Sunday, December 18, 2011

Migrating to Cloud-Based Online Tool Suites Is a No-Brainer for School Districts

Would your school district like to save money and cut down on technology-related and technology support costs? Think about what a school district IT department could get accomplished if they never had to worry about administering or troubleshooting your district email server again. Or, what if there were no need to purchase all those office suite PC licenses again? There are a growing number of cloud-based “Online Tool Suites” available to school districts, and "going-to-cloud" makes a great deal of sense for school leaders looking to save money, increase the number of online tools available to staff, and to bolster security.

There are quite of few reasons for moving to a cloud-based “Online Tools Suite” as opposed to using locally installed and maintained applications. Here's three good reasons to move to a cloud-based online tool suite from my perspective since our district moved to Google Apps well-over a year ago.
  • Cost savings can be enormous. When a school district moves to the cloud for email alone, there's savings in maintenance and hardware costs for such things as email servers and network infrastructure. Such a move also eliminates the need for maintaining and troubleshooting these services too. With a service like Google Apps, backup of email is also less problematic, and as applications like Google Docs continue to improve, there may be even less need to pay for software licenses for office suites as well, not to mention no need to worry about updates and troubleshooting for these applications.
  • Using cloud-based online tool suites allows for more streamlined collaboration and sharing. Online tool suites offer a variety of collaboration tools within their applications and the ability to easily share projects. Our district's use of Google Docs has meant using the online tools to share things like meeting agendas, schedules, and address lists. Also, it has meant being able to collaborate online in the creation of other documents like school improvement plans and handbooks. Sharing documents without attachments has also been greatly simplified. Online tool suites like Google Apps adds an entirely new dimension to collaborating as professionals.
  • Online tool suites like Google Apps offer users an increasingly wide variety of tools highly suited for education organizations. Email, Google Talk, Google Sites, among many others that make up the Google Apps suite make communication within and without the organization more seamless. Google calendar with its sharing feature makes scheduling school and district events much easier. Google Docs is perfectly suited for the education organization where collaboration and team work have become even more important. More importantly, as Google refines and introduces more and more apps, our district is in a perfect position to take advantage of them.
Of course, one of the biggest concerns many have with a move to a cloud-based online tool suite is security. One reason for this is that once someone starts talking about moving data out of the physical proximity of the central office servers, a sense of panic begins to rise up. There's some kind of comfort in having the actual storage of data on your own real estate. Then, questions begin to arise like this one: “What do we do if someone gets our data, especially data that would place our district in violation of FERPA?” That is a legitimate concern of course. However, if the truth be known, companies like Google have much better resources for maintaining the security of data than school districts. Their resources for maintaining cloud security are almost unlimited, whereas in times of declining budgets, school districts do well just to maintain what they have. Maintaining security is ongoing and requires both ongoing monetary and physical resource costs to keep data systems secure and current. It just makes sense to allow a larger company who make it their business to keep data secure and store it. Besides companies like Google can’t afford massive data breaches and violations of data security so you can count on the fact that they consider security of the utmost importance.

I am not necessarily promoting Google Apps over other online tool suites. There are others available such as Zoho and Microsoft Office 365. Since I am most familiar with Google Apps I refer most often to its features, and offer the list of resources about Google Apps below.

Google Apps for Education Web Site
Google Apps for Education Community
Google Apps for Education Training Center

Perhaps others can suggest or express their experiences with other cloud-based online tool suites. How have  these solutions worked in your district or organization?

In the 21st century moving to cloud-based online tool suites just makes sense. In the age of declining budgets and limited resources, it is the very thing a 21st century leader will do.


  1. Thanks so much for this excellent post. I am intrigued by the possibility for moving our one-school high school district (1,400 students)away from MS Office and into the cloud. We currently have Google Apps for Ed, but when I broach the idea of abandoning MS Office (and its associated cost and maintenance requirements) to our IT department, you would think that I'm describing the End of Days. They are worried about security and also think that we need the "bells and whistles" offered in the MS products. Has your entire district gone to the cloud? Do you still maintain MS Office licenses? I am looking for districts that are completely cloud-based to show to my IT department and administrators as examples of what's possible. One suggestion I had also given to them is to buy single-computer licenses for the office staff who need the fancier MS functions, but have the rest of the staff and students using our Google Apps for Ed. Thanks again for the terrific post-- it gives me hope!

  2. Our district has moved to Google Apps for our email, which also gives us the other Google products. We were immediately able to shut down our district email server. Now, we pay Google to back-up our email traffic. Thanks for the comment.