I’m on I-8 heading west toward San Diego as part of the rSmart caravan on our way to Kuali Days 2013. Kuali Days is an opportunity to spend face time with a lot of people I work with but only see once or twice per year. There’s so much activity crammed into a few days, it’s a draining experience but I always enjoy it, and get a lot out of it.
I have to say… I’m really excited about Kuali right now and I’m looking forward to lots of amazing conversations with customers, community partners, and newcomers looking for the value of Kuali. The conversations this week will set new initiatives in motion, re-establish alignment, and invigorate existing initiatives. And of the 850 people from nearly 150 organizations that attend, many will head back to their institutions and become the champion for new Kuali initiatives on campus.
Why are so many people and institutions engaging in Kuali? While spending the coming week in San Diego might be incentive enough :-), I think Kuali is attracting these institutions because they are finding unique value in Kuali’s approach. Brad Wheeler, the CIO at Indiana University and Chair of the Kuali Foundation board of directors recently sent a community-wide message about Kuali’s value. He noted that those of us who started Kuali were driven by different objectives and values than the current wave of adopters. And, that as Kuali matures and reaches the early majority, we need to adapt our messages to be more clear about those things that the majority of those in the broader education community value.
Institutions that are adopting Kuali today are attracted by the potential for low (and predictable) total cost of ownership. They are looking for ways to be more nimble and provide students, faculty, and staff with better tools that help them do things more effectively. And, they are attracted to the idea that they are getting software that embodies higher education’s best practices. Kuali’s founders wanted these things as well… but the innovators that started Kuali were also attracted to the opportunity to lead… to forge a new model that put institutions back in the drivers seat… to regain more control over their destiny.
In the early days we adopted the passionate language of a movement. People “joined” and evangelized the values of the “open source” or “community” movement and that attracted other innovators, and more investment. Today, Kuali is adopting language that leverages the results from the innovators and early adopters. We’re focused on the pragmatic value of Kuali’s ability to save money and help institutions deliver more agile and responsive services that improve graduation rates, increase retention, and keep tuition in check. We can see that the education community is beginning to hear our message differently.
Those original community values that lit the Kuali fire, continue to burn strong even while our organization and messages mature. I’m thrilled to continue serving this community and humbly thank everyone who supported my successful Kuali Foundation board re-election. As I mentioned in my campaign statement, one of the most exciting (and daunting) efforts is the change that comes from managing the Kuali suite of applications more as a portfolio. There’s a lot to do, and as our caravan nears San Diego I’m energized to work with so many talented people this week.
Follow the #kualidays hashtag to keep up with what’s going on this week, and join the conversation!
I heard a remarkable statistic a few weeks ago in The Myth of Average that 50,000 gifted students drop out of high school every year in this country. Like most people, I know we have far too many high school dropouts each year (1.2 million) but didn’t realize at least 4% of them (50,000 kids every year) are intellectually gifted. Todd Rose, a high school dropout turned Harvard faculty member, delivers a moving TEDx talk and a compelling case against teaching to a mythical average student. We simply can’t afford to lose the potential in young minds that might hold the cure for cancer, solutions to global climate change, and more.
Rose’s talk is moving because we can all relate to it. We all want to see our society and economy thrive, and that depends on having enough talented, educated people. Our future depends on our ability to create more talented, educated people. And, developing people is a primary purpose of our education system, along with the creation of new knowledge (i.e. research) and community service.
But, the cost of an education is at an all-time high and our education system system isn’t keeping up with the demand. It’s taking too long to develop talented people. On average, it takes nearly five years for a full-time student to get a four-year degree, and nearly four years to get a two-year degree. Just over half of the students who attend a four-year college or university complete a degree within six years. The longer it takes to get a degree, the higher the likelihood an individual won’t complete it. America is slipping (now 10th in percentage with degrees). On top of all that, globalization of the workforce is raising the competitive bar as the number of people willing to work for lower wages continues to rise.
How can higher education develop more talented people at a faster pace?
We need to put more money into the things that contribute directly to the mission of higher education. There are proven methods like tutoring, scholarships, and advising that just aren’t funded well enough.
And there are innovative, perhaps more experimental, techniques such as:
Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that hold the potential to achieve amazing economies of scale
Personalized learning tools that defeat the myth of the average
Open Educational Resources that dramatically reduce the student-side cost, increase access to education, and give faculty great flexibility
Institutional leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and society in general are focused on the big issues: improving retention, reducing time to graduation, preparing graduates for an increasingly competitive workplace, and making sure that when they graduate they aren’t saddled with insurmountable debt. The ability to solve these tough problems is certainly hampered by reduced state funding, increased competition for students, increased competition for federal research funding, and more.
