Ask any K-12 administrator about their district’s challenges and you are likely to hear about school budgets. Like most industries, education has had to find a way to do more with less.
One way education has addressed that is embracing the cloud.
“As schools evaluate and plan new IT services, the average district is considering adding more than a third of its new services through partial or total delivery via the cloud,” says Tim Murphy, cloud client executive, education, CDW.
Budgeting, Scalability Advantages
That trend is not surprising. The cloud offers a number of benefits for integrator’s K-12 customers. Deploying a cloud-based service is less expensive than installing physical hardware.
Cloud-based software is not stored on in-house servers meaning it is not directly managed by the district’s IT staff. That burden falls on the service provider, freeing up school staff to focus on other matters. Purchasing a cloud solution may free up money in other ways as well.
“Cloud helps districts take a very expensive and cumbersome project, an infrastructure upgrade for example, and change it from a capital expenditure to an operating expenditure,” Murphy explains.
This can result in a little wiggle room for other budgetary expense priorities. Not to mention, cloud services offer scalability, which is key.
“One of the beauties of cloud solutions is that you can start very small with one service and it’s easy to scale up as you get more comfortable or your needs grow,” says Carolyn April, senior director, industry analysis, CompTIA. “It’s a lot less cumbersome than adding on-premise equipment and installing software.”
Think of it this way. If your teachers want to pilot a new learning software you can invest in a limited number of licenses, providing access to a small group of teachers. If the pilot is a great success, you need only to call your provider and give the go-ahead to expand access.
If the software doesn’t work out, that’s OK too. You can end the service and you aren’t stuck with a clunky piece of equipment you will never use again. This is true of any cloud service whether deployed in the classroom or district administrative offices.
“Once you purchase things on-premise and decide you don’t need it, it’s kind of hard to get rid of at that point. You made this capital investment. With cloud you can invest in a service and if it’s not something that works out for you then you can turn it off,” April says.
On the classroom side, there are a lot of good cloud-based services that happen to be free. Things like the Google Apps for Education and Evernote are useful tools for collaboration, classroom management and note taking, and they don’t cost a thing.
Handling Security Concerns
While cloud adoption is certainly growing in K-12, some districts and parents have raised concerns.
“The number one thing we see is worries about security and the ownership of data,” April says.
Schools worry about what information cloud solution providers might be collecting and what the company plans to do with that information. The fact that most K-12 students are minors further complicates the issue. While this is certainly a reason for concern, there has been a lot of awareness recently around protecting student data.
In fall 2014, major education technology providers like Microsoft, Edmodo, Amplify, DreamBox Learning, and others pledged to safeguard the privacy of student information. That shows companies are taking the issue of student data very seriously and are willing to work with schools to alleviate concerns.
Murphy says districts can work with their providers to perform a risk assessment and identify what measures will be taken if data is breached.
“Ultimately, a lot of cloud implementations force stronger policies and procedures,” he says.