Thursday Jun 26, 2014

Summer in DC

I just wrapped up a week in DC for our Education & Research Industry Strategy Council (ISC) - the seventh meeting over which I've presided since stepping into my current role.

It's exceptionally gratifying to see how much we've progressed in three short years.  We now have a fairly regular dialog with policy officials in Washington, a robust agenda touching on a variety of issues that are in focus for higher education executives, and tying all of that together with a technology underpinning.   We had exceptional turnout of the members as well, including new participation from Vanderbilt, Illinois State, Seneca, McMaster, Chicago, and Valdosta State.

The agenda themes for this session included a Cybersecurity in Higher Education, Information Discovery, Student Success, and Higher Education Cloud.  Two days was not enough time!  While we did spend a considerable portion of the discussing and deliberating, I do think we need more time to tee up issues and have more open discussion than presentations.  It's a hard balance to strike, given that the mission of the ISC is multifaceted (exposing the ISC to new ideas and technologies, getting input on our strategy in education and research, providing access to Oracle executives, and facilitating dialog with policy officials) but the real value comes from the interactions and we need have more of that throughout the time we are together.

I was most impressed by the amount of interest we had from the members of congress that spent time with the council.  We had three Senators (Isaacson from GA, Murphy from CT and Casey from PA), and two members of the House (Foxx from NC and Petri from WI).  Further, Undersecretary of Education Jamie Studley joined us for a long conversation about the proposed higher ed rating system and the implications for data and information in driving those rankings.

The real in-depth discussions, however, were reserved for our Higher Ed Cloud session.  It's clear to me that while the broader industry in moving to Cloud aggressively, higher ed is taking a more deliberate approach, and we need to provide guidance and leverage some of the lessons learned and best practices from other industries who've already made this journey.  There is a real opportunity here for higher ed to become more agile and nimble in order to adapt more rapidly to the dynamics in higher education, but equally possible that they could rush headlong into Cloud for Cloud's sake without a plan and create more issues than already exist in higher ed IT today.

Overall I was very pleased with the outcome but the real test will be in the feedback we receive from the approx. 30 member institutions.  I am already looking forward to December when we reconvene in Redwood Shores!

Friday Jun 13, 2014

Latin America HEUG and EUNIS

I wanted to post a few quick notes on a couple of recent events in education IT that were positive developments for the community and for Oracle.

First was the inaugural Latin America Higher Education User Group May 29-30. The event was held in Bogotá and Universidad Javeriana acted as the host institution.   Roberto Montoya, Vice President for Administration and Finance, played a large roll in getting this first-ever LATAM HEUG off the ground, as did the executive team from HEUG (Lew Connor, Steve Hahn, and many others). With over 180 attendees, it struck me as a real success. Of course there was the focus on specific applications and products, roadmaps and plans, but there was a theme running through the event of the need to align IT to the strategic goals of transition and transformation in the academy; the real imperative to change the way we examine, acquire, deploy, and derive value from IT in higher education. We added two universities in the region to the Oracle higher education family on the Friday of the conference, and I look forward to supporting this community and participating in next year's event in Lima.

There is an unspoken hero, however, that deserves significant recognition, at least in terms of Oracle's overall presence at the meeting. That is Luz Marina Torres Forero (or Luz Ma as we call her). She and her team did an amazing job of rounding up the necessary resources to ensure our support of the customers and prospects attending the event felt comfortable and welcome. This is a difficult job to do for events that span multiple countries in a region.

I also want to mention another meeting that is long-standing but is relatively new for us at Oracle and that is EUNIS Congress (European University Information Systems). EUNIS has been around for many many years but Oracle has not participated (beyond attending) for quite some number of years, and so it was gratifying to join with this community at their meeting in Umeå Sweden at Umeå University, and speak to the group on leveraging IT for transformation in higher education. In addition to presenting I was able to listen to a number of the other talks given at the meeting, and I was especially excited by the message "The Death of IT" from Michiel Boreel, CTO of the Sogeti Group. He talked about the transition we are experiencing globally from "IT" to "BT" (business technology), and how that is driving a shift in emphasis and focus from the "What" of IT (applications, servers, wires, databases... basically all the "stuff") to the "Why" (what is the business value and the resulting transformations that result from the initiative). He also talked about the imperative to infuse the senior leadership team with people who "get" this "BT" thinking, and while his talk had little to do with education, I think this message is so applicable to our leadership in higher education (and frankly ALL education) today. We need people in leadership roles who understand "BT" and can partner with IT leaders to drive the necessary change in the academy to harness the capabilities that technology has the potential to deliver. But it comes from cultural and process change happening first - throwing the "What" of IT at education is largely waiting valuable human and capital resources.