We need to find more resources to invest in proven and innovative new strategies to improve education. So, where will the money come from?
Increased spending on higher education?
Probably not. Higher education has four main sources of funding: tuition, state appropriations, philanthropy (endowments), and grants. Tuition simply can’t continue to rise. At over $1 trillion, student debt is already a national crisis. State appropriations have been declining and aren’t likely to increase any time soon. Returns on endowments aren’t likely to grow in the near future, except for maybe those with the largest endowments. And, there is increasing competition for relatively flat federal research funding.
How about reducing (or redirecting) existing costs to achieve greater impact?
In January 2013, Moody’s revised its outlook for the entire US higher education sector to negative, marking a shift to negative from stable for even the sector’s market leading diversified colleges and universities. According to the report, “Universities have been restraining costs in response to the weak economic conditions since the 2008-09 financial crisis, but they have only recently begun examining the cost structure of their traditional business model.”
The costs of higher education can be roughly divided into (i) direct teaching and research including faculty and student aid; (ii) capital costs (buildings, equipment, etc.); and (iii) administrative operating expenses. Of these, increases to administrative operating costs have far outpaced the others.
A contributor to the growth in administrative operating expenses is the estimated $5 billion on big administrative (ERP) systems that colleges and universities spent in the ‘90s. Given the enormous cost of maintaining and updating these systems, that number has easily grown to $10 billion today. What’s worse, is that these big ERP implementations have largely failed us. The promise of ERP was as grand as the cost: efficiency gains, agility, and better decision-making with better access to information. But institutions aren’t more efficient or agile, colleges and universities seem to be held prisoner by an ERP that lacks the agility to enable the innovations institutions need to keep up with today’s rapidly changing world. And for many institutions, the situation has a third dimension of failure: the systems were never built for higher education, so every installation and subsequent change adds another large layer of adaptation cost and mission-hindering rigidity.
In the coming decade institutions will need to modernize these systems because the technology they rely on has become obsolete. We’re already starting to see news of the next round of these enormous projects. Didn’t somebody famous say something about repeating the same activity and expecting different results? Colleges & Universities must find a way to simplify and share best practices for more efficient and effective administrative services.
While these systems costs are only one part of the overall administrative operating expense, their cost is significant and the rigid processes that they cement in the institutional bureaucracy only increase the cost. $80 million, for example, could fund more than 2,000 bachelors degrees. How many innovative uses can you think of for the hundreds of millions going into these upgrades and implementations?
In order to develop more talented people, at a faster pace, we must reduce administrative operating costs.
A group of more than 70 colleges, universities, and education-focused companies believe that a new approach to administrative processes, and the software that supports them, can help institutions collectively discover hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, that can be retained for the academic and research missions of colleges and universities. These organizations are members of the Kuali Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that facilitates the work of hundreds of professionals working at member organizations to develop cost effective systems for financial management, student services, human resources, library management, grant and research management, and more.
When we started Kuali almost a decade ago, we set out to help institutions keep more of their precious resources in the mission of education by reducing the cost of administration. We set out to reduce the cost of administrative systems while engaging institutional professionals to build these systems as a community. As a result, administrative processes would be more efficient and would provide better service to students and faculty. The result: More money directly focused on the teaching, research, and community service mission of education.
That early vision is being realized today. The Kuali community manages a portfolio of eight major systems, has more than 70 members, and dozens of institutions “run on Kuali” software for far less expense than the alternatives. For example, Indiana University has $20 million dollars more for its core mission than it would have if it hadn’t implemented the Kuali Financial System. The University of Maryland is anticipating similar results, and Colorado State University, the first major university to go Kuali, has been saving since 2009. It’s time to increase the impact.
The leaders in our higher education system are faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge: develop more talented and educated people at a price that doesn’t break the bank. Then, do it faster and with a dramatically reduced budget. In the face of this challenge, spending tens of millions of dollars or more on administrative systems might seem like an inevitable cost of doing business. It’s not. Kuali offers a more economical alternative.
So yes, the Kuali community creates administrative systems, and rSmart delivers these systems for colleges and universities. But creating and delivering systems is just a means to a more important end: creating more talented, educated people, at a faster rate. Nothing short of changing the world!
As colleges and universities face public pressure against tuition hikes, declining financial support from state legislatures, flat federal research support, minimal earnings from endowments, and increased competition for students, the cost of education must be reduced. But, with already overburdened faculty and declining funding, it’s hard to imagine where those cost savings will come from.
When Indiana University, University of Hawaii, NACUBO and rSmart started the Kuali community in 2004, our motivation was to shift college and university spending on administration toward the academic and research mission of institutions. And, the now 70+ Kuali members and thousands of Kuali users are demonstrating a way to cut the costs of administration and achieve better business processes by building mission-critical administrative software as a community (by higher ed, for higher education).
