Tuesday Oct 07, 2014

Educause, Internet2, Gartner Symposium, Kuali

It's been a while since I've posted - as I think I've mentioned in earlier posts I really don't excel at blogging.  Posting short snippets of thought has never been my forte.  Perhaps that is why I don't tweet as often as some of my colleagues.  But on to the topic(s) at hand….

I'm just coming back from two weeks in Orlando, where both Education 2014 and the Gartner Symposium were held.  Incidentally the week of Educause was also the week of Oracle OpenWorld.  So within a two-week timeframe there were a bunch of announcements that are relevant to education & research.

The first of these (that got relatively little attention) was Oracle's announcement of joining Internet2, and our intention to develop, in partnership with I2's members, cloud service offerings from Oracle that will be made available via Net+.  I've followed what Net+ has been doing for the past several years with some interest, and while I wish we could have joined the organization sooner I do believe that the timing is optimal, primarily because of the aforementioned announcements coming from OpenWorld.  I would certainly forgive you if this escaped your notice, given the dozens of press releases during the conference, but many of them pertained to our PaaS (Platform as a Service).

A lot has been written in the past several years regarding Oracle and Cloud, most of it misguided in my view.  The press love a good story and for some reason (perhaps because of some anti-cloud comments from our former CEO, now executive chairman) we have been painted into a corner as being "late to cloud" or "not committed to cloud."  I even read an article this week that actually said Oracle's cloud was "fake."

The reality is quite a bit different and now I will circle back to I2 and Net+.  While we have huge focus on developing/acquiring/delivering applications in the cloud (HCM, Financials, CRM, our recently mentioned Student Information System initiative, etc.), it's this development of a robust, comprehensive PaaS cloud that is critically important in my view.  This is where I believe we'll see tremendous value from our relationship with Internet2.  In our PaaS cloud, we are delivering mobile services, identity and security services, and (most important) data and process integration aaS.

Terri-Lynn Thayer, lead analyst for Gartner in higher ed, in her presentation entitled "Prepare Your Campus to Compete in a Digital Education Ecosystem" at the Industry Day during Gartner's Symposium, talked about the importance of iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) as institutions shrink their core ERP systems down to a system of record and source a variety of services from public and private clouds.  I think this gets missed a lot in all the hype around cloud's promise of providing higher ed more agility; if the data and process integration foundation isn't solid, we will end up with a bigger mess than we have today with our heavily customized on-premiss applications.

So to that end we will be putting a lot of emphasis on our PaaS in our I2 relationship.  More to come on that, particularly in the December timeframe when we meet with our global education & research industry strategy council.

The other half of the Educause announcement we made last week pertained to our design partner for our Cloud Student initiative.  University of Wisconsin-Madison, Stanford, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the University of Texas (system office) will be our four primary contributors from a core design partner standpoint.  We are close to adding a fifth partner in Europe which we should be in a a position to disclose after next week's EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) Higher Ed User Group (HEUG) meeting in Utrecht, NL as well as our EMEA education & research industry strategy council.  We believe this gives us a broad spectrum of the higher ed panoply from which to draw a great deal of insight and council as we build the next generation student system in the cloud with mobile and social attributes at the core of the development initiative.

The last point I wanted to make in this post was around the recent decision by the Kuali Foundation to create a new for-profit entity.  Much as been written about this change, with a wide range of opinions on what is really under the surface and what questions this now raises.  As I've said many times before, much (not all, but much) of what Kuali has been positioned to deliver already exists as off-the-shelf (COTS) products, with multiple sources (i.e. robust competition) and a broad user community and ecosystem that develops and innovates around these products and platforms.  To me, the creation of the for-profit entity is demonstrable proof that open-source in the area of complex administrative and business apps in higher education is a bad idea.  It's totally against the grain of what needs to be "core" - teaching, learning, and research.  The move towards cloud applications and platforms in higher education (something we're aggressively pursuing) will in my view be the nail in the coffin.

Don't get me wrong; there are definitely areas where Kuali (and other open source initiatives) fill gaps that the private sector will likely never pursue - Coeus and the open library environment are excellent examples.  Parts of Unizen may be another.  But in the broader areas of human resources management, financials, student information systems, and mobility where ample (and growing) competition exists to drive innovation up and costs down, there is no justification for investing shrinking resources in higher education on software development and support.

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.

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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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