In Kentucky, a private cloud now handles the financial information of 173 school districts, and according to state education leaders, other school districts and states should consider something similar.
Kentucky faced a choice when it wanted to move to the next generation of its Tyler Technologies financial system: Switch all of its school districts to a different database engine, operating system and server, or move to the cloud.
"If we had gone forth with putting a new file server in 174 school districts with a new database engine, it would have been a lot more difficult for the average person in a school district to maintain," said David Couch, associate commissioner of the Office of Knowledge, Information and Data Services at the Kentucky Department of Education. "It would not have been a good experience, nor would it have been reliable."
Kentucky requires all of its school districts to use the same IT products, which is why they all spent the past year and a half transitioning financial information to the cloud. The largest district is still in the transition process.
The state's move three years ago to Microsoft Live@Edu for email helped prepare districts for the most recent switch. Kentucky became the first state to move to cloud email with Microsoft and had success with it. Now both email and financial systems are in private clouds, which provide more security than public clouds.
While some people were initially apprehensive about payroll being outside of the physical district, they realized that not only is it more secure, but they can also continue to work on payroll even if the network goes down. The system also provides disaster recovery options in case of ice storms, fires or stolen file servers.
Ultimately, Couch said, it made sense for Kentucky to move to the cloud -- and it will make sense for other states to do the same.
Most IT leaders in the government sector should start looking at themselves as brokers of services instead of actual providers of services. Especially with big budget cuts and small staff, this role change is essential. And cloud-based services make it easier for schools to have reliable access to their information.
"I think it's inevitable, to be honest with you," Couch said. "This is going to happen, and the longer that an IT leader fights against it, the more irrelevant they'll be seen within their organization. I don't think they'll be positioning their organization for the future unless they take a look at things like this."