PeopleSoft at Alliance 2012 Executive Forum

Guest Posting From Rebekah Jackson

This week I joined over 4,800 Higher Ed and Public Sector customers and partners in Nashville at our annual Alliance conference.   I got lost easily in the hallways of the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Hotel. I carried the resort map with me, and I would still stand for several minutes at a very confusing junction, studying the map and the signage on the walls. Hallways led off in many directions, some with elevators going down here and stairs going up there. When I took a wrong turn I would instantly feel stuck, lose my bearings, and occasionally even have to send out a call for help.

It strikes me that the theme for the Executive Forum this year outlines a less tangible but equally disorienting set of challenges that our higher education customer’s CIOs are facing: Making Decisions at the Intersection of Business Value, Strategic Investment, and Enterprise Technology. The forces acting upon higher education institutions today are not neat, straight-forward decision points, where one can glance to the right, glance to the left, and then quickly choose the best course of action. The operational, technological, and strategic factors that must be considered are complex, interrelated, messy…and the stakes are high.

Michael Horn, co-author of “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns”, set the tone for the day. He introduced the model of disruptive innovation, which grew out of the research he and his colleagues have done on ‘Why Successful Organizations Fail’. Highly simplified, the pattern he shared is that things start out decentralized, take a leap to extreme centralization, and then experience progressive decentralization. Using computers as an example, we started with a slide rule, then developed the computer which centralized in the form of mainframes, and gradually decentralized to mini-computers, desktop computers, laptops, and now mobile devices. According to Michael, you have more computing power in your cell phone than existed on the planet 60 years ago, or was on the first rocket that went to the moon.

Applying this pattern to Higher Education means the introduction of expensive and prestigious private universities, followed by the advent of state schools, then by community colleges, and now online education. Michael shared statistics that indicate 50% of students will be taking at least one on line course by 2014…and by some measures, that’s already the case today. The implication is that technology moves from being the backbone of the campus, the IT department’s domain, and pushes into the academic core of the institution. Innovative programs are underway at many schools like Bellevue and BYU Idaho, joined by startups and disruptive new players like the Khan Academy.   This presents both threat and opportunity for higher education institutions, and means that IT decisions cannot afford to be disconnected from the institution’s strategic plan.

Subsequent sessions explored this theme.    Theo Bosnak, from Attain, discussed the model they use for assessing the complete picture of an institution’s financial health. Compounding the issue are the dramatic trends occurring in technology and the vendors that provide it. Ovum analyst Nicole Engelbert, shared her insights next and suggested that incremental changes are no longer an option, instead fundamental changes are affecting the landscape of enterprise technology in higher ed.    Nicole closed with her recommendation that institutions focus on the trends in higher education with an eye towards the strategic requirements and business value first. Technology then is the enabler.   The last presentation of the day was from Tom Fisher, Sr. Vice President of Cloud Services at Oracle. Tom runs the delivery arm of the Cloud Services group, and shared his thoughts candidly about his experiences with cloud deployments as well as key issues around managing costs and security in cloud deployments.

Okay, we’ve covered a lot of ground at this point, from financials planning, business strategy, and cloud computing, with the possibility that half of the institutions in the US might not be around in their current form 10 years from now. Did I forget to mention that was raised in the morning session? Seems a little hard to believe, and yet Michael Horn made a compelling point. Apparently 100 years ago, 8 of the top 10 education institutions in the world were German. Today, the leading German school is ranked somewhere in the 40’s or 50’s. What will the landscape be 100 years from now? Will there be an institution from China, India, or Brazil in the top 10? As Nicole suggested, maybe US parents will be sending their children to schools overseas much sooner, faced with the ever-increasing costs of a US based education. Will corporations begin to view skill-based certification from an online provider as a viable alternative to a 4 year degree from an accredited institution, fundamentally altering the education industry as we know it?


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