This was a great start for us in the EUNIS community and we've already committed to 2015 and 2016. I look forward to engaging with this group in the coming months and speaking at their next conference at Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland next year.

Monday May 19, 2014

Own the Problem

Most if not all of my blog entries since taking the role of global VP for Oracle's Education and Research Industry team have been about, well, Oracle and/or Education and Research.  Today, however, I want to use this space to pay tribute to someone who's made a significant impact in my life and career, and also to talk about role models and the important place they hold in our societies as managers, mentors, and advisors.

To provide some context, my boss of three years is retiring.  I've had a lot of bosses.  In fact when Juan (Rada, the individual in question) announced his intent to retire at the end of our fiscal year (May 31) I tried counting all of my bosses since college.  I've only worked for three companies (Apple, Sun, and Oracle) + a little time in a university IT organization (the medical school at the University of Tennessee), but by my count I've worked for 15 different bosses since taking my first job out of college in 1988.  That doesn't include bosses during part time work in high school and college (I held a job of some sort since the 10th grade).

All of my bosses had the usual mix of strengths and weaknesses; some were much better than others in terms of being mentors and coaches; some were just successful people as individual contributors that were promoted (without really possessing strong management skills); like most people I've had a small minority (but still significant) that made my life a living hell.   But across that entire portfolio, good and bad, I can confidently say that I've learned something from every experience.

However the last three years have been for me (and I expect for most of my colleagues in Juan's orbit) an extremely rare mix of development, learning, growth, and broadening of perspective that I think only a few of us are privileged to experience.  Juan has an incredible array of experiences, coming to Europe as a political refugee from a country he will now spend part of his time in retirement assisting and advising (Chile), he has been one of the preeminent leaders in all things "industry" at Oracle.  He has understood the vast treasure trove of IP that can be brought to bear on industry problems, and how to maneuver through a large complex organization to bring those solutions to life.

Granted my circumstance my be somewhat different than the others on Juan's team, but I can certainly say I've grown more professionally in the last three years than in the previous 10.  Some of that growth came from new challenges presented by the role - this is the first global position I've held in education since entering the field 25 years ago - but much of what I take away comes from the exceptional perspective (taking the long view), patience, and people skill that Juan has taught me by example.

It's no secret that Education has been at times a challenging industry at Oracle - where financial services, media, telecommunications, and other industries with large concentrations of spend in small numbers of customers abound.  In his most recent role, Juan's industries included government, health care and life sciences, utilities, and education, and on a pure global revenue basis education was # 4 of those five sectors.  Nevertheless, Juan understood the criticality of succeeding in education, given the importance to our society as well as to Oracle (as education represents 8% of GDP globally, which puts it just behind healthcare and just above military spending).  Time and time again, when I would hit a roadblock and want to give in to my fatalistic tendencies, he would (subtly) help me see a different path.

I guess what I'm most grateful for is being given the opportunity to do this job in the first place.  Three years ago this role didn't exist, and Juan went to extraordinary lengths (there was considerable pressure at the time not to create the position) to invest in a global leader for education.  I am my own worst critic when it comes to stuff like this, but thanks to an amazing (small) team, I believe we've made progress, and we can look Juan in the eyes and say that, while there is still much more to accomplish, we've made demonstrable progress.

Juan's parting words to me and my colleagues at a dinner we held for him celebrating his years in Oracle were "Always act as if you Own the Problem."  Those words will live in my thoughts and actions for many, many years to come. 

God Speed, my friend.

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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.

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