The sad reality is that in the 90’s higher education spent around $5 billion implementing ERP systems, and probably another $5 billion since upgrading and maintaining them. Yet, despite all the expense and mixed results with proprietary ERPs, many universities and colleges are throwing more money at ERP technology with upgrades at an even higher price tag. Or, they are contemplating new ERP systems that require extensive customization to fit the business of higher education, which creates a never-ending cycle of expensive implementation and upgrades.
Higher ed executives and leaders, it’s time for change. Status quo is not the answer. Kuali is a proven alternative, for institutions large and small. Here’s what you need to know…
5. You already own it.
Kuali is licensed under a free and open source software (FOSS) license that allows anyone to: use it for any purpose; modify the source code; and share the software and any modifications with others. These important freedoms are in stark contrast to proprietary software licenses that restrict you from doing anything with the software that isn’t explicitly permitted, allowing the vendor to charge you more. Why buy (or more accurately, rent) expensive legacy ERP software, when you already own? With Kuali, you already own it, just use it.
4. It’s all about the community.
The best way to think about Kuali is that it’s a community of higher education focused organizations that collaborate on business processes first, and then create software that implements those best practices to create efficiencies and improve services for students, faculty, and staff. The benefits of this approach are numerous: shared software development costs, higher ed best practices built into the software, and higher ed leaders and insiders collaborating on the development and roadmap of the Kuali administrative suite. After all, with the dynamic and changing needs of higher ed, you know your business better than the Board of Directors of a proprietary software vendor. Right?
3. It’s a perfect fit.
Kuali’s business-process-led approach dramatically reduces the need to customize the software. This in-turn reduces implementation and maintenance costs which both rise dramatically as the amount of customization goes up. Most ERP software is developed for the largest common denominator. But, higher ed deals with unique challenges that other industries don’t experience (for example, student services, research administration, fund accounting, and more). Because Kuali is built by higher ed for higher ed, it’s designed with the best practices of higher ed built-in. It’s a perfect fit for your business.
2. It’s the most economical choice.
A growing number of Institutions are demonstrating that Kuali is less expensive than the alternatives. Over the past decade most people have come to understand that while the software doesn’t have any license fees, implementation, training, maintenance, running the software in production, all still have costs. When most people think about the cost of open source, they think about the popular “free puppy” analogy. Even though the puppy (i.e. open source software) is free, it ends up costing you in other ways.
In reality, Kuali software is not only license free, but also reduces cost at every stage of the software lifecycle. With Kuali, there are no licensing fees. It’s yours already. And, because Kuali fits the business of higher education already (built by the colleges and universities that use it everyday), implementation is easier and less costly. And because Kuali requires fewer customizations, upgrades are much less costly. You can even eliminate hardware, infrastructure, and operating costs on campus by electing a Software as a Service model where Kuali runs in the Cloud–supported, secured, and kept up-to-date & optimized by a commercial partner like rSmart.
1. It will never be bought or sold. Guaranteed.
The software market in higher education has seen it’s share of market consolidation. Forced software end-of-life, lack of control, and high risk acquisitions. It’s strange that some might think that Kuali is a riskier proposition than the legacy ERP vendors. It’s the modern day parallel to “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” But these days, it’s simply irresponsible to conclude there are no other options.
Now you know. Keep your money for your mission by reducing the cost of higher ed administration with Kuali. rSmart can help.
It’s election time for the Kuali Foundation, a not-for-profit member organization focused on improving education and research by reducing the costs of administration. I’ve been nominated to run in an election to serve another term, and have accepted the nominations.
I have been honored to serve the Kuali membership and community as a director on the Kuali Foundation’s board since the first elections in 2009. And I am proud to be one of the founders of this great community. Since our early beginnings as the Kuali Financial System project, our community has seen tremendous growth and success. And I know that our success is the result of hundreds of committed individuals who believe in the community path, and work hard to enable it. I believe that our work is improving education. I also know that we have a lot of work ahead to mature our community and increase our impact. And I’m enthusiastic and committed to the work ahead.
This past term has been a challenging and exciting one as our community continues to evolve and mature. In my 2011 platform statement, I offered my commitment to serve and noted a few key areas that I would work hard on to help our community optimize our practices and expand our capabilities to increase the impact of our community on improving education globally. Specifically, I said that I would leverage the diversity and depth of my experience across Kuali to: Expand the Kuali talent base; Leverage efficiencies across projects; increase the diversity of project partners; and support successful adoption. I believe that I have made considerable contributions to each of these areas. Here’s a sampling of some of that work as it aligns with each of the focus areas:
Expand the Kuali talent base
Led a board task force that reviewed community practices that impact retention and growth of talent in our community. Several of the six task force recommendations have been implemented, for example improving how we train new talent while reducing the burden on project teams, and improving the incentives we use to retain great talent.
