IT Leaders in education discuss their challenges—and the opportunity to innovate and thrive

By Bill Byron Concevitch

Earlier this year, Commvault hosted a series of panel discussions with IT leaders from educational institutions, along with education data and data management experts from Commvault and Microsoft. The series was the result of a request by education IT leaders who listened to Ron Dowden, IT Unit Director at Johns Hopkins University, discuss their Microsoft Azure cloud initiative with Commvault (you can listen to the interview here). The response was, “bring more of these success stories to us!”

Since then, we’ve listened to many IT leaders in education. All of this is helping us shape capabilities that continue to transform as the IT needs (and business needs) of educational institutions across the globe continue to transform.

With the new school year underway, we thought we’d share a quick synopsis of these discussions, with a focus on the advice the panel members shared.  Here’s the top insights from the panel discussions.

Virtual learning increases the threat landscape

As one panelist summed it up, “Security’s at the forefront—top of mind for executive leadership.” With accelerated growth in virtual learning, the threat landscape increases.  It’s not just remote students, it’s remote instructors, and often, remote support staff. For example, with the need to immediately move to remote labs it becomes a very complex education ecosphere that needs to be protected.  Critical is the ability to track abnormalities in your data, which are often indicators of malicious intent. Plus, internal threats (intentional or unintended) are often more prevalent than external threats.

PANELIST ADVICE: Make sure you have a data management capability that can follow the data, managing and protecting your data wherever it goes.  Make sure you have an advance warning system and a solid plan for the potential impact of and recovery from, malicious threats—regardless of where these originate.

Speed is of the essence to survive and thrive

Like never before in the history of educational institutions, you need the ability to change course in a matter of weeks, not years or even months. As one expert shared, “Until recently, we worked on 3-to-5-year plans in education—not anymore. As IT leaders, we’re now looking at plans that we implement in a matter of weeks, and then continue to refine as we learn from how these innovations unfold and how they are accepted by all constituents involved.”

PANELIST ADVICE: Have a rolling plan that can morph and change as the situation dictates—technology, workforce or capability. Constant feedback loops are critical, and systematic adjustments are essential. Feedback is continually needed from faculty, students, staff—and more.

Cutting costs is paramount—yet service and cyber security expectations are up

It’s not a matter of cutting costs simply to meet budget decreases or reductions in funding. It’s cutting costs while at the same time improving what you deliver. As one panelist shared, “We’ve got to figure out what really makes a difference…being able to analyze and put in some kind of dashboard…The conversations we have now with instructors, students, and staff is what makes the difference in where we invest and how we invest.”

PANELIST ADVICE: Institute dashboards and business leader conversations with all constituents to understand what is really needed and what is being provided.  Look to capabilities that can accomplish multiple objectives to help streamline your operations. Make sure the capabilities you embrace can literally transform themselves and scale, to keep pace with what you need.

IT in Education: More strategic and transformational

As the pandemic continues, IT in education needs to be more strategic and transformational. IT in education has a real opportunity to innovation. The most candid comments on this topic came from one of our panelists: “Coming to the table with solutions and ideas and use cases for what other campuses are doing…Hearing what another campus like us has done.  That’s innovation.  Those things are always huge for us to understand how someone used Microsoft and Commvault to overcome one of their challenges…it makes us much more confident using that to solve our problems. We need to be adaptive.”

PANELIST ADVICE: Seek partners who look to understand your challenges and priorities while offering insight into how similar institutions and campuses are applying innovation to achieve results that solve their top challenges.  Embrace colleagues and partners you can learn from, and who also learn from you.

The panelists challenge to us: Mountains of research data

As part of this series of panel discussions, these education IT experts posed a challenge to us, asking us to help them solve the increasingly complex challenge of managing the growing volumes of research data, and the added challenges the pandemic has posed in this area of data management and protection.

Commvault and Microsoft are once again joining forces, leveraging our 20+ years of jointly engineered solutions and innovation to offer a framework designed to effectively store, manage, protect, index and use the massive amounts of education research data—stay tuned for more details.

We would value hearing from you about your success stories, your challenges, and your advice on topics for our next series of panel discussions with education IT leaders—or to let us know you’d like an invitation to join us as a panelist.

To learn more and to be part of the next session, email us at and visit and  If you’d like to get into the details and view the webinars on-demand, here are the links:

For a limited time, Metallic SaaS Backup, from Commvault, is being made available to educational institutions at a prime discount – learn more here.