Monday Apr 06, 2015

The Critical Nature of Technology in Education

Two important events occurred recently in Oracle education circles: Alliance (the global meeting of the independent Oracle Higher Education User Group or HEUG) in Nashville Tennessee, and Oracle Industry Connect (an Oracle-sponsored industry thought leadership event) in Washington DC. Both conferences signaled the continued and heightened role that technology must play in order for education and research to survive and thrive in the coming years.

Alliance once again drew a large crowd of nearly 4000 to interact on issues and opportunities in leveraging Oracle and other complimentary technologies in the running of the academic enterprise. But what was noteworthy about this conference in 2015 was not the size of the group nor any one specific presentation or announcement. It was rather the sense of change that seems to be permeating the organization. This was evident in the installation of a new HEUG president (Mario Barry from Lone Star College) as well as in the discussions that took place during the Executive Forum sessions at the conference. There is a decided shift in importance and dominance from the large, monolithic "administrative" applications such as student information systems and ERP (which were the underpinnings of the HEUG's origin), to more "front office" systems such as student engagement, learning technologies, recruitment, retention, and analytics.

One might be tempted to talk about this in terms of a shift from on-premise applications to all things cloud, but I see that as simply a technology evolution that is permeating everything. The real shift is rooted in the dynamics affecting our systems of higher education: the need to deliver education and research at scale (increased access), the need for differentiation between institutions (and to expose those key differentiators through technology), and the need for higher education to become more data-driven. This was clearly evident during the Student Success panel at Alliance Executive Forum, where Andy Clark, Vice President of Enrollment, Marketing and Communications from Valdosta State University, the aforementioned Mario Barry from Lone Star College, and outgoing HEUG president Steve Hahn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison all discussed how important the development of enterprise-wide approaches to the use of data to enhance student success had become one of the most critical drivers for executive team in their respective institutions.

In the week following Alliance, education was one of several featured industries at Oracle Industry Connect, a thought-leadership conference sponsored by Oracle in Washington DC. I was privileged to chair a panel of several university presidents accompanied by an industry analyst from Ovum, as the keynote presentation which initiated our industry track. Joining me were Dr. G.P. "Bud" Peterson of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Professor Michael Fitts of Tulane University, Dr. Mary Hawkins of Bellevue University, and Nicole Engelbert of Ovum. We discussed a wide range of issues including the considerable change higher education has already experienced and need for further change, the imperative for institutions to become more "data-driven," and the need for reduced "friction" in the student experience, as their interactions with the institution shift from purely in-person, on campus interactions to those which have a significant technology component, from many different devices at many different times, and throughout the student lifecycle (from prospect to donor and all stages in between).

What struck me during some of our sessions the following day when we convened a small panel of undergraduate students was just how clear they are about the need for this "frictionless" interaction with their institution, and the role they expect that institution to play (much more of an advisor and coach and mentor than of "parent"). There are definitely boundaries that students expect their institutions to observe in their use of social media and data, but those boundaries are dissimilar from the expectations they have from their interactions with commercial entities on the internet, which makes our jobs of creating the frictionless environment that much more difficult! But it was also evident from these discussions that we have a long way to go in our efforts to focus investments on student experience and engagement; that basic concepts like authenticating one time into the many systems with which students interact is still elusive.

The sessions from OIC were recorded, and I'll post shortly the URLs for the various sessions where you can see them as they were delivered.

Later in the day we examined topics like The Strategic Management of Academic Portfolios: Traceability to Cost of Education and Empowering Modern Finance in Higher Education, where experts like Erin Gore (formerly CFO of UC Berkeley and currently the head of education and non-profit banking at Wells Fargo) and John Curry (former CFO of MIT, UCLA, and USC and currently with Deloitte) spoke on the need to modern technology and process to make informed decisions about strategic investments, as well as in the need to reduce the massive duplication and redundancy that exists on many campuses where local optimization for departments and divisional silos have been allowed to continue unchecked. All of this is in an effort to sift shrinking resources to teaching, learning, and research and reduce the overall cost of education (which, incidentally, was the primary focus of the Q&A following the Industry Connect keynote address from Dr. Condoleezza Rice!).

For those of you that weren't able to join us for OIC 2015, I sincerely hope you'll consider this event next spring. While I realize I have a strong bias, I believe it was some of the best industry content, focused on the most relevant and pressing issues our industry faces, that I've been privileged to help deliver in quite some time.

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.

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 disappoint me 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.

Tuesday Apr 30, 2013

The "Gold" in effeciency & effectiveness in higher ed IT

During this year's Alliance conference in Indianapolis (the North America conference of the HEUG - Higher Ed Users Group) the HEUG board decided to experiment with a new concept to enable some executive level strategic discussions among a select group of leaders from higher ed represented through the HEUG.  This group, billed for now as the "Executive Advisory Group" was made up predominately of CIO's but with a few non-IT leaders sprinkled in.  The goal of the group was to determine how the work of the HEUG can be leveraged to better position higher ed for the future, in other words, wrestling with the age old problem that exists in higher ed IT of translating the benefits of information technology and data into business value and real information (to aid in decision making).  This is a terrific ambition but will definitely be difficult to accomplish.  I'm delighted to be a part of the process and hope that we can foster real change in the attitudes and understanding of non-IT senior leadership at some of our colleges and universities.

Jerry Waldron, intrepid sole that he is, was drafted to lead this effort (Jerry is the CIO at the College of New Jersey). As part of the prep work (and follow-up) to the EAG meeting on the Sunday of Alliance, one article that he suggested as post-reading was a piece written by former Princeton president William Bowen.  Entitled Walk Deliberately, Don't Run, Toward Online Education, Dr. Bowen makes a number of interesting points regarding the lack of hard data proving (or disproving) the efficacy of MOOC's and other forms of online learning.  But it was some of his other points regarding cost containment that I found most interesting:

Academic leaders must look explicitly for strategies to lower costs. I am not saying that educational leaders lack courage (though, sadly, some do). The reality is that controlling costs is a hard sell, in part because strong forces are pushing in the opposite direction.

