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Increased cloud use on the horizon

With Queen’s considering moving to Office 365, Bo Wandschneider, Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Associate Vice-Principal (Information Technology Services), has been speaking with people across campus about Microsoft’s cloud computing suite. He recently spoke with Craig Leroux, Senior Communications Officer, about the benefits and risks of working in the cloud.

Craig Leroux: First of all, what is “the cloud?”

Bo Wandschneider: Generally, “the cloud” refers to software or data hosted offsite, accessible via the Internet often on multiple devices like computers, mobile phones and tablets. Queen’s already uses cloud-based services, such as the governance portal that manages our Board and Senate documents and the Desire2Learn learning management system. The new travel and expense system will also be in the cloud.

CL: How is Office 365 different from the regular Office?

BW: Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud-based collaborative suite. It offers the email and calendaring we already use, but more robust and with more storage for each user. Applications like Word and Excel are available online and on mobile devices, in addition to on your computer. There are a variety of other collaborative features that are only available in the cloud, such as OneDrive and SharePoint for file management and sharing.

CL: Why are you considering Office 365 for Queen’s?

BW: Office 365 will enhance the ability for faculty, staff and students to collaborate with each other and we simply don’t have the resources in-house to offer the same level of functionality. We need to focus our limited resources on the areas where we can add the most value to the academic mission of the university.

CL: Aren’t undergraduate students already using Office 365. How has that experience been?

BW: Yes, undergraduates moved to Office 365 last year and we’ve had great feedback. One of the benefits was the ability to use the office suite for free on up to five devices. Not all universities offer that. Graduate students have now asked to be moved to the cloud as well, and we’ll be doing that by the fall. The next logical step is our faculty and staff, and that’s a conversation I’m having with people across the university.

It is interesting that there are more risks in our current practices than there are in moving to the cloud, and we should really be focused on changing these practices.

- Bo Wanderschneider

CL: What about privacy and security? Does the cloud put those things at risk?

BW: ITServices takes privacy and security very seriously. There are always risks in anything we do and we need to understand those risks. It is interesting that there are more risks in our current practices than there are in moving to the cloud, and we should really be focused on changing these practices. I think that’s something that’s not well known. For example, the Educational Advisory Board recently released a report saying that there are far more security breaches and risks of data loss in higher education than there are with the cloud providers. We simply aren’t resourced to provide the same rigorous security that the cloud providers do.

CL: Don’t we risk losing ownership of our data in the cloud?

BW: Whenever we consider cloud computing, we ensure that privacy is embedded in it. These environments are very secure, but you have to do your homework. When we move people’s information to the cloud we don’t relinquish ownership of that information or our accountability for protecting that information. We do our due diligence and ensure our contracts are clear about things like retaining ownership, preventing data mining and prohibiting advertising. That’s part of the reason we want to negotiate strong contractual agreements at the enterprise level.

If you sign up individually for cloud services like Dropbox, you agree to their terms. You might put institutional information on there and, if something ever happens, there is no recourse for the university because, we aren’t involved in the agreement.

CL: What steps can people take now to protect their data?

BW: Best practices say we should encrypt our hard drives, our USB sticks and our files. It sounds onerous, but it’s not. It’s just tiny changes in your daily activities. Put a password on any sensitive files. ITServices can help you with these things to make sure your data is secure.

The other thing is to be aware that email is not a very secure way to transmit information. So if you have valuable information, whether its intellectual property or private information, you should be doing things to encrypt that today. It doesn’t make any difference whether you’re in the cloud or not.

CL: When do you want to make the move to Office 365?

BW: I’ve been talking to individuals and various groups across campus to answer questions and help inform people. I also want to get a sense of what people are thinking and make sure we are not missing anything. I’d like to see us make the move in the fall or winter term. We would start with email and calendaring, but the real benefits will come later as we eventually bring the other collaborative tools online. Privacy by Design means we’ll leave an option to opt out if there are individuals who wish to do so, but our experience from other institutions and with our students is that very few people take that option.

CL: Where can people get more information about the cloud and Office 365?

BW: There is a great deal of information on the CIO website, and some answers to frequently asked questions on my blog. If anyone has questions, don’t hesitate to contact me by email.