Public Services

Education has its head in the cloud

Robert Stoneman Published 30 January 2018

Robert Stoneman explains why attitudes are changing in education to the use of cloud computing. But, he suggests, more can still be done by both buyers and suppliers to drive adoption

 

Cloud computing remains a key technology trend across UK education and the wider public sector as a whole. Education institutions have been users of cloud-based solutions for several years, particularly those that have been reliably offered as-a-service (e.g. email and personal storage). In fact, when surveyed, 96% of universities and 35% of schools have implemented some sort of cloud technology by 2017.*

Yet compared to other parts of the public sector such as central and local government, there have been several barriers which have historically limited cloud adoption within education. Most notably were concerns over cost, data security and a lack of supplier offerings.

Recent research shows these attitudes are changing. Many education organisations now approach IT procurement with a 'cloud first' attitude so long as solutions are commercially available. This is driven by a desire to reduce costs, improve services, create a more flexible IT estate, drive collaboration and reduce environmental impacts. This means that, while overall spending on ICT across education will remain flat, the proportion spent on cloud solutions will increase significantly over the next five years.

Some barriers nevertheless remain, and more can be done by both buyers and suppliers to drive adoption. Firstly, key IT solutions (e.g. student records) must be commercially available as proven cloud solutions. Secondly, moving to the cloud involves a shift from capital to operational expenditure, so institutions need to establish total cost of ownership to avoid unexpected costs. Thirdly, cultural inertia (e.g. among internal IT staff who favour on-site infrastructure) and insufficient technical skills, especially around difficulties integrating cloud and legacy systems, need to be addressed.

What is encouraging is that, compared to the past, security concerns are no longer as significant a barrier as suppliers have looked to comply with the relevant data protection legislation. Specific legal and regulatory restrictions mean some will look to retain their own on-site infrastructure regardless. However, this will offer fertile ground for private and hybrid cloud offerings.

*Source: University of York, 2017; C-Learning, 2017.

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