Friday Jul 05, 2013

The Summer ISC and the Futures Forum

The summer meeting of our semi-annual industry strategy council (ISC) took place in Washington DC at the end of June.  We enjoyed the highest percentage of member participation since I've been leading this group, and the range of topics we covered included our student success solution, our work in the area of student experience (which includes many of our social relationship management tools), an update on our investments in our student information analytics and student information system products, and a update on our budgeting and planning tools for higher ed.  All of that was covered in the first day, with the second day reserved primarily for discussions with policy officials from Congress and from the current administration (DoE) regarding policies and initiatives in higher education where information technology can play an enabling or supporting role.  

During this second day we heard from Richard Culetta (Director of Education Technology) at DoE, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, Congressman Luke Messer of Indiana, also on the Higher Education Subcommittee, and Matt Chingos, fellow, at the Brookings Institute. 

We were hoping to have Senatos Rubio and Wyden, authors of the "Student Right to Know Before You Go" bill which they introduced through the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, but the immigration reform bill which came to a vote on the very day we were meeting took up their schedule.  However, we had Emily Bouch (Senator Rubio's Legislative Aide on Education Policy) and Laura Bernsten (Senator Wyden's Domestic Policy Advisory) who crafted the bill visit with the ISC and engaged in a spirited debate on it's merits.

We also filmed a number of short interviews with several of the council members which, once through post-production, we'll post to our website and also place links here.

Several key themes emerged from the two days of meetings with the council.  One is that we have much work to do at Oracle making sense of the myriad of products, especially those recently acquired, in terms of their value and how they enable solutions to the thorniest problems faced by higher education.  Another is that the role of IT in higher education is slowly changing.  IT leadership is becoming more strategic although the tactical and transactional demands haven't waned.  Many of the members expressed their view that Oracle's engagement with higher ed over the past two years has really changed (for the positive), both in terms of product strategy but also in terms of field engagement.  We have a few members on the council that are not from IT (CFO's, Presidents, COO's) and these representatives consistently communicate how IT is by far the most important (aside from funding and personnel) strategic asset the institution has to maintain and improve competitiveness.

The Forum on the Future of Higher Education

The strategic nature of IT in education was reinforced for me at the forum referenced above.  I missed this conference in 2012, but after seeing the output from the meeting I pledged to myself that I wouldn't miss it in 2013.  There was not an IT leader in the 100+ person group (aside from me), but big data and analytics themes ran through virtually all of the discussions, as well as the need to leverage technology to strengthen our major research university's competitiveness in the global research arena.  The changing business model was also at the forefront of the conference, and the need to use tools and "world class" best practices from industry's use of IT to not only run the "business" but also model the business in a future state that may be significantly different from today's reality was clear.

As an added bonus, I met many of our ISC's members bosses at the Future's Forum!

Our next meeting is already being planned for December.  We plan to devote a much larger chunk of the agenda to the research enterprise, to budgeting and planning in higher education, and to security and access management.  Watch this spot later for more details.

Tuesday Apr 30, 2013

The "Gold" in effeciency & effectiveness in higher ed IT

During this year's Alliance conference in Indianapolis (the North America conference of the HEUG - Higher Ed Users Group) the HEUG board decided to experiment with a new concept to enable some executive level strategic discussions among a select group of leaders from higher ed represented through the HEUG.  This group, billed for now as the "Executive Advisory Group" was made up predominately of CIO's but with a few non-IT leaders sprinkled in.  The goal of the group was to determine how the work of the HEUG can be leveraged to better position higher ed for the future, in other words, wrestling with the age old problem that exists in higher ed IT of translating the benefits of information technology and data into business value and real information (to aid in decision making).  This is a terrific ambition but will definitely be difficult to accomplish.  I'm delighted to be a part of the process and hope that we can foster real change in the attitudes and understanding of non-IT senior leadership at some of our colleges and universities.

