Monday Jul 06, 2015

Are we on the edge of a tipping point or just another hype cycle?

The month of June (2015) is like a blur to me.  There were so many conferences and events for higher education where Oracle had a presence that I barely had enough clothes to reload my suitcase each week.  

Despite the crazy schedule, there were some very interesting themes that emerged from all of the meetings.  First off, let me describe each of the conferences.  In early June, Ovum sponsored the first ever Future EdTech event for higher education in London.  The predominate attendees were from the UK, but there was a remarkable number of western European institutions that made the journey to London.  The following week was EUNIS, the European University Information Systems Congress which took place this year at Abertay University in Dundee Scotland.  This was followed by what I consider to be the most enriching conference I attend every year, the Forum for the Future of Higher Education, held at the Aspen Institute. And then last but not least, during the final week of June was my semi-annual Oracle Education & Research Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington, DC.

Three of the four meetings I outlined are ed-tech focused, with the notable exception being the Future's Forum.  But what struck me about that meeting, even though the audience was largely non-IT (presidents, provosts, deans, and representatives from various financial services and non-for-profits focused on education) the underlying themes of so much of the content was technology.  Whether advances in on-line learning platforms (the Minerva project was a fantastic example of this) or the use of predictive analytics to measurably improve student outcomes and foster data-driven decision making in higher education, it is clear that IT has "crossed the chasm" from an auxiliary service that keeps the trains running (i.e. wireless networks operational, payroll processed, IP telephones working, etc.) to a strategic enabler of transformation in higher education.  But has the IT function in higher education made this shift, or has the need for the shift to be made come into sharper relief?

I was struck by many of the comments at the Ovum event in London and from EUNIS around the methodical if slow progress that certain parts of Europe are making towards the US model of funding based on outcomes, and the need for the "consumers" of education to bear more of the cost.  Whether or not this is a good move, I'd rather not debate here (as we would drift into the discussions around whether funding higher education is a public good) but the reality of this kind of shift is that "consumers" will become much more conscious of value and demand a more modern "experience" with which they are accustomed from their interactions with entities that have made much greater strides in leveraging technology (specifically CRM technologies) to make the experience much more personal and "frictionless" (to borrow a term from Nicole Engelbert of Ovum).

For the final week of June, we convened the 8th meeting of the Education and Research ISC (Industry Strategy Council) in Washington.  As I told the group during opening remarks, this is by far the most enjoyable part of my job at Oracle (and also one of the more stressful, but in a good way).  We get two days of largely uninterrupted quality time to get feedback from this distinguished group and to put ideas in front of them in a somewhat non-threatening, open, candid environment.  In many respects, it is fulfilling what I had hoped to create with this group four years ago - the development of a commons - an environment where we can push the limits on some of the issues that we're confronting in a safe, closed environment where ideas and thoughts can be surfaced openly.   I'm sure each of the ISC members has their own opinion, but I believe we accomplished that in this meeting.  The makeup of this group is largely IT leadership (CIO), but increasingly more functional and business leadership participates (CFO, VP Enrollment Management, even a couple of presidents). However I have sensed over the course of the last 8 meetings, culminating in the most recent one, that IT is becoming very strategic in higher education. Yes there are still many examples of what I called “science project” thinking, but on the whole there has been a significant shift in the way IT in higher ed underpins the strategy of the institution, not reacts to it.

On the second day, we were joined by three members of Congress who are stakeholders in education policy: Chairwoman (of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee) Virginia Foxx from the House, Chairman Lamar Alexander from the Senate side, and Senator Bob Casey.  Each of them commented on the breaking news regarding the Dept. of Education's decision to back off of it's plan to develop a college rating system.  In particular, Senator Alexander highlighted the committee's efforts to dramatically reduce the paperwork involved in applying for Federal Financial Aid, and also the drive to dramatically reduce duplicative and needless reporting and administrative burden that is costing higher ed so much by chasing compliance.

In my next post, I’ll spend a bit more time on some of the comparisons between two industries that have had similar struggles with realizing the value of enterprise IT systems: Healthcare and Education, through the lens of someone who spoke on the topic at the aforementioned Forum for the Future of Higher Education.

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.


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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