Five years ago, “the cloud” was an emerging and thrilling concept loaded with possibility, yet relatively untested and unfamiliar. Few realized what it was, let alone what value it could drive.

Now and then

The idea of making complex systems and data shareable and available anytime, anywhere seemed appropriate for large tech firms, but it didn’t seem applicable to other business models. Most consumers thought ubiquitous, on-demand data was a fine notion. Scaling it to all but the most tech-savvy industries, however, seemed difficult, perhaps something that could be accomplished in a couple of decades.

Flash forward to 2015, and the landscape is entirely different. Now, most industries—including those in the “old” as well as the “new” economy—are embracing the cloud in some fashion, or at least investigating the opportunities and benefits afforded by cloud technology. The cloud has the potential to revolutionize the manner in which business is conducted, pairing increased efficiencies with lower costs and combined with a dramatically improved user experience.

New school possibilities

For higher education, the opportunities are significant. Faculty, staff and students demand responsive, up-to-date technology. A college or university can no longer view the cloud as a luxury, or as an abstract concept to be tackled at some point down the road. Put simply, that point has arrived.

Traditionally, higher education institutions have been slow to adopt changes or react to shifting business environments, simply because of higher education’s participatory culture. That is, top-down decision-making at colleges and universities is rare; instead, decisions are made by consensus, which takes time, especially where the sometimes-limited resources of the institution are involved.

"For colleges and universities, the cloud is an unparalleled opportunity to modernize a campus—and in today’s higher education realm, a modern, technologically robust campus is an absolute requirement."

And because higher education institutions rely on complex financial models—often varying combinations of tuition, research dollars, philanthropy, public funding and investments—rapid and decisive technological decisions become complicated. Colleges and universities might find themselves asking a few key questions: How will this be paid for? From which budget? Is it worth the investment and how long will it take?

Evaluating efficiency

At today’s higher education institutions, recruiting, admissions, alumni relations, the registrar and faculty—and many others—would benefit from cloud technology in helping them manage costs or limit capital outlays across the institution. Data stored in the cloud may be cheaper and easier to maintain, rather than budgeting for complex data storage on campus utilizing extensive computer systems and IT staff—sometimes spread out across multiple areas. For example, cloud technology can, depending upon the scope of technologies adopted, help an institution trim expenses by allowing it to pay only for what it needs, when it needs it.

What’s more, universities are finding that cloud technology is secure and efficient. Upgrades and new features can be implemented much more rapidly than with on-campus technology. New, more efficient software, applications and features can be implemented with minimal disruption, with fewer employees required to get things up and running. And that frees up resources so that higher education IT professionals—and administrators—can concentrate on student success, innovation and other strategic goals.

But most importantly, for colleges and universities, the cloud represents more than a sound business decision. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to modernize a campus—and in today’s higher education realm, a modern, technologically robust campus is an absolute requirement. Students come to campus with their own devices—phones, computers, tablets—and expect access to the institution’s systems anytime, anywhere.

Forging a foundation

To maintain a competitive edge against other colleges and universities, an institution must provide its students with reliable, secure access—for a bevy of platforms and devices. Students want to create, share and store content campus-wide. If they can’t, word spreads quickly, and no institution wants to be saddled with the reputation of being a technological dinosaur. Cloud computing streamlines access and eliminates many of these obstacles.

Moving to the cloud may not solve all of higher education’s challenges. And it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. But embracing the cloud allows any college or university to get the technology out of the way, so that it may focus on collaboration, innovation and creativity. And that, in the end, is exactly what higher education should be doing.