Jerry Waldron, intrepid sole that he is, was drafted to lead this effort (Jerry is the CIO at the College of New Jersey). As part of the prep work (and follow-up) to the EAG meeting on the Sunday of Alliance, one article that he suggested as post-reading was a piece written by former Princeton president William Bowen.  Entitled Walk Deliberately, Don't Run, Toward Online Education, Dr. Bowen makes a number of interesting points regarding the lack of hard data proving (or disproving) the efficacy of MOOC's and other forms of online learning.  But it was some of his other points regarding cost containment that I found most interesting:

Academic leaders must look explicitly for strategies to lower costs. I am not saying that educational leaders lack courage (though, sadly, some do). The reality is that controlling costs is a hard sell, in part because strong forces are pushing in the opposite direction.

He's likely not talking about my next point, but it ties back very directly to some of the discussions during the Sunday EAG session at Alliance in March.  And let me make this caveat before proceeding: Oracle doesn't exactly have the best reputation across higher ed for being a part of the cost containment movement (most would argue that we're part of the problem), but this is where I think Oracle is most misunderstood.  We've been all too willing to sell higher ed a lot of software, hardware and services - in other words where there has been lack of discipline and governance we've been complicit in indulging our customers (big generalization here) in the creation of custom jalopies (IT systems made up of lots of parts integrated and maintained by the customer)  vs. selling complete automobiles.

Further, there is additional "gold" in striving for more streamlined, integrated systems from fewer suppliers: the information available in the data.  With so much emphasis on improving student outcomes (student success) and personalized learning (student experience), one of the keys to really enabling these strategic imperatives through better data quality.  Investing in a myriad of point solutions from different vendors, especially if that data is now in the cloud, is a nightmare that some in higher ed are already experiencing.  Even if I didn't work for Oracle, I'm certain I would argue for the same things that Nicole Englebert  of Ovum in her comments to the aforementioned EAG made during her opening remarks.  In a presentation she made to the group entitled "Tectonic chanve in higher education," she references as a major strategic goal the reduction in the number of information technology vendors with which institutions partner, with expectations for a different type of relationship.  She also talks about more standard approaches to enterprise applications, requiring fewer resources (i.e. lower cost) for maintenance and improved agility.

So I think in summary it's going to take some very very courageous CIO's (with willing co-conspirators in COO and CFO positions) to move the needle when it comes to transforming IT in higher from tactical to strategic.  And that's why I applaud what the EAG through the HEUG is trying to do.

Sunday Feb 24, 2013

Crossing the Chasm

For those that know me well, it's no great secret that despite having now held my current position at Oracle for roughly 20 months, I still talk about how much I have to learn about not only the ways in which education institutions use technology to impact their various missions, but also the endless list of possibilities for how it might be leveraged for real and permanent improvement in the industry.

For the better part of 20 years during my time at Apple and Sun, I had a very hardware-focused view of the world.  And while I had occasion to interact with "line of business" leadership within various education concerns, I was mainly traveling in CIO and IT leadership circles.  But during my last three years at Oracle, I've been exposed to the real possibilities that technology holds for educations, especially now in a time of deep introspection in the industry given the multitude of pressures (political, social, and financial) being applied at present.

What strikes me as one of the great "misses" (and at the same time opportunities) is the chasm that exists between IT leadership and functional leadership within most of education, especially in the developed economies around the world.  With a few rare exceptions (see the article from former Cal State Northridge President Jolene Koester Information Technology and Tomorrow’s University: A President’s Confessions and Advice) IT is still viewed with the same skepticism and "necessary evil" attitude as 10+ years ago.  This is no where more evident than in the position of the IT leadership role at most education institutions, usually reporting into a business and finance leader or, worst, into an academic officer.  While exceptions exist, the organizations that treat IT as integral to the institution's future success are those where it reports directly to the president or a chief operation officer (or equivalent).

But even in the absence of wholesale change in this regard, a lot could be done to cross the chasm between IT and functional leadership in education, with the goal being an evolution in the use of IT from the transactional to the strategic.  I'll be the first to admit that my profession hasn't exactly contributed to this evolution in all cases, but there are a number of efforts underway to advance this cause.  Over the past 20 months I've attempted to redirect the advisory council that we host and are fortunate enough to have some leading education institutions from around the world participate) to focus more around transformation in education through technology vs. input and strategy around specific products.  I intent to make Affordability, Accountability, Transparency (and how technology has the power to enable all of these "virtues") the primary themes of the upcoming meeting in June, and to continue to entice CFO's and other line of business leadership within the member institutions to participate along side their IT leaders.

