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!

Monday Mar 10, 2014

After months of rumors, it's official… Oracle announces Cloud Student

Greetings from Alliance 2014 in sunny Las Vegas, where today we made a number of announcements about increased investment by Oracle in the higher education market.   During the opening reception last night and in more detail this morning, we outlined our plans to build (from the ground up) a new Student Information System (Oracle Cloud Student) that will be offered as SaaS and designed with the modern student in mind.  Make no mistake, this product will have the student, and the student's success, at the foundation of the development effort upon which we are embarking.  

There will be a strong focus on mobile, social, and the student experience, with a significant amount of attention given to the "modern" (now what some might even call "traditional") multi-channel student who takes courses across multiple institutions, some (to potentially all) on-line, and in some cases "on-demand" (i.e. term-less).  It will embed predictive analytics,  which will significantly enhance the modern academy's effort to improve student success.

Probably the biggest overlooked element in all of this is the enormous head start we have as a company given the massive investments in SaaS, Cloud infrastructure, CX, and analytics.  No other company on the planet can draw on the rich portfolio of IP, development talent, deployment and implementation experience, and industry expertise than Oracle.   While I've said in this blog in the past that it's a very exciting time to be a part of the higher education IT ecosystem at this point in the industry's evolution, our focus on developing a modern SIS for higher ed of 2015 and beyond makes this period even more compelling.

Our CEO was personally involved in approving these projects, and we aren't stopping with just a new Cloud SIS.  We're building higher education-specific functionality into our existing robust SaaS HCM and ERP products, so that colleges and universities have the option of running their entire business systems footprint on Oracle's Education Cloud.

And given the breadth and depth (both from an IP as well as from a financial stability perspective) we are continuing to develop, enhance, and improve the already most mature, functional, and global suite of business systems for higher education: Peoplesoft Campus Solutions, HCM, and ERP.   While many have assumed these were zombie products, the delivered features and enhancements in Campus alone over the past 8 quarters are greater than all of the R&D done on the product in the prior 5 years.  To help the market understand this commitment to our existing portfolio, we will be launching Campus Solutions 9.2 concurrent with the Cloud announcements I mentioned above.

I can't end this post without a final comment on "cloud.  The hype around cloud computing is palpable.  Many of the new entrants into the market like to paint Oracle into a corner as "legacy" and "non-cloud."  But with this announcement, as well as with the capabilities we have today with our complete end-to-end stack and investment in all Cloud "layers" (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS), there is no software consumption modality that we cannot provide at extreme performance and extreme efficiency and cost-effectiveness (again, because of the end-to-end capabilities we have in designing how the software and hardware are integrated to work together).  We've learned a lot from many other industries' foray into Cloud and believe now is the time for us to help higher education as it embarks on a similar journey.

Tuesday Sep 17, 2013

Higher Ed ERP and Cloud

The past couple of weeks have been a relative frenzy in the ordinarily mundane world of higher ed "administrative" IT or ERP.  Most notable was the much-anticipated Workday announcement of an intention to build a SaaS Student Information System (Workday Student).  This caught almost no one by surprise given that their partner institutions are talking and their recent hires into leadership roles telegraphed this rather overtly.

The topic of Cloud and SaaS in education IT is one that I've devoted considerable air time to, both on this blog as well as in our forum with a number of global education partners (our Industry Strategy Council, or ISC, that meets twice a year).  Inevitably the conversation and discussion always seems to come back to a couple of key questions:

1) Will it lower costs?

2) Will anyone consume it if it's offered?

The attraction to SaaS applications in higher ed is almost always the allure of lowering costs associated with the acquisition, maintenance, upgrades, and management of an on-premise application.  Further, many I talk to actually admit that they'd love to use the SaaS vendors upgrade schedule (which is the upgrade schedule all of its customers will be on, like it or not) as the justification for business process standardization and implementation of strict IT governance (i.e. thou shalt not customize).  Meaning: We can't enforce the needed governance ourselves, so we need a SaaS solution to impose it on us, leveraging the justification of reduced costs.

There seems to be a perception that Oracle isn't part of the Cloud revolution in IT or has been "slow to adopt the cloud."  I am astonished by this given the facts, but perception is often reality.  But shouldn't we really be talking about, given the fundamental realities of higher ed institutions and their overall structure, SaaS is really workable in all cases?  Brian Voss in his recent blog post "On the Future of Administrative Information Technology" comments that many administrative systems in higher ed are reaching their 10 or 20 year anniversaries and that commercial vendors of IT for higher ed are discontinuing support for older products, leading to a potential wave of replacements in the coming years.  These same issues confront many commercial enterprises - what is different in my view is that higher ed has for the most part (and I am falling victim to something I generally despise - broad generalizations) been largely unable to contain costs and extract a great deal of value from admin IT because it lacks strong IT governance.   SaaS WILL NOT solve this problem.

One of the many business transformation partners that my team and I have worked with over the years is a firm called the Hackett Group.  For the winter meeting of the ISC I referenced earlier, representatives from Hackett in partnership with one of their clients (and ISC member) the University of Michigan, presented on the IT rationalization project they had embarked upon at Michigan and also generalized to the overall "world class" benchmark of higher ed vs. other commercial organizations that exhibited "world class" performance.  What was clear in nearly every category was that while higher ed overall has done a reasonable job containing costs, it still spends a preponderance of its IT resources on largely "transactional" (vs. strategic) functions - even higher in fact that what is exhibited by public sector (government) IT organizations in the US.

There is no question that the Workday announcement for a SaaS SIS will garner a lot of attention, and in fact it will have a positive impact on us as strong competition always has on the industry.  But I caution my colleagues, partners, customers, etc. not to get hung up on the shiny new object and lose sight of the real issue that has the greatest opportunity to enable higher ed organizations to realize value from strategic investments in IT: standardized infrastructure and systems simplification hold the key to IT truly becoming a strategic resource for the institution.

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.



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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