice. Free up resources and push only the most inquisitive individuals together. Give them time and space. Provide a clear direction. Suggest vague constraints. They will push themselves. They will push each other. They will push the organization. They are much more likely to arrive at something creative and useful.

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