Additionally, our largest user group, the HEUG, is founding an executive advisory group (EAG) made up of both IT and functional leadership, to attempt to address exactly the same issue - how do we begin to think about technology in the context of where education needs to be in the next 10 years to meet not only address the pressure and issues that are present-day problems, but more importantly to address what we see as the needs and demands of society in the next decade.

There's no question we could be a lot more, and this is an area that I'll be talking about in future blog entries throughout this calendar year


Monday Oct 08, 2012

Will Online Learning Save Higher Education (and does it need saving)?

A lot (an awful lot) of education industry rag real estate has been devoted to the topics of online learning, MOOC’s, Udacity, edX, etc., etc. and to the uninitiated you’d think that the education equivalent of the cure for cancer had been discovered. There are certainly skeptics (whose voice is usually swiftly trampled upon by the masses) who feel we could over steer and damage or destroy something vital to teaching and learning (i.e. the classroom experience and direct interaction with human beings known as instructors), but for the most part prevailing opinion seems to be that online learning will take over the world and that higher education will never be the same.

Now I’m sure that since you all know I work for a technology company you think I’m going to come down hard on the side of online learning proselytizers. Yes, I do believe that this revolution can and will provide access to massive numbers of individuals that either couldn’t afford (from a fiscal or time perspective) a traditional education, and that in some cases the online modality will actually be an improvement over certain traditional forms (such as courses taught by an adjunct or teaching assistant that has no business being a teacher).

But I think several things need immediate attention or we’re likely to get so caught up in the delivery that we miss some of the real issues (and opportunities) around online learning. First and foremost, we’ve got to give some thought to how traditional information systems are going to accommodate thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of individual students each taking courses from many, many different “deliverers” with an expectation that successful completion of these courses will result in credit at many or most institutions. There’s also a huge opportunity to refine the delivery platform (no, LMS is not a commodity when you are talking about online delivery being your sole mode of operation) as well as the course itself by mining all kinds of data from the interactions that the students have with the material each time they take it. Social data analytics tools will be key in achieving this goal. What about accreditation (badging or competencies vs. traditional degrees)? And again, will the information systems in place today adapt to changes in this area fast enough?

The type of scale that this shift in learning could drive has the potential to abruptly overwhelm just about every system in place today in higher education. I would like to (with a not so gentle reminder) refer you back to a blog entry I wrote when I first stepped into my current role at Oracle in which I talked about how higher ed needs an “Oracle” more than at any other time in it’s evolution (despite the somewhat mercantilist reputation it has in some circles). There just aren’t that many organizations that can deliver the kinds of solutions “at scale” that this brave new world of online education will demand. The future may be closer than we think.


Sunday Jul 22, 2012

Happy Birthday WGU!

I was recently granted a seat on Western Governors University national advisory board, and just returned from their semi-annual board meeting and 15-year anniversary commemoration. For those of you that are not familiar with WGU, it's the first of it's kind competency-based, non-profit, on-line university that was originally established in Utah and now has official state-branded institutions in Washington, Indiana, and Texas. WGU is very focused with programs in Nursing, IT, Business, and a teachers college. Their primary audience is adult learners that require non-standard hours and delivery models for education.

It's withstood some withering criticism from traditional higher ed, and has also been the unfortunate victim of collateral damage from the oft-times-justified scrutiny of for-profit higher ed. But despite huge obstacles and odds, WGU has quietly demonstrated huge growth both in students, graduates, and financial footing. And at the core of WGU's model is leveraging technology as a strategic weapon in the battle to provide quality education at extremely reasonable costs. Their core IT philosophy espoused by their CIO Niel Nickolaisen and President Bob Mendenhall is a "buy vs. build" and "cloud-first" approach. He and the WGU senior leadership team also understand the value of data and leveraging analytics to drive up student success, and their SAP (Satisfactory Academic Progress) figures are already bearing this out. In this age of near-vilification of higher ed in some circles, it's refreshing to see a model that's working, financially stable, growing, and producing graduates with a high level of satisfaction.

