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Institutional Strategies for Cloud Computing

The buzz about the cloud may have passed, but not the hangover.   Technology and the market, once again, have moved far faster than law, social norms and business process.  For most institutions, now is the time to transition from owned infrastructures and controlled information environments to services that hold and process institutional data out of our physical control; few believe that we can afford to wait for alignment among all of the factors in play before launching our institutions in this direction.  Therefore, the cloud computing challenge is strategic at the highest levels of the institution and must have articulated processes from the top to the bottom of an information technology organization.   A Chief Information Officer and/or Vice President of Information Technology not only stands at the center of these processes but must be the key player in integrating them effectively and efficiently throughout the university on a continuous basis.

A CIO must oversee a process that brings technology, law, security, policy and communications together in the organization.  A second process involves a comprehensive mapping of cloud computing services to the teaching and learning, research and outreach needs of the college or university informed by subject matter experts.   The third step might well be the first given the iterative nature of this loop.  Either as an existing member or guest at the senior leadership table, the CIO must explain how cloud computing fits into the institution's strategic plan while minimizing duplication, maximizing total efficiencies (e.g. F.T.E; expenditures; redundant services etc.) and supporting institutional missions.  If the institution does not already have a process by which senior management views cloud computing from a comprehensive, cohesive and well-considered institutional perspective, then the CIO has the additional responsibility of bringing that proposal to the big table.

This essay is intended to stimulate thought about a cloud computing strategy from the institutional perspective with a focus on the functions of an information technology office.  Inductively it proceeds from the recommendations for functions within the IT organization out to the institution at large. Deductive thinkers might want to start at the last part and work backwards through the document.  Once again, that flexibility speaks to a key point:  cloud computing strategies are iterative, institutional processes.  As more digital natives join administrative ranks, fewer colleagues may need persuading of the concept that technology challenges are core institutional challenges.   But there are plenty of good-natured dinosaurs around who would benefit from primers about the fundamental inter-relatedness of information technology to the missions of higher education.   And in these difficult economic times, no one needs reminding to keep an eye on the bottom line.