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 a large bank) 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.

Thursday Jun 26, 2014

Summer in DC

I just wrapped up a week in DC for our Education & Research Industry Strategy Council (ISC) - the seventh meeting over which I've presided since stepping into my current role.

It's exceptionally gratifying to see how much we've progressed in three short years.  We now have a fairly regular dialog with policy officials in Washington, a robust agenda touching on a variety of issues that are in focus for higher education executives, and tying all of that together with a technology underpinning.   We had exceptional turnout of the members as well, including new participation from Vanderbilt, Illinois State, Seneca, McMaster, Chicago, and Valdosta State.

The agenda themes for this session included a Cybersecurity in Higher Education, Information Discovery, Student Success, and Higher Education Cloud.  Two days was not enough time!  While we did spend a considerable portion of the discussing and deliberating, I do think we need more time to tee up issues and have more open discussion than presentations.  It's a hard balance to strike, given that the mission of the ISC is multifaceted (exposing the ISC to new ideas and technologies, getting input on our strategy in education and research, providing access to Oracle executives, and facilitating dialog with policy officials) but the real value comes from the interactions and we need have more of that throughout the time we are together.

I was most impressed by the amount of interest we had from the members of congress that spent time with the council.  We had three Senators (Isaacson from GA, Murphy from CT and Casey from PA), and two members of the House (Foxx from NC and Petri from WI).  Further, Undersecretary of Education Jamie Studley joined us for a long conversation about the proposed higher ed rating system and the implications for data and information in driving those rankings.

The real in-depth discussions, however, were reserved for our Higher Ed Cloud session.  It's clear to me that while the broader industry in moving to Cloud aggressively, higher ed is taking a more deliberate approach, and we need to provide guidance and leverage some of the lessons learned and best practices from other industries who've already made this journey.  There is a real opportunity here for higher ed to become more agile and nimble in order to adapt more rapidly to the dynamics in higher education, but equally possible that they could rush headlong into Cloud for Cloud's sake without a plan and create more issues than already exist in higher ed IT today.

Overall I was very pleased with the outcome but the real test will be in the feedback we receive from the approx. 30 member institutions.  I am already looking forward to December when we reconvene in Redwood Shores!

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.

Monday May 19, 2014

Own the Problem

Most if not all of my blog entries since taking the role of global VP for Oracle's Education and Research Industry team have been about, well, Oracle and/or Education and Research.  Today, however, I want to use this space to pay tribute to someone who's made a significant impact in my life and career, and also to talk about role models and the important place they hold in our societies as managers, mentors, and advisors.

To provide some context, my boss of three years is retiring.  I've had a lot of bosses.  In fact when Juan (Rada, the individual in question) announced his intent to retire at the end of our fiscal year (May 31) I tried counting all of my bosses since college.  I've only worked for three companies (Apple, Sun, and Oracle) + a little time in a university IT organization (the medical school at the University of Tennessee), but by my count I've worked for 15 different bosses since taking my first job out of college in 1988.  That doesn't include bosses during part time work in high school and college (I held a job of some sort since the 10th grade).

All of my bosses had the usual mix of strengths and weaknesses; some were much better than others in terms of being mentors and coaches; some were just successful people as individual contributors that were promoted (without really possessing strong management skills); like most people I've had a small minority (but still significant) that made my life a living hell.   But across that entire portfolio, good and bad, I can confidently say that I've learned something from every experience.

However the last three years have been for me (and I expect for most of my colleagues in Juan's orbit) an extremely rare mix of development, learning, growth, and broadening of perspective that I think only a few of us are privileged to experience.  Juan has an incredible array of experiences, coming to Europe as a political refugee from a country he will now spend part of his time in retirement assisting and advising (Chile), he has been one of the preeminent leaders in all things "industry" at Oracle.  He has understood the vast treasure trove of IP that can be brought to bear on industry problems, and how to maneuver through a large complex organization to bring those solutions to life.

Granted my circumstance my be somewhat different than the others on Juan's team, but I can certainly say I've grown more professionally in the last three years than in the previous 10.  Some of that growth came from new challenges presented by the role - this is the first global position I've held in education since entering the field 25 years ago - but much of what I take away comes from the exceptional perspective (taking the long view), patience, and people skill that Juan has taught me by example.

It's no secret that Education has been at times a challenging industry at Oracle - where financial services, media, telecommunications, and other industries with large concentrations of spend in small numbers of customers abound.  In his most recent role, Juan's industries included government, health care and life sciences, utilities, and education, and on a pure global revenue basis education was # 4 of those five sectors.  Nevertheless, Juan understood the criticality of succeeding in education, given the importance to our society as well as to Oracle (as education represents 8% of GDP globally, which puts it just behind healthcare and just above military spending).  Time and time again, when I would hit a roadblock and want to give in to my fatalistic tendencies, he would (subtly) help me see a different path.

I guess what I'm most grateful for is being given the opportunity to do this job in the first place.  Three years ago this role didn't exist, and Juan went to extraordinary lengths (there was considerable pressure at the time not to create the position) to invest in a global leader for education.  I am my own worst critic when it comes to stuff like this, but thanks to an amazing (small) team, I believe we've made progress, and we can look Juan in the eyes and say that, while there is still much more to accomplish, we've made demonstrable progress.

Juan's parting words to me and my colleagues at a dinner we held for him celebrating his years in Oracle were "Always act as if you Own the Problem."  Those words will live in my thoughts and actions for many, many years to come. 

God Speed, my friend.

Tuesday Apr 29, 2014

"This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed, the Tambellini Report, and other random thoughts

I realize it's been some time since my last post - updating blogs in short, stream-of-consciousness bursts doesn't always come naturally. However I do have a number of somewhat unrelated items that I want to highlight.