WGU has over 33,000 students today and graduates more science and math teachers than any other institution in the US (yes you read that right). All because several governors, the then-head of the DoE, and some early private sponsors (including Scott McNealy from Sun and Thompson Learning, now Cengage) believed in this competency-based, on-line model of higher education.

So congratulations WGU on 15 years. I have a feeling that the next 15 will be even more spectacular.

Cole Clark, Global Vice President, Oracle Education and Research Industries

Monday Jun 04, 2012

Educause Top-Ten IT Issues - the most change in a decade or more

The Education IT Issue Panel has released the 2012 top-ten issues facing higher education IT leadership, and instead of the customary reshuffling of the same deck, the issues reflect much of the tumult and dynamism facing higher education generally.  I find it interesting (and encouraging) that at the top of this year's list is "Updating IT Professionals' Skills and Roles to Accommodate Emerging Technologies and Changing IT Management and Service Delivery Models."  This reflects, in my view, the realization that higher education IT must change in order to fully realize the potential for transforming the institution, and therefore it's people must learn new skills, understand and accept new ways of solving problems, and not be tied down by past practices or institutional inertia.

What follows in the remaining 9 top issues all speak, in some form or fashion, to the need for dramatic change, but not just in the areas of "funding IT" (code for cost containment or reduction), but rather the need to increase effectiveness and efficiency of the institution through the use of technology—leveraging the wave of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to the institution's advantage, rather than viewing it as a threat and a problem to be contained.

Although it's #10 of 10, IT Governance (and establishment and implementation of the governance model throughout the institution) is key to effectively acting upon many of the preceding issues in this year's list.  In the majority of cases, technology exists to meet the needs and requirements to effectively address many of the challenges outlined in top-ten issues list.

Which brings me to my next point. Although I try not to sound too much like an Oracle commercial in these (all too infrequent) blog posts, I can't help but point out how much confluence there is between several of the top issues this year and what my colleagues and I have been evangelizing for some time. Starting from the bottom of the list up:

1) I'm gratified that research and the IT challenges it presents has made the cut.  Big Data (or Large Data as it's phased in the report) is rapidly going to overwhelm much of what exists today even at our most prepared and well-equipped research universities.  Combine large data with the significantly more stringent requirements around data preservation, archiving, sharing, curation, etc. coming from granting agencies like NSF, and you have the brewing storm that could result in a lot of "one-off" solutions to a problem that could very well be addressed collectively and "at scale."  

2) Transformative effects of IT – while I see more and more examples of this, there is still much more that can be achieved. My experience tells me that culture (as the report indicates or at least poses the question) gets in the way more than technology not being up to task.  We spend too much time on "context" and not "core," and get lost in the weeds on the journey to truly transforming the institution with technology.

3) Analytics as a key element in improving various institutional outcomes.  In our work around Student Success, we see predictive "academic" analytics as essential to getting in front of the Student Success issue, regardless of how an institution or collections of institutions defines success.  Analytics must be part of the fabric of the key academic enterprise applications, not a bolt-on.  We will spend a significant amount of time on this topic during our semi-annual Education Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington, D.C. later this month.

4) Cloud strategy for the broad range of applications in the academic enterprise.  Some of the recent work by Casey Green at the Campus Computing Survey would seem to indicate that there is movement in this area but mostly in what has been termed "below the campus" application areas such as collaboration tools, recruiting, and alumni relations.  It's time to get serious about sourcing elements of mature applications like student information systems, HR, Finance, etc. leveraging a model other than traditional on-campus custom.

I've only selected a few areas of the list to highlight, but the unifying theme here (and this is where I run the risk of sounding like an Oracle commercial) is that these lofty goals cry out for partners that can bring economies of scale to bear on the problems married with a deep understanding of the nuances unique to higher education.  In a recent piece in Educause Review on Student Information Systems, the author points out that "best of breed is back". Unfortunately I am compelled to point out that best of breed is a large part of the reason we have made as little progress as we have as an industry in advancing some of the causes outlined above.  Don't confuse "integrated" and "full stack" for vendor lock-in.  The best-of-breed market forces that Ron points to ensure that solutions have to be "integratable" or they don't survive in the marketplace. However, by leveraging the efficiencies afforded by adopting solutions that are pre-integrated (and possibly metered out as a service) allows us to shed unnecessary costs – as difficult as these decisions are to make and to drive throughout the organization.


