Why it’s time for school leaders to transition to cloud-based solutions

Education sector lead at Cantium Business Solutions Mark Hodges advises adopting cloud-based solutions in schools to minimise cyber security risks and maximise flexible infrastructure

For schools and academies across the country, the lasting impact of Covid-19 will be felt for many months to come. The disruption caused has highlighted a need for flexible infrastructure that can facilitate the switch to remote working and learning, often at short notice.

But for many school leaders, who are already trying to do more with less, grappling with limited budgets and resources remains a challenge.

Increasingly, hosted and cloud-based solutions are becoming a well-established and cost-effective way to achieve more flexibility without investing huge amounts of money on infrastructure. But, while the cloud has a silver lining for educators, the road to adoption isn’t always easy. One of the biggest hurdles to implementing cloud-based solutions is legacy technology, processes and services.

On-premise solutions tend to be the default model for primary and secondary schools. It’s not uncommon to find an entire room full of servers, storing data and running all the systems that the school uses, including the School Information Management System (SIMS).

To this day, legacy technology remains a major challenge for education organisations including the Department for Education. Emma Stace, chief digital technology officer at the DfE, recognises this and in a recent blog post explained that legacy technology is a side effect of how the department funds, buys, builds and operates.

Overall, the department’s goal is to reduce their highest priority: legacy technology risks. So, what risks do legacy technologies pose and how can the cloud help educators overcome them?

The hidden costs and risks of on-premise

Thinking about legacy technology, SIMS is a great example to guide us through as it sits at the centre of day-to-day operations and helps school leaders gain valuable insights, prepare for assessments and aid delivery of better outcomes for pupils.

The problem with an on-premise SIMS set up is that it can be expensive to run, difficult to change and it requires regular maintenance. Hosting SIMS locally exposes educators to hidden costs, whether it be the in-house resources, physical servers, or upgrades that need to be managed onsite multiple times a year.

It also exposes educators to hidden risks. The education sector was already a prime target for cyber criminals before the pandemic but over the past 18 months there has been a noticeable increase in attacks. Put simply, if systems like SIMS are hosted on a server then it makes them more susceptible to cyber-attacks.

Incidentally, this means that schools become reliant on individuals with the expertise, knowledge and time to patch, maintain and manage their outdated applications. These people are becoming harder to find.

Anytime, anyplace, anywhere

Migrating systems such as SIMS to a cloud-based environment gives schools greater flexibility and the power of anytime, anywhere, accessible data. If teaching staff are out and about, perhaps at a multi-agency meeting with social services, and they need to access a child’s or young person’s record relatively quickly, then they can. As long as they have an internet connection, they’re able to retrieve the information they need through a web portal or desktop application.

The same goes for attendance officers, special educational needs co-ordinators, and family liaison officers who might be visiting addresses and attending meetings outside of the school building. Easy access to real-time attendance and behaviour data can help to identify potential safeguarding issues, give a full picture of a pupil’s special educational needs and support meetings with parents and carers.

In addition, functionality for other applications can be built into the hosted environment to facilitate things like remote parents’ evenings. The ability to access everything on the move is incredibly valuable.

Waving goodbye to high maintenance systems

From a maintenance point of view, cloud-based systems are hosted by a third-party provider and this frees IT resources from the demands of ongoing maintenance on site. Instead, the provider is responsible for aspects such as security, updates and upgrades.

In addition, enhanced security protocols such as multi-factor authentication can be offered so that accounts are linked to mobile devices, delivering the industry standard requirements. It’s important to acknowledge that cloud-based systems aren’t resistant to cyber incidents, but they are far better protected.

With maintenance taken care of, educators are able to stay ahead of issues in a more cost-effective and timely way, at the same time as ensuring they remain compliant with cyber security policies and legislation.

This approach ultimately reduces reliance on specialist IT resources to maintain systems, which frees them up, allowing them to focus on what they do best and more value-added activities.

The cloud is becoming essential

Over the past year or so, the need for flexibility has increased for schools and academies. Access to information anytime, anywhere is a must, especially as the world becomes more remote.

For many educators, if they haven’t already, the switch to cloud-based technologies is already on the cards. However, the process of making widespread technical changes takes time.

The best way to make the leap is to seek the help of specialists who can implement solutions with minimal disruption. There’s no need to struggle through the process alone.

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