How higher ed IT is staying ahead of the cloud computing curve

tom dugas cmu
Carnegie Mellon University

Signs that cloud computing is for real are piling up around Carnegie Mellon University’s Tom Dugas, but nothing else brings this home like the fact that the renowned Pittsburgh research school has posted a job opening for its first-ever cloud architect.

“Most higher education IT leaders are starting to assign an individual person to be cloud architect or point person for cloud technology,” says CMU’s associate director for client operations.

Dugas (@TomDugas) anticipates that the topic of IT organization transformation will be among many cloud-related issues up for discussion at next week’s annual EDUCAUSE conference in Indianapolis, where he will be wearing multiple hats, including that of co-lead for the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) Cloud Working Group. That working group of the big nonprofit for higher education IT leaders has begun crafting a series of papers that will be released more widely in coming months on topics such as “Developing Cloud-Aware Governance” and “Building a Migration Plan.”

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Dugas, who also serves as co-lead for Internet2’s Cloud Services Working Group, describes CMU itself as “an opportunistic cloud organization” in that it uses cloud computing on a case-by-case basis. Among those use cases: Human resources. CMU uses Workday’s cloud offerings.

“A lot of people would say it’s risky putting human resources and human capital management in the cloud, but for us it was the right decision at the right time… given the way our homegrown HR system had been for 20 years,” Dugas says. “Workday has really changed the whole tone of the way cloud services are being operated at enterprise levels. People in higher education feel more comfortable now that places like Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown and others have adopted it.”

Higher ed IT is also embracing cloud offerings from those such as Box and Amazon Web Services (via a third-party outfit) that have struck deals with the Internet2 consortium. Validation of federated identity via Internet2 has been a key selling point, Dugas says.

Though Dugas says all eyes in higher ed IT are really on the University of Notre Dame, which has adopted a bold Cloud First approach under which it plans to move 80% of its IT services into the cloud by the end of 2017.

And many corporate IT eyes are on higher ed IT in general, Dugas says, when it comes to cloud.

“Corporate IT is really just getting its feet wet and figuring out what it takes, how to build governance around cloud,” he says. Dugas has surveyed local CIO conference attendees to gauge cloud adoption and has seen numbers rise from under 10% a few years back to more than 80% now, though many are still at the early investigation stage.


At CMU, lines of business frequently initiate cloud adoption. “Rather than us doing the research into cloud solutions, we’re basically responding… The campus itself is pushing us down that path. The learning curve for end users has been pretty easy,” Dugas says.

The move to cloud is, in turn, bringing change within the school’s IT organization. Traditional IT jobs, such as system admins and data stewards, are still needed, but “those roles are being adapted to take on more of an integration role with cloud services… We’re seeing an explosion in business analysts and business process designers,” Dugas says. With so many new cloud technologies taking a approach of offering modular services, people are needed to build business processes on top of them by working with the business units, he says.

Skills needed include negotiation, facilitation and technical requirements documentation gathering. “We are finding a lot of people who are technologists wanting to take on leadership roles,” Dugas says.

(You can check out an Internet2 presentation by Dugas from about a year ago titled "Resource and Staffing for Cloud Computing: Evolving Your Workforce to Meet New Needs".)

One key to cloud services buy-in from business units and higher ups is that so many of the offerings are proving to be secure, especially those built from the ground up as cloud services. Nevertheless, Dugas emphasizes that processes and controls need to be built in to ensure you can get your data if the vendor folds or your company discontinues using their services. Dugas learned this the hard way, as he’s still trying to extract cloud-confined data from one vendor used years ago.

“At least it was only data we’d like to have, not must have,” he says.

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