Monday Apr 02, 2012

Impressions and Reactions from Alliance 2012

Alliance 2012 has come to a conclusion.  What strikes me about every Alliance conference is the amazing amount of collaboration and cooperation I see across higher education in the sharing of best practices around the entire Oracle PeopleSoft software suite, not just the student information system (Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions).  In addition to the vibrant U.S. organization, it's gratifying to see the growth in the international attendance again this year, with an EMEA HEUG organizing to complement the existing groups in the Netherlands, South Africa, and the U.K.  Their first meeting is planned for London in October, and I suspect they'll be surprised at the amount of interest and attendance.

In my discussions with higher education IT and functional leadership at Alliance there were a number of instances where concern was expressed about Oracle's commitment to higher education as an industry, primarily because of a lack of perceived innovation in the applications that Oracle develops for this market. Here I think perception and reality are far apart, and I'd like to explain why I believe this to be true.

First let me start with what I think drives this perception. Predominately it's in two areas. The first area is the user interface, both for students and faculty that interact with the system as "customers", and for those employees of the institution (faculty, staff, and sometimes students as well) that use the system in some kind of administrative role. Because the UI hasn't changed all that much from the PeopleSoft days, individuals perceive this as a dead product with little innovation and therefore Oracle isn't investing.

The second area is around the integration of the higher education suite of applications (PeopleSoft Campus Solutions) and the rest of the Oracle software assets. Whether grown organically or acquired, there is an impressive array of middleware and other software products that could be leveraged much more significantly by the higher education applications than is currently the case today. This is also perceived as lack of investment.

Let me address these two points.  First the UI.  More is being done here than ever before, and the PAG and other groups where this was discussed at Alliance 2012 were more numerous than I've seen in any past meeting. Whether it's Oracle development leveraging web services or some extremely early but very promising work leveraging the recent Endeca acquisition (see some cool examples here) there are a lot of resources aimed at this issue.  There are also some amazing prototypes being developed by our UX (user experience team) that will eventually make their way into the higher education applications realm - they had an impressive setup at Alliance.  Hopefully many of you that attended found this group. If not, the senior leader for that team Jeremy Ashley will be a significant contributor of content to our summer Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington in June.

In the area of integration with other elements of the Oracle stack, this is also an area of focus for the company and my team.  We're making this a priority especially in the areas of identity management and security, leveraging WebCenter more effectively for content, imaging, and mobility, and driving towards the ultimate objective of WebLogic Suite as our platform for SOA, links to learning management systems (SAIP), and content. There is also much work around business intelligence centering on OBI applications.

But at the end of the day we get enormous value from the HEUG (higher education user group) and the various subgroups formed as a part of this community that help us align and prioritize our investments, whether it's around better integration with other Oracle products or integration with partner offerings.  It's one of the healthiest, mutually beneficial relationships between customers and an Education IT concern that exists on the globe.

And I can't avoid mentioning that this kind of relationship between higher education and the corporate IT community that can truly address the problems of efficiency and effectiveness, institutional excellence (which starts with IT) and student success.  It's not (in my opinion) going to be solved through community source - cost and complexity only increase in that model and in the end higher education doesn't ultimately focus on core competencies: educating, developing, and researching. 

While I agree with some of what Michael A. McRobbie wrote in his EDUCAUSE Review article (Information Technology: A View from Both Sides of the President’s Desk), I take strong issue with his assertion that the "the IT marketplace is just the opposite of long-term stability...."  Sure there has been healthy, creative destruction in the past 2-3 decades, but this has had the effect of, in the aggregate, benefiting education with greater efficiency, more innovation and increased stability as larger, more financially secure firms acquire and develop integrated solutions.


Friday Mar 09, 2012

Why Higher Education Needs Oracle More Than Ever

For those of you that I haven't met, I'm Cole Clark. I lead the education and research industry team for Oracle globally. I started my career after graduating from Rhodes College in 1988, working in the nascent IT organization at another university (the University of Tennessee, Memphis) to help put myself through school. I "grew up" in computing during the advent of the Macintosh, client server, the slow demise of the mainframe and the move away from centralized computing with more and more power and capability (and operating system empowerment of users) at the desk, and eventually, lap.

