On Campus: COVID-19 Challenges and On-premises vs Cloud Solutions

Principal Analyst

Top of MInd: Newsworthy for Higher Ed
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

My former colleagues have readily reminded me that I’m not in the trenches anymore, but the instinctive mindset, when reacting to and managing crises, has not left me. The focus and intensity that comes with a crisis situation takes hold of people and organizations to ensure that the operations of their organizations can function.

For most IT operations, crisis mode is where they perform at their very best. Excellent teamwork and focus, frequent communication, shared goals, and incredible dedication to support the institution’s needs are all on display. Most technology professionals have been through many situations where in-depth knowledge, clear thinking, and deep access into the technology are required to get operations back to normal.

This in-depth knowledge consists of understanding how all the components of the technology stack work, how to control it while it’s running in production, how to modify it, test it, script data changes and get things into production quickly.

Institutions have had to react to many changes over the last month.

  • Moving employees to remote work
  • Transitioning faculty and students to remote instruction
  • Following new fiscal and travel restrictions based on the financial reality of the current situation
  • Recognizing new types of leave mandated by new federal law

In addition, as institutions have worked to accommodate their students, there have been refunds of fees, providing outdoor Wi-Fi, widening access and strengthening security to video meeting platforms, and accommodating academic changes to Pass/Non-Pass from graded courses. These changes affect nearly every technology that institutions manage.

Institutions who have on-premises systems have been able to jump in and make modifications, run scripts, and update configurations to accommodate these new realities. Though certainly not easy, most organizations have learned to be adept at this type of change. The number of them changing together creates additional risk.

What happens when your critical applications are in the cloud, and you can’t see or control any of the technical details? How do you offer a mass change to grading to pass/fail for thousands of students? These challenges present a significant test for cloud platforms. Without direct access to the code and the database, many potential customers have been worried about the limited access they have to the code or data in their cloud applications. However, in our discussions with institutions running cloud applications, we have heard little or no issues with the ability to pivot around workflows, new leave types, or moving courses from graded to pass-non-pass.

In fact, we’ve heard a more positive outcome for institutions on cloud applications than those on-premises. They have all been able to make the updates they needed to make, but anecdotally, the on-premises institutions needed to spend more time and care updating their systems for these situations. Complex coding and testing typically require more time and technical resources than configuration changes in the cloud.

Most cloud-based institutions spent much more time accommodating all their faculty in the LMS and provisioning faculty and staff on VPN than in updating administrative systems to accommodate the required changes. This is a very positive and reassuring outcome for those institutions moving toward cloud applications.

If moving to the cloud has given you pause due to the fear of technical access to the platform, at least this stress test seems to have shown that to be a minimal concern at most. There are many more stories in the community on this topic. I’d love to hear yours! Please reach out if you have a particularly interesting tale of your journey through the last several weeks of quick changes.

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Principal Analyst
Dave Kieffer spearheads research focused on finance, and HCM applications, data management and other critical higher education technologies at Tambellini Group. He brings more than 30 years of creating, implementing, and managing enterprise-class applications in higher education. His experience includes all levels of applications development and management in higher education. Among other things, he has been responsible for ERP implementations, mobile, and web development, application architecture and integration technologies.

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