He's likely not talking about my next point, but it ties back very directly to some of the discussions during the Sunday EAG session at Alliance in March.  And let me make this caveat before proceeding: Oracle doesn't exactly have the best reputation across higher ed for being a part of the cost containment movement (most would argue that we're part of the problem), but this is where I think Oracle is most misunderstood.  We've been all too willing to sell higher ed a lot of software, hardware and services - in other words where there has been lack of discipline and governance we've been complicit in indulging our customers (big generalization here) in the creation of custom jalopies (IT systems made up of lots of parts integrated and maintained by the customer)  vs. selling complete automobiles.

Further, there is additional "gold" in striving for more streamlined, integrated systems from fewer suppliers: the information available in the data.  With so much emphasis on improving student outcomes (student success) and personalized learning (student experience), one of the keys to really enabling these strategic imperatives through better data quality.  Investing in a myriad of point solutions from different vendors, especially if that data is now in the cloud, is a nightmare that some in higher ed are already experiencing.  Even if I didn't work for Oracle, I'm certain I would argue for the same things that Nicole Englebert  of Ovum in her comments to the aforementioned EAG made during her opening remarks.  In a presentation she made to the group entitled "Tectonic chanve in higher education," she references as a major strategic goal the reduction in the number of information technology vendors with which institutions partner, with expectations for a different type of relationship.  She also talks about more standard approaches to enterprise applications, requiring fewer resources (i.e. lower cost) for maintenance and improved agility.

So I think in summary it's going to take some very very courageous CIO's (with willing co-conspirators in COO and CFO positions) to move the needle when it comes to transforming IT in higher from tactical to strategic.  And that's why I applaud what the EAG through the HEUG is trying to do.

Monday Apr 02, 2012

Impressions and Reactions from Alliance 2012

Alliance 2012 has come to a conclusion.  What strikes me about every Alliance conference is the amazing amount of collaboration and cooperation I see across higher education in the sharing of best practices around the entire Oracle PeopleSoft software suite, not just the student information system (Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions).  In addition to the vibrant U.S. organization, it's gratifying to see the growth in the international attendance again this year, with an EMEA HEUG organizing to complement the existing groups in the Netherlands, South Africa, and the U.K.  Their first meeting is planned for London in October, and I suspect they'll be surprised at the amount of interest and attendance.

In my discussions with higher education IT and functional leadership at Alliance there were a number of instances where concern was expressed about Oracle's commitment to higher education as an industry, primarily because of a lack of perceived innovation in the applications that Oracle develops for this market. Here I think perception and reality are far apart, and I'd like to explain why I believe this to be true.

First let me start with what I think drives this perception. Predominately it's in two areas. The first area is the user interface, both for students and faculty that interact with the system as "customers", and for those employees of the institution (faculty, staff, and sometimes students as well) that use the system in some kind of administrative role. Because the UI hasn't changed all that much from the PeopleSoft days, individuals perceive this as a dead product with little innovation and therefore Oracle isn't investing.

The second area is around the integration of the higher education suite of applications (PeopleSoft Campus Solutions) and the rest of the Oracle software assets. Whether grown organically or acquired, there is an impressive array of middleware and other software products that could be leveraged much more significantly by the higher education applications than is currently the case today. This is also perceived as lack of investment.

Let me address these two points.  First the UI.  More is being done here than ever before, and the PAG and other groups where this was discussed at Alliance 2012 were more numerous than I've seen in any past meeting. Whether it's Oracle development leveraging web services or some extremely early but very promising work leveraging the recent Endeca acquisition (see some cool examples here) there are a lot of resources aimed at this issue.  There are also some amazing prototypes being developed by our UX (user experience team) that will eventually make their way into the higher education applications realm - they had an impressive setup at Alliance.  Hopefully many of you that attended found this group. If not, the senior leader for that team Jeremy Ashley will be a significant contributor of content to our summer Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington in June.

In the area of integration with other elements of the Oracle stack, this is also an area of focus for the company and my team.  We're making this a priority especially in the areas of identity management and security, leveraging WebCenter more effectively for content, imaging, and mobility, and driving towards the ultimate objective of WebLogic Suite as our platform for SOA, links to learning management systems (SAIP), and content. There is also much work around business intelligence centering on OBI applications.

But at the end of the day we get enormous value from the HEUG (higher education user group) and the various subgroups formed as a part of this community that help us align and prioritize our investments, whether it's around better integration with other Oracle products or integration with partner offerings.  It's one of the healthiest, mutually beneficial relationships between customers and an Education IT concern that exists on the globe.

And I can't avoid mentioning that this kind of relationship between higher education and the corporate IT community that can truly address the problems of efficiency and effectiveness, institutional excellence (which starts with IT) and student success.  It's not (in my opinion) going to be solved through community source - cost and complexity only increase in that model and in the end higher education doesn't ultimately focus on core competencies: educating, developing, and researching. 

While I agree with some of what Michael A. McRobbie wrote in his EDUCAUSE Review article (Information Technology: A View from Both Sides of the President’s Desk), I take strong issue with his assertion that the "the IT marketplace is just the opposite of long-term stability...."  Sure there has been healthy, creative destruction in the past 2-3 decades, but this has had the effect of, in the aggregate, benefiting education with greater efficiency, more innovation and increased stability as larger, more financially secure firms acquire and develop integrated solutions.

Cole

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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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