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Ohio Takes to the Clouds

In an effort to improve efficiencies, boost services, and cut costs, the University System of Ohio is moving to a cloud-based model for communications technologies. Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut shares his insights about the benefits he expects to realize from this approach.

When I was appointed chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents in 2007, one of my first priorities was to rethink how higher education in Ohio does business: making education more affordable, maintaining the highest quality of teaching and learning, and contributing more to the economic prosperity of the state. We must continually evaluate our business practices to put into place broad and systemic changes that can sustain our top-notch institutions, empower our faculty members, and enrich our students, whether in Ohio, where we operate, or across the country.

In February, I created the Advisory Committee on Efficiency for the University System of Ohio and charged the team with continuously monitoring successful investment and productivity strategies by working with our colleges and universities to identify efficiencies, with the goal of spreading these best practices throughout the state. Creating and improving efficiencies within the System is a key goal outlined in the 10-year Strategic Plan for Higher Education. I'm happy to say that we've found areas where institutions across the state can better share resources, cut costs, and implement savings strategies that will not only help the system continue to improve and focus more resources on serving its students but, ultimately, contribute to the economic development of the state.

Technology has been a focal point of innovation for the system and, specifically, in our effort to create a more integrated technology infrastructure that in some areas will reduce spending to build and maintain separate hardware and software systems for individual organizations. I believe that this effort will result in significant management efficiencies, so we did not take the job lightly. I tasked my efficiency team with evaluating and selecting a suite of products and services that would further reduce expenditures and further encourage collaboration for colleges and universities across the state.

Through a new partnership with Microsoft, we are able to expand and extend a cloud computing approach to a suite of messaging software packages for the public institutions of the University System of Ohio, as well as to private colleges and universities. As an example, the partnership allows us to take advantage of bulk purchasing discounts for Microsoft's Exchange Online, an e-mail, calendar, contact ,and task service; the Live@edu collaboration and communications service; and soon, Office Web Apps, a lightweight version of the company's Office applications.

As an additional benefit, the Exchange Online package is based on a cloud-computing model where the vendor owns and maintains the servers that host the software applications that are made available to each participating campus through high-speed connections to the statewide, fiber-optic network operated by OARnet, the University System of Ohio's technology infrastructure and operations arm. This arrangement will allow the state's education institutions to maximize limited resources and redirect strategic funds to more directly impact our students and keep critical software in-house.

Finally, as a cloud-computing participant, we will be adding to our portfolio of practices in "Green IT," a national initiative to reduce IT-related costs, increase productivity and improve performance, while minimizing environmental impact.

Governor Strickland and the members of the Ohio General Assembly have made funding of higher education a priority in a tight budget that has required some very difficult decisions. In fact, every time Ohio has faced challenging times in the past, its leaders have turned to higher education. Therefore, the University System of Ohio will continue to make the most of the state dollars that we receive in order to provide Ohioans with the education they need to compete in today's job market, ensure Ohio's businesses have the world-class talent and research they need to create new jobs, and serve as a powerful magnet to attract educated workers and capital investment to Ohio from around the world. This partnership is another step in this continued effort.

About the Author

Eric D. Fingerhut is chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents. Further information can be found here.

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