Cloud transitions help bridge IT skills gap

Solutions outsource tough tasks, freeing in-house staff for strategic work

Survey data shows more than half of all enterprise CIOs expect to have trouble filling open positions in their IT departments in 2016. In academia, IT staffers get paid less than their industry counterparts. And while job satisfaction seems to help combat the negative effects of having to offer lower salaries, sometimes it’s a skills gap that prevents hiring.

Cloud technology, however, could provide a bridge over that gap, giving colleges and universities a way to get by without new hires by outsourcing some tasks.

Kevin McMahon, marketing director at West IP Communications, which offers communication services like video and voice conferencing, digital media services, and network management, says communication technology is a prime target for the shift to the cloud. In many cases, young IT professionals don’t even have the skills to manage the aging technology because they’ve never worked with it.

Campuses are moving dozens of applications to the cloud, outsourcing data storage and management, offering more flexible access for people at all levels of the organization, and reducing costs in many ways. The shift creates the space for skilled IT professionals to focus on institutionally strategic initiatives, rather than wasting time on simple management activities. It also could slow the growth in IT departments that continue to expand based on demand.

"We're not advocating that organizations of any kind shrink their IT departments," McMahon said. "The demand on these groups is so overwhelming today, it’s difficult to imagine anybody getting by with a net fewer headcount.” But slowing the growth is possible, McMahon said, and savings can be invested in the existing workforce as well as in additional technology.

In the last 15 years, smaller colleges and universities have led the move toward cloud-based technology. They were the ones that had overly stressed in-house IT staffs and they had less infrastructure to let depreciate before choosing a new direction.

That’s a reflection of a broader trend in higher education, according to Robin Mamlet, a managing partner for executive search firm Witt/Kieffer focused on the education sector. Mamlet said smaller and less well-known institutions are the ones that are more open to experimentation.

“The hungrier schools often innovate first,” Mamlet said. “The lesser-known schools often initiate the newest higher education trends.”

In IT departments, the ability to free up skilled professionals to work on other initiatives by innovating with cloud-based solutions is a powerful incentive. Analyzing big data is on nearly everyone’s list of IT trends in higher education for 2016. Colleges and universities are now expected to be able to analyze student performance and tailor support programs based on hard data. Increasingly, institutions are also figuring out how to find new operational efficiencies thanks to such analysis.

Analytics work is harder to outsource because of the institutional knowledge required to conduct it. The cloud represents an alternative for tasks requiring primarily tech knowledge that is easier to entrust to third-party providers.

For administrators who are still just considering how the cloud will work for their institutions, McMahon has some advice: “Think about this not as a wholesale change, but instead more as a migration, as an orderly progression over time at a pace that makes sense for them and their university.”

Schools do not have to choose between all cloud or no cloud. Plenty of companies offer hybrid solutions as organizations engage in a unique transition.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed Technology