Hopes and Dreams for EDUCAUSE 2017

Keith Fowlkes

As I write this, I’m on a plane headed to Philadelphia for EDUCAUSE 2017, as many others are also. For higher education technology geeks like myself, it is like Christmas in October! Don’t judge me...

First and foremost, I’m looking forward to seeing my close friends in technology leadership from across the country and sharing the work we have been doing with E&I Cooperative Services and the HESS Consortium. I am also looking forward to seeing some new technologies for colleges and universities and learning about how they fit into the fabric of higher education today.

That is a hard thing to assess these days, how new technologies fit and how they can be adopted into technology operations as well as academic instruction. What are the next steps in higher education and technology? Of course, my thinking this is centered primarily on hopes of seeing real and meaningful innovation from the operational and administrative software and systems solution providers on this trip.

My concentration in the higher education technology industry has slowly developed over the years to ERP and other systems that support administrative processes. While I’ve seen lots of cloud-centered innovation over the past 5 years in these areas as well as in learning management systems, I am hoping to see something truly groundbreaking this year in other areas of functionality. The industry leaders like Ellucian, Workday and Oracle are where my biggest hopes and dreams are centered this year but I’m also looking forward to seeing great, new things from companies like Campus Management (and plans for their newly acquired Hobson’s solution), Unit4 and Jenzabar.

So, the real purpose of this article is to share my dreams for EDUCAUSE this year. I’m sure I will not hit all the spots where my technologist friends are looking for help, but these are just a few of my own hopes and dreams that top the list.

Small and large institutions alike have seen the purpose of ERP systems as functional and operational only. With the innovations of Workday and some new developments at Ellucian, the industry looks to be trying to develop outside the lines but there is one major soft spot in filling the needs of higher education, especially in private institutions. Investment and endowment management is a serious soft spot in the offerings of ERP providers today. New functionality here as well as closer integration with external investment services is an area that I believe could help many institutions better manage cash flow, aid in strategic debt planning and support institutions that have historically been severely tuition dependent in building long-term stability and growth. I am positive that many CFOs out there are more than willing to have their ERP providers help them develop, manage and communicate these strategies for their presidents and trustees yet this is the most difficult part of their jobs because of the lack of tools available to them.

Better cloud integration and middleware tools are needed… badly! Ellucian’s ETHOS model for API integration is the only structured approach to an area sorely in need of innovation in the cloud. Many CIOs will be looking for better tools for faster and easier integration between cloud products. I am optimistic that we will see a newcomer that can address this need with a standards-based middleware that can fill this giant chasm for so many institutions. If I see something truly innovative, I will share it with you. Until then, Ellucian has the best (only) game in town unless you are willing to adopt an open source model.

Of course, with my new mission in life, I continue to evangelize the need for a more understandable, transparent and sustainable path to ERP cloud operation contracts. I continue to feel strongly that if this process was transformed, there would be many institutions clambering to move today. Incentives and discounts that help CIOs and CFOs justify cloud migration costs clearly and definitely and show long term savings without “breaking the bank” for our software providers is attainable. That is largely the reason for the new E&I Cloud Leadership Awards this year at EDUCAUSE. E&I Cooperative Services and our award sponsors, CDW-G, Cisco, Microsoft and Adobe are encouraging and recognizing real innovation in the use of cloud technology in higher education. We all should aid and enable that same innovation from them together.

Most of all, I believe there will be strength in numbers. As I write and speak about often, I believe that the new direction for the future is cooperative, cloud-based ERP and other software contracts. By institutions coming together and helping our ERP, LMS, CRM and ancillary software providers better understand our needs and bonding together with other like-minded institutions in a relatively common set of terms and conditions as well as a transparent and equitable price structure and escalation plan, all higher education institutions can greatly benefit in better solutions, pricing and comfort. This comfort comes from knowing that you are not alone with your solution provider and that other institutions are looking at the same play book and verifying that the plans are solid, the prices are equitable and that institutional needs and goals are being met.

In my discussions over the past 3 months with Ellucian, Unit4, Workday and Campus Management executive leadership, I have been very encouraged by their interest and engagement to work on new ideas. I’m encouraged that their leadership groups seem to “get it.” I believe they are beginning to see that the higher education market is changing and they are recognizing their own need for change. I believe that the first companies to change will be the winners in the new market. Others will sustain for a while but become protectionists of the old models and wither away… slowly.

A number of CIOs and I have been working to clarify the needs and some new paths to the cloud with these companies and others. We are all hopeful that the meetings at EDUCAUSE this week will move us all forward toward our goals. In the slow migration from on-premise systems to the cloud, we should all work together to make sure that bad models of the past aren’t replicated and new concepts are developed and adopted as standards. I sincerely believe that institutions coming together is the only way we will achieve this- together.

I am so appreciative of John O’ Brian and his team at EDUCAUSE for the good work they do each year in bringing us together. If you are headed to EDUCAUSE as I am, I hope that your experience is fulfilling and useful to you, your institution and you find it especially innovative as we all look for better ways to work, learn and dream about the future.