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.

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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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