 First off, I'm very pleased that Oracle Education & Research will be a founding sponsor of the upcoming "This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed weekly audio newscast. This will be in many respects very much like a "meet the press" weekly program that will touch on the timely and relevant topics in education technology, along with the policies, funding, and cultural and political dynamics and issues that are prevalent in our industry. Casey Green is spearheading this effort with Inside Higher Ed, and we are extremely pleased to sponsor what we believe will be a strong contributor to the dialog that needs to take place as our industry undergoes significant change and transformation. As are part of our participate in the "This Week" series, we will be engaging in quarterly podcasts with Casey to talk about Oracle's position in the industry and where we see our industry solutions playing a role in enabling some of the transformation I just referenced. The first of these will take place on May 7, 9am PT, "Pathways to Student Success" webinar.  Register for this webinar where my colleague, Mark Armstrong, and I discuss Oracle's latest investment for Student Success with moderator, Casey Green. Lastly, here's where you can go to get more subscriber information about This Week" @ Inside Higher Ed weekly audio newscast.

In other developments, the 2014 Tambellini Report (created and distributed by Tambellini Group, LLC) was released this week (week of April 28) and shows extremely strong results for Oracle in the Student Information Systems market, with nearly three times the selections of any other competitor. This validates a couple of trends I've commented on previously: that we are entering a era where the business systems of higher education implemented 10+ years ago are in need of a refresh, and the staying power of niche vendors who lack the breadth and depth of a multi-industry, multi national company like Oracle are being severely challenged.

Finally I wanted to highlight a number of the topics and agenda themes that we'll be discussing at our upcoming summer Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington DC: Cyber Security in Higher Education, Student Success, Information Discovery in Higher Education, and SaaS business applications for Higher Education. We'll be joined by our Chief Security Officer Mary Ann Davidson, Jamie Studley from DoED, and several members of congress from committees focused on higher education policy. We are welcoming several new members to the council including Vanderbilt University, Seneca College, and the University of Chicago. We're looking forward to a content-rich two-days in downtown DC! Stay tuned where I'll share some of these outcomes in my next blog.

Sunday Dec 08, 2013

Another Oracle Education and Research Industry Strategy Council is in the books

December 4-5 were the dates for our winter Industry Strategy Council meeting that we hold semi-annually, with the December sessions always being at our headquarters in Redwood Shores California.  Institutions participating included the Cal State system, Georgia Tech, Qatar University, Griffith University (Australia), University of Maryland, Western Ontario, Michigan, Central Florida, and  Kansas (to name a few).  We discussed some exciting new announcements in our higher education applications portfolio (under non-disclosure), a status report on Sun Microsystems inside Oracle, 3 years after acquisition, our strategy for research, and our views on operational excellence.  We had tremendous third party participation in a number of these sessions include Erin Gore, EVP of higher ed at a major bank (former CFO of UC Berkeley), John Fowler, or SVP for Systems, Steve Miranda our EVP for application product development, and Joanne Olson our EVP for North America Applications sales.

We have a three-fold objective with these meetings: to garner input from the council on our strategy, to inform and provide insight on our strategy in a way not available to the bulk of our customer and prospect base, and to provide a networking and interaction opportunity for the council members not only among themselves but also with senior executives from Oracle.

While it's impossible for me to be specific given that some of what was discussed at the meeting was confidential, some of the news shared this week hallmark a major "doubling down" for Oracle in the education & research industry with significant plans to increase out investment and portfolio in this area.  Stay tuned for more information on what these announcements entail in a future blog entry.  But suffice it to say there has never been a more exciting time for Oracle in Education & Research.

Thursday Aug 15, 2013

Shamless Plug for Oracle OpenWorld

It's almost that time of year again - Oracle OpenWorld 2013 is just over a month away in San Francisco Sept. 22-27.  OpenWorld has always seen relative solid attendance from Education & Research customers; usually between 1000-1500 individuals that attend OOW and JavaOne are from the education industry.  But from an executive and leadership standpoint, the conference hasn't been a significant draw.

In 2013 we're hoping to change that.  Not only do we have 5 general OpenWorld sessions planned (see below), but this year we're launching our first ever Education summit at Leader's Circle, an invitation-only event for customer and partner executives, showcasing Oracle's vision and strategy.  During our 3.5 hour summit on Sept. 25, the main attraction will be a panel focusing on advanced analytics as a foundation for enterprise-wide student success initiatives.   Joining me will be Mark Becker, President of Georgia State University, John Webster, CIO of Maricopa Community Colleges, Nicole Engelbert of OVUM, Abdullah Togay, from the National Ministry of Education, Turkey, Gordon Wishon, CIO, Arizona State University, and Steve Hahn, President of the Higher Education Users Group.

Advanced Analytics and Student Success have been described as the "killer app" in education today, and we hope through this session at OOW to share some experiences and best practices across a wide swath of the education landscape on how these applications are being implemented, what steps are being taken to enable them enterprise-wide, and how a cultural change in the institution is necessary in order to move these projects from departmental and siloed to enterprise and scale.

If you are an executive in any walk of life in the education arena and are interested in joining us for the session in September, please reach out to me at

And as mentioned, here's an overview of our 5 sessions at OpenWorld this year:

CON9612 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time:10:45am Achieve Student Success with Unified Processes and Insight
CON9613 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time: 12:45pm Oracle Learning Exchange
CON9614 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time: 1:45pm Improve Operational Efficiency to Achieve Institutional Excellence
CON10726 Monday 9/23, Intercontinental Hotel, Time: 3:15pm Campus Solutions: Supporting the Global Future of Higher Education
CON8715 Moscone West , 3rd Floor Transforming the Constituent Experience in the Education Industry




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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