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 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.

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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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