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Survey of Peer Institutions in Higher Education

In late 2016, the UIT Cloud Steering Committee reached out to participants of the Cornell Cloud Forum for Higher Education, which included more than 50 American colleges and universities, to learn how peer organizations were managing the move of computing resources into the cloud. Twenty-nine of the institutions responded.

We posed a few dozen questions about cloud computing plans and activities, focusing on a few areas of particular interest:

  • Strategy — Are there comprehensive, documented plans or strategies guiding our peers’ service migrations? If so, what are they and are they published?
  • Organization — Do our peers have positions and teams with dedicated responsibility for making cloud transformation efforts happen, or are tasks assigned on a project by project basis? What are the roles? How many are new hires?
  • Skills/Knowledge — Which areas of expertise have our peers identified to “level up” in their teams to prepare for cloud transformation? What training or staff development programs have they implemented?

Summary of findings

Cloud adoption

Cloud adoption spreading among universities: We learned that 18 of the 29 universities who responded to the survey are planning to initiate a cloud transformation program this year (2017), and 13 of those have a published “cloud strategy.” Fifteen of the survey participants characterized their institution as “cloud first” in their approach to acquiring computing resources.

Organizational strategy

Organizational structures for cloud vary: In structuring their organizations for cloud transformation, nearly a third of these universities built a separate cloud team chartered to focus on the advancement of the initiative. Meanwhile, a slightly larger group — more than a third — used a project-based approach, allotting portions of staff time dedicated to specific cloud transformation activities.


Hiring cloud expertise common: Most created new technical roles to support their cloud transformation activities. About half now employ a cloud architect, business analyst, and DevOps engineer. About a third hired a new manager to handle vendors and strategic sourcing of IT. Other technical and business positions mentioned include integration specialist, SaaS application administrator, emerging technologies analyst, cloud broker, solutions architect, product manager, financial engineer, IT liaison, and project manager.


New skills and knowledge are needed: When asked what new skills their organizations have identified as “required” for cloud transformation, answers ranged from vendor-specific or technical to strategic and managerial. Some highlights from the input on necessary skills include:

  • Familiarity with the features and capabilities of cloud services
  • DevOps skills
  • Skills for analyzing and managing the financial and chargeback impact of cloud services
  • AWS platform expertise
  • Cloud-specific development skills for handling deployment, automation, integration, and security Vendor relationship management
  • Additional UI expertise, "since the cloud is changing the way we build apps"
  • MS Azure platform expertise


Cloud-specific training common, especially for technical staff: Two-thirds of respondents indicated they have offered staff development programs/trainings/etc. to advance the level of cloud expertise among technical and non-technical staff. Most have offered some amount of formal training for technical staff, but few have begun developing applicable leadership skills. Development opportunities have taken a variety of forms, including hands-on workshops, online training, certificate programs, and the promotion of self-paced offerings such as AWS Labs.