Charting the Road Ahead to Cloud Maturity for K–12 Public Education

Some things to keep an eye on as we head to the cloud.
The cloud needs to be done correctly.

In three years, the cloud has gone from a “nice-to-have” to a must-have for most educational institutions, and especially for the K–12 public school system. With the cloud powering much of today’s online and hybrid classrooms, the focus for many IT teams in education has shifted towards improving the maturity of their cloud practices to scale for the future.

This proactive mindset is wise, since we’ve only begun seeing the possibilities the cloud presents to K–12 education – who can say what will come next? When embracing or refining how a technology is employed, there will always be challenges. Consider the following hurdles IT teams in education will likely face and need to address to ensure their faculty will benefit from investing in the cloud.

Monitor and optimise cloud costs – or else!
One huge benefit the cloud provides to K–12 schools is the opportunity to lower maintenance costs. With the burden and responsibility of ongoing maintenance being owned by the cloud providers, school IT teams have newfound time, energy, and focus to experiment with their cloud solution’s offerings, like building self-help IT portals or asset management – both of which are critical when it comes to loaning and tracking the devices or equipment used in today’s hybrid classrooms.

But the cloud’s ease of maintenance and scalability can be a double-edged sword. Without proper oversight, cloud costs can easily spiral and become a tremendous burden to both IT and school budgets. To ensure K-12 schools stay ahead of cloud costs, IT teams should:

• Have cloud performance monitoring tools in place to precisely gauge utilisation and scale back when there’s a risk of cost overrun.

• Regular reporting of cloud utilisation to qualify the value investments or pinpoint anomalies in service/availability, so improvements can be made.

• Consolidate and centralise critical functions, like remote tech support, into an integrated remote support solution.

Keep the tide of technical debt at bay   
Some schools may have had a long-term roadmap or plan for digital cloud adoption, but recent years may have accelerated those plans significantly. As a result, IT teams might not have had the time to test new systems or retire old or redundant solutions – leading to the mounting problem of technical debt for educational institutions.

Here’s my advice for school IT teams: assess the use of existing applications and what your new cloud environment is capable of. Are there areas where your new solution could consolidate existing processes, eliminating disparate systems or duplicate work? If you identify opportunities to streamline and unify operations in one tool, your IT team could benefit from heightened visibility and enhanced collaboration. Reviewing and performing an application cleanse across your tech stack could potentially enable you to sunset legacy systems that your new cloud computing investments can tackle more seamlessly. And finally, exercise proper documentation of the above activities to support ongoing change management and ensure any troubleshooting or self-service support materials remain updated and accurate.

Involve faculty members in the cloud conversation
Most importantly, remember decisions surrounding the cloud’s future doesn’t solely lie with IT. Educators use the cloud for blended and remote lessons; students love the dynamism that online learning brings; staff members may rely on it to handle administrative burdens – they all have valuable input at the decision-making table. To ensure cloud maturity and scalability is productive, involve the people most invested in its success.

Work with faculty members to iron out technical hurdles – like unintuitive interfaces or resource-hungry applications – that might impede the online learning experience or access to learning materials on the cloud. Get input from educators and staff members when designing your troubleshooting or self-service systems, so those self-help resources are intuitive and truly help empower users for quality learning experiences.

I cannot emphasise the importance of seamless collaboration between IT teams and the faculty members they service for cloud adoption. Leaving decisions in the hands of IT and management risks measuring cloud success along technical and fiscal lines, and not pedagogical outcomes – which is arguably where the true value of the cloud for education lies.

What’s next for the cloud in K–12 schools?
After the pandemic brought on rapid adoption and transitioning, the next few years will likely see K-12 schools managing the cloud challenges above. But within these challenges are also opportunities to do things better and to stretch cloud investments the extra mile:

• Data security and backups: This will become a challenge for school IT teams over time, as online lessons continue, and users are added to the school roll and database. Speak with your cloud provider about steps to improve security or implementation of disaster recovery or data backups if available.

• Cloud process automation: As discussions between IT and the faculty progress, IT pros may identify areas of administration or pedagogy that may benefit from automation. Work with your cloud provider to explore what’s possible to improve efficiency and save faculty time or resources.

• Reporting and documentation: Constantly improve visibility over the cloud to ensure resources/capacity is utilised efficiently, and document changes or additions to ensure smooth change management, so future IT admins will have the information they need to make the right decisions.

The future of the cloud in K–12 education has a bright outlook, and that’s good for today’s IT pros and faculty staff – as well as future generations of students.