Sunday Dec 08, 2013

Another Oracle Education and Research Industry Strategy Council is in the books

December 4-5 were the dates for our winter Industry Strategy Council meeting that we hold semi-annually, with the December sessions always being at our headquarters in Redwood Shores California.  Institutions participating included the Cal State system, Georgia Tech, Qatar University, Griffith University (Australia), University of Maryland, Western Ontario, Michigan, Central Florida, and  Kansas (to name a few).  We discussed some exciting new announcements in our higher education applications portfolio (under non-disclosure), a status report on Sun Microsystems inside Oracle, 3 years after acquisition, our strategy for research, and our views on operational excellence.  We had tremendous third party participation in a number of these sessions include Erin Gore, EVP of higher ed at Well Fargo (former CFO of UC Berkeley), John Fowler, or SVP for Systems, Steve Miranda our EVP for application product development, and Joanne Olson our EVP for North America Applications sales.

We have a three-fold objective with these meetings: to garner input from the council on our strategy, to inform and provide insight on our strategy in a way not available to the bulk of our customer and prospect base, and to provide a networking and interaction opportunity for the council members not only among themselves but also with senior executives from Oracle.

While it's impossible for me to be specific given that some of what was discussed at the meeting was confidential, some of the news shared this week hallmark a major "doubling down" for Oracle in the education & research industry with significant plans to increase out investment and portfolio in this area.  Stay tuned for more information on what these announcements entail in a future blog entry.  But suffice it to say there has never been a more exciting time for Oracle in Education & Research.

Wednesday Nov 13, 2013

The Arab HEUG is now a reality, and other random thoughts

I just returned from Doha, Qatar where the first of its kind HEUG (Higher Education User Group) meeting for institutions in the Middle East and North Africa was held at Qatar University and jointly hosted by Damman University from Saudi Arabia. Over 80 delegates attended including representation from education institutions in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Qatar.

There are many other regional HEUG organizations in place (in Australia/New Zealand, APAC, EMEA, as well as smaller regional HEUG’s in the Netherlands, South Africa, and in regions of the US), but it was truly an accomplishment to see this Middle East/North Africa group organize and launch their chapter with a meeting of this quality. To be known as the Arab HEUG going forward, I am excited about the prospects for sharing between the institutions and for the growth of Oracle solutions in the region. In particular the hosts for the event (Qatar University) did a masterful job with logistics and organization, and the quality of the event was a testament to their capabilities.

Among the more interesting and enlightening presentations I attended were one from Dammam University on the lessons learned from their implementation of Campus Solutions and transition off of Banner, as well as the use by Qatar University E-business Suite for grants management (both pre-and post-award). The most notable fact coming from this latter presentation was the fit (89%) of e-Business Suite Grants to the university’s requirements.

In a few weeks time we will be convening the 5th meeting of the Oracle Education & Research Industry Strategy Council in Redwood Shores (5th since my advent into my current role). The main topics of discussion will be around our Higher Education Applications Strategy for the future (including cloud approaches to ERP (HCM, Finance, and Student Information Systems), how some cases studies on the benefits of leveraging delivered functionality and extensibility in the software (versus customization).

On the second day of the event we will turn our attention to Oracle in Research and also budgeting and planning in higher education. Both of these sessions will include significant participation from council members in the form of panel discussions. Our EVP’s for Systems (John Fowler) and for Global Cloud Services and North America application sales (Joanne Olson) will join us for the discussion.

I recently read a couple of articles that were surprising to me. The first was from Inside Higher Ed on October 15 entitled, As colleges prepare for major software upgrades, Kuali tries to woo them from corporate vendors.” It continues to disappointment that after all this time we are still debating whether it is better to build enterprise software through open or community source initiatives when fully functional, flexible, supported, and widely adopted options exist in the marketplace. Over a decade or more ago when these solutions were relatively immature and there was a great deal of turnover in the market I could appreciate the initiatives like Kuali. But let’s not kid ourselves – the real objective of this movement is to counter a perceived predatory commercial software industry. Again, when commercial solutions are deployed as written without significant customization, and standard business processes are adopted, the cost of these solutions (relative to the value delivered) is quite low, and certain much lower than the massive investment (and risk) in in-house developers to support a bespoke community source system. In this era of cost pressures in education and the need to refocus resources on teaching, learning, and research, I believe it’s bordering on irresponsible to continue to pursue open-source ERP. Many of the adopter’s total costs are staggering and have little to show for their efforts and expended resources.

