My experience with cloud computing dates from the late 1980s–before the word cloud was even associated with computing. At that time, I was with the City University of New York (CUNY) involved in the consolidation of the individual data centers to a central computing facility. But it was the beginning of cloud computing, both as an infrastructure as well as an application service.
“To foster innovation and growth, it takes leadership to bridge the two and create a “risk and reward” culture”
Today, every university engages in some degree of cloud computing. At Adelphi University, about 60 percent of our applications are in the cloud. These include essential services such as email, admissions, academic resource planning, student retention initiatives, student co-curricular activity tracking, fundraising, internships, job applications and job placement. Cloud services allow us to select the “best of breed” solutions instead of being confined to a large enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Moreover, cloud computing frees up IT resources enabling us to deliver applications faster and concentrate on working with end-users to implement the solutions. Cloud computing also facilitates budget planning because we can now build the service into the operating budget rather than a capital expense.
However, it is incumbent upon IT to evaluate cloud services on a regular basis from both an efficacy and security perspective. At Adelphi, we have a detailed process to review cloud services prior to acquisition to ensure that this new service meets key criteria of seamless system integration, adherence to business continuity requirements and compliance with our information security standards. We also conduct an annual audit of each cloud service before renewing the contract.
Embracing the cloud as a major part of Adelphi’s IT infrastructure has allowed us to maximize applications through business process improvement. But the benefits extend beyond technology. In a region where energy cost is very high, cloud services reduce the consumption and cost of energy which supports Adelphi’s environmental goals.
Managing Distributed Data
Every university uses diverse systems and different applications, which present challenges in integrating and applying data to drive strategic decisions. It becomes even more complicated in large universities with distributed computing environments across multiple colleges and schools.
Data needs to be in the same format and representation has to be used effectively. In order to accomplish that, there are three basic steps to follow: The first step is to ensure data needed for analysis is available and clearly defined (cleansed). This may include data from internal and external sources. The next step is to develop a data warehouse where data from various systems are collapsed and easily accessible. This requires data visualization tools, such as Tableau and Data Strategy, which enable data analysis. Furthermore, using the same datasets will help eliminate any confusion as to where the data was sourced, when it was pulled and what it consists of. The final step is to ensure staff understands the relevance of the data to institutional needs. Before reports are generated, the right questions must be asked. How do we increase retention and graduation rates? How do we mesh the data so that we can do outreach to accepted students who have not yet registered? How do we identify students at risk? How does course scheduling impact faculty hiring and student registration? Targeted data can help inform decision-making to support strategic initiatives.
Fostering “Risk and Reward” Culture
Every institution has a rich pool of talent ready to explore innovative technologies. At the same time, many institutions practice risk-avoidance. To foster innovation and growth, it takes leadership to bridge the two and create a “risk and reward” culture. It needs the resources and a cheerleader to move the institution forward. For example, along with the Dean of Libraries, I have advocated the creation of an emerging technology lab where faculty and students would have the opportunity to explore the latest technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) in a healthcare-related field; artificial intelligence (AI) to support student services or tutoring; virtual reality and augmented technology for gaming, psychology and arts; and robotic hologram and 3D lab for rapid prototyping. Faculty and students get hands-on experience in their own discipline or get to explore a completely new area that may spark their creativity. It is an opportunity to expand the boundaries of research, teaching and learning.