I eventually joined the company whose products I admired so much (Apple), then moved to Sun when in 1997 it appeared Apple would not make it (clearly got that one wrong), then to Oracle by way of its acquisition of Sun in 2010. During those almost 23 years I've watched the almost full-circle from centralized to decentralized back to centralized and now to even more centralization (shared services and cloud) in computing in higher education.

But with this movement back to centrally managed services has come an enormous cost, both in real dollars (or name your currency of choice) and in what we deliver to constituents. Sure, there's the promise of greater efficiency and data security, but with so many more players in the traditional "stack" of enterprise computing, each focusing on a specific layer (or two or three), higher education has generally amassed a collection of technologies that merely move the spaghetti that existed before in the client-server environment to the data center. Think about it - in many cases there are different (sometimes multiple!) suppliers at each layer - storage, storage management, operating system(s), virtualization system, server(s) interconnects, network, database, security and identity management, content management, portal, and various applications. And at each layer, a management interface that rarely integrates (seamlessly and elegantly) with the other layers. So we add people and process.

Virtualization has brought with it greater server utilization and efficiency, but in the place of a handful of, at times, under-utilized servers, we now have massive VM sprawl that brings with it its own set of management costs.

All of the above runs head-long into the economic crisis in education that hit in 2008 and persists today. Cloud computing and community source hold the allure of even greater efficiency and cost savings. But is this really the holy grail? As (outgoing) CSU Northridge president Jolene Koester says in her outstanding piece on university IT when confronted with the comparison of technology to a utility, "...the role of information technology in my university is far more strategic, far more ubiquitous, far more integrated into multiple business practices, and far more integral to the core university functions of teaching and learning. I no longer regard as valid the comparison of information technology to a utility." No, the answer is in my view to leave computing to organizations that are highly skilled, have thousands of use cases upon which to solve problems, and have the intellectual property under the roof to engineer these highly complex systems to work together, with a common management interface.

I recently convened the first meeting of an expanded industry strategy council for education and research at Oracle headquarters in California. I invited many institutions that were outside of our typical participants in the past: some that owned no Oracle applications and utilized solutions from competitors, some that owned little Oracle at all, some that were former Sun customers, some that are still devoted Sun customers today. What resonated with me after a day and a half of interaction and dialog was that there is a lot going on at Oracle unbeknownst to higher ed - investments in relationships and technology, but foremost, moving IT away from integrated solutions to engineered and optimized.

That's our mission in higher ed - to build highly optimized and engineered systems with less complexity and cost, leveraging those engineering assets to bleed out implementation and maintenance costs before they arrive at a college or university data center, or in the data center of some shared services hosting center.

Oracle's biggest obstacle in this quest in higher ed is, from my somewhat naive view of the world, it’s perception by some in the education community as a ‘big bad vendor’. Candidly, it's Oracle’s own fault (again from my personal perspective) that Oracle has created this persona which has contributed to the rise of community source endeavors like Kuali and Sakai. With all due respect to these groups and their cheerleaders, I don't believe they will get higher education where it needs to go. Again, community source solutions have come about partially because vendors are not satisfying the market with the correct products and partially (maybe more than partially) because Oracle is sometimes viewed as Machiavellian. Point taken. But I would encourage any of you taking the time to read this to get to know this new systems company called Oracle. No, all answers to all education computing problems are not yet in, but the key to running efficient and effective computing that provides competitive advantage and allows for keen insight from masses of data into the trends and potentially catastrophes (before they occur), lie in working with us to deploy engineered and optimized systems from us and from our partners.

Oracle has acquired Sun, and PeopleSoft, Hyperion, Siebel, Right Now and.... (the list is more than 75 companies long). We're all about the "systems-ness" of computing now. Yes, Oracle and other vendors have our faults - we're working on those and want to talk more about how we dramatically improve our relationships (hence my desire to further expand the strategy council to even more members, globally). Give us a call. In the words of one of my favorite architects on my global team, "I am listening."

Cole Clark


Comments, news, updates and perspectives from Oracle's global vice president of the education and research industry--which includes higher education, research, and primary/secondary education (K-12) organizations worldwide.


« July 2016