The second article was recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education and was entitled ’Big Data’ Is Bunk, Obama Campaign’s Tech Guru Tells University Leaders.” This one was so outrageous I almost don’t want to legitimize it by referencing it here. In the article the writer relays statements made by Harper Reed, President Obama’s former CTO for his 2012 re-election campaign, that big data solutions in education have no relevance and are akin to snake oil. He goes on to state that while he’s a fan of data-driven decision making in education, most of the necessary analysis can be accomplished in Excel spreadsheets. Yeah… right.

This is exactly what ails education (higher education in particular). Dozens of shadow and siloed systems running on spreadsheets with limited-to-no enterprise wide initiatives to harness the data-rich environment that is a higher ed institution and transform the data into useable information. I’ll grant Mr. Reed that “Big Data” is overused and hackneyed, but imperatives like improving student success in higher education are classic big data problems that data-mining and predictive analytics can address. Further, higher ed need to be producing a massive amount more data scientists and analysts than are currently in the pipeline, to further this discipline and application of these tools to many many other problems across multiple industries.

Thursday Oct 17, 2013

College Ratings via the Federal Government

A few weeks back you might remember news about a higher education rating system proposal from the Obama administration. As I've discussed previously, political and stakeholder pressures to improve outcomes and increase transparency are stronger than ever before. The executive branch proposal is intended to make progress in this area. Quoting from the proposal itself, "The ratings will be based upon such measures as: Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants; Affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates.”

This is going to be quite complex, to say the least. Most notably, higher ed is not monolithic. From community and other 2-year colleges, to small private 4-year, to professional schools, to large public research institutions…the many walks of higher ed life are, well, many. Designing a ratings system that doesn't wind up with lots of unintended consequences and collateral damage will be difficult. At best you would end up potentially tarnishing the reputation of certain institutions that were actually performing well against the metrics and outcome measures that make sense in their "context" of education. At worst you could spend a lot of time and resources designing a system that would lose credibility with its "customers".

A lot of institutions I work with already have in place systems like the one described above. They are tracking completion rates, completion timeframes, transfers to other institutions, job placement, and salary information. As I talk to these institutions there are several constants worth noting:

• Deciding on which metrics to measure is complicated. While employment and salary data are relatively easy to track, qualitative measures are more difficult. How do you quantify the benefit to someone who studies in one field that may not compensate him or her as well as another field but that provides huge personal fulfillment and reward is a difficult measure to quantify?

• The data is available but the systems to transform the data into actual information that can be used in meaningful ways are not. Too often in higher ed information is siloed. As such, much of the data that need to be a part of a comprehensive system sit in multiple organizations, oftentimes outside the reach of core IT.

• Politics and culture are big barriers. One of the areas that my team and I spend a lot of time talking about with higher ed institutions all over the world is the imperative to optimize for student success. This, like the tracking of the students’ achievement after graduation, requires a level or organizational capacity that does not currently exist. The primary barrier is the culture of "data islands" in higher ed, and the need for leadership to drive out the divisions between departments, schools, colleges, etc. and institute academy-wide analytics and data stewardship initiatives that will enable student success.

• Data quality is a very big issue. So many disparate systems exist (some on premise, some "in the cloud") that keep data about "persons" using different means to identify them. Establishing a single source of truth about an individual and his or her data is difficult without some type of data quality policy and tools. Good tools actually exist but are seldom leveraged.

Don't misunderstand - I think it's a great idea to drive additional transparency and accountability into the system of higher education. And not just at home, but globally. Students and parents need access to key data to make informed, responsible choices. The tools exist to not only enable this kind of information to be shared but to capture the very metrics stakeholders care most about and in a way that makes sense in the context of a given institution's "place" in the overall higher ed panoply.

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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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