The Higher Ed SaaS Journey: Minimizing Risks, Maximizing Rewards

If you attended EDUCAUSE ‘15, you might have noticed an increased number of sessions focused on cloud and SaaS applications. Despite this growing interest in SaaS applications, campus administrators and technologists still express concerns about SaaS application security, and those concerns have led to higher education lagging in core application SaaS adoption.

In a recent interview, Navneet Johal, Research Analyst at Ovum, “security concerns are the most commonly cited reason why institutions are not interested in … SaaS delivery models.” “Trends in Cloud Computing in Higher Education” by eCampus News recently reported that 68% of survey respondents noted that the biggest challenge related to the adoption of SaaS applications was security.

In this post, we’ll explore the reasons for that perception, and ways to minimize risks and maximize rewards when increasing your own institution’s adoption of SaaS applications.

Why have higher education institutions been slower to adopt SaaS applications than organizations in other industries?

Research shows a common theme among reasons for going slow – concerns about SaaS data security, as noted above. Not all those concerns are based in fact: “Even though most concerns about security from a SaaS provider can be easily addressed by protocols and processes that outpace and outperform typical campus-based security measures, there is still a lot of ‘feeling’ that data and systems are less secure if hosted somewhere else.”

Is your institution’s data at risk?

No, and yes. No, because SaaS vendors are doing a good job managing the parts of data protection they control – hardware failure, software failure, natural disasters, and power outages – making it highly unlikely a failure will happen that will lead to data loss. Yes, because they can’t protect you from what you control – errors or malicious acts by your users and your admins.

Regarding those data protection areas you control, here are just a few use cases:

  • Those institutions that have Google Workspace can experience data loss caused by malicious users. “An employee quit last week; she logged in from home and deleted all of her Google Drive documents, and she emptied her Google Drive Trash as well. There was one specific document that was important – and we can’t recover it.”
  • More universities are adopting Salesforce for alumni and student lifecycle management, but data loss can happen. “One of our Admins accidentally made a mass upload, total 40,000 records, which affected 15,000 records causing some data to be lost.”
  • Regarding Office 365 Mail, one admin wrote, “I incorrectly configured a retention tag and subsequently lost all email items older than 2 years across the entire organization – in every user account. And I learned it’s not reversible.”

Why should higher education technologists consider adopting SaaS applications?

Despite the risks posed by admin and user errors or malicious activity, there are significant advantages to be gained by the adoption of SaaS applications – particularly enhanced collaboration and productivity, and reduced IT overhead, as discussed in research published in August 2014 in the SAGE Open Journal.

How to minimize SaaS risk in order to maximize rewards.

Given the benefits, how can higher education technologists and administration accelerate SaaS adoption while minimizing risks? By adopting SaaS applications along with a third-party SaaS backup and restore solution like Spanning Backup, one that provides daily, automated backup and rapid point-in-time restore.

To learn more, read how VIF Education reduced risks associated with SaaS adoption by using Spanning Backup for Google Workspace and Spanning Backup for Salesforce. Take a look at Spanning Backup Solutions for Education here.