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How to Plan a Cloud Initiative

In spite of vendor promises to get you up and running in mere hours, early adopters have learned that undertaking a cloud initiative is like tackling any other transformational IT project. It calls for the same basic script: Start small; work hard to prepare users for coming changes; learn as you go; continuously improve what you're doing. And beyond that, prepare to improvise.

Put Your Team Together
While you're seeking senior leader support, get others involved--the people in infrastructure, application development, and security, as well as deans and professors. All of them need to be aware of where your institution's cloud plans are headed. Plus, shared ownership of the decision will come in handy as problems surface. (Consider it a bad omen if all fingers point to IT.)

Put together a dedicated cross-functional team to focus on the move to the cloud, with an eye to how some of these same team members (now with experience) can be shifted to future cloud initiatives.

Evaluate cloud vendors as rigorously as if you were choosing a new wireless provider. Create a scorecard, attach scoring criteria, and engage your community as much as possible in the assessment process.

Use an Experienced Negotiator
Be wary of vendor promises. They all claim to have the perfect solution. Right now, the cloud scene is evolving as large operators consume smaller ones. Short of peering into a crystal ball, do the due diligence necessary to make sure the vendors are going to be around to support you--and, if they don't stick around, find out how you'll be taken care of in their absence.

Once you've selected a vendor, approach contract negotiations as if you were outsourcing a service. Bring in the purchasing person who has the most experience with service provider contracts, because much of the language and hidden gotchas will be similar.

Stay Involved
Finally, continually assess user satisfaction with the cloud service. Not only will this process let users know that you haven't simply handed off oversight of their IT needs to some invisible technology god, but the results could reveal hidden benefits and deficiencies that will come in handy the next time you shift something to the cloud.

About the Authors

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.

Rama Ramaswami is a business and technology writer based in New York City.

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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