Leverage efficiencies across projects
Led a joint task force with representation from all Kuali projects to re-assess how the Kuali Rice project is funded, and how to expand shared community-wide services. This work led to a revised funding model for Rice that clearly distinguishes funding for the Rice middleware, and shared community services. This new model will fuel growth in both areas. To date we are able to provide the collaboration infrastructure services and software configuration management as shared services and I believe we have the foundation to add additional services like QA and User Experience (UX) that will create additional efficiencies and benefits.
Participated on a Kuali Student subcommittee to develop a detailed sustainability model and plan. In the process, engaged other community projects like Rice, KFS, KC, and OLE to collaborate on a common model even though each project is at a different stage of maturity. This work will be presented at Kuali Days 2013.
Increase the diversity of project partners
Worked on a subcommittee to increase the diversity of Kuali Financial System projects that led to changes in the partner model and the addition of a small liberal arts school to the project.
Support successful adoption
We now have nearly 20 implementations of the Kuali Financial System, 20+ implementations of Kuali Coeus, and dozens of institutions using Kuali Rice Middleware and Workflow. Over the past year, we’ve seen the first adoptions of Kuali Mobility, the first Kuali Student and KPME modules, and early next year we will see the first adoptions of Kuali Open Library (OLE).
Adoption is critical to the health and sustainability of our community and I’m working hard to help grow adoption in my role at rSmart, and as a director of the Kuali Foundation. During this past term we have initiated several collaborations among commercial affiliates to maximize our ability as a community to help grow adoption. The collaborations range from collaboration on marketing & messaging, to presence at trade shows and work with the press and media to raise the level of awareness about Kuali.
If elected to serve another term, I will continue to work hard on our behalf. I will leverage the diversity of my experience across most of the Kuali projects and adoptions to be a good steward. I will continue to focus on the areas above with specific focus in the following areas that I’ve been actively engaged in already.
Leverage our capacity as a community to produce a robust suite of software that serves institutions
We’re in the process of evolving from a community of autonomous, loosely-coupled projects, to a more coherent portfolio of projects that efficiently leverage our capacity as a community to produce a robust suite of software that serves our institutions. The interdependence of our projects is increasing, and there are opportunities for our community to leverage our resources across projects.
The recently announced UX initiative is a great example of this, but it’s just the beginning. We need to find additional methods of funding work that spans projects, and we’ll need to evolve our community practices in ways that retain the things that are working well. This will be a key focus area in the next two to three years, and I believe that my experience with most of the Kuali projects, and the insight I gain from working with many adopting institutions are assets that can be leveraged to help as we evolve.
Increase Kuali adoption through consistent message and awareness
We’re just beginning to build a coherent, and crisp message about the value of Kuali that we can all carry with consistency. We need to create the tools that enable our whole community to carry the Kuali message. And we need to get that message delivered through many channels from social media to press and analysts. We’re already seeing the impact of this work through increased media interest. Uniting as a community to tell the Kuali story (and our individual success stories) is a critical component to our success. This will be another key focus area and my experience interacting with many diverse institutions will be a benefit to solidifying the Kuali message and increasing broad Kuali awareness.
If you’re a member of the Kuali Foundation and you elect me for another term, you’ll be electing a very active representative with a strong track record. I regularly initiate and/or volunteer for task force work, and I will continue that work ethic. You will also be electing someone who is fully committed to helping higher education get the most out of community source and the success of the Kuali community.
Take your shoes & belt off. Remove your laptop from it’s bag. Take out your aerosols, gels, and liquids.
I’m not going to rant about how these things don’t really make us any safer. But what if you could just walk through the security checkpoint at the airport without any hassle? Fully clothed. Laptop, gels, and liquids where they belong (in your bag). Nice huh?
There’s a super-secret frequent flyer program that actually lets you do this. I’m not going to mention it by name because I’m hoping the empty lines will remain empty. Oh, heck… if you fly with any frequency go get yourself registered for TSA Pre.
Today I’m flying Southwest Airlines to Indy for a board meeting and Southwest doesn’t support the super-secret hassle-free travel program yet. I really like Southwest. They are a great company, and a pleasure to fly. They seem to do everything better than the other airlines. From getting me there on time, to hassle-free flight switching, not charging me extra to bring clothes (bags fly free), to the fact that their employees actually seem to want to be there… the list goes on.
But lately I’ve been flying a lot on other airlines. There are a few places I travel where Southwest just isn’t as convenient. And I’ve really come to like the super-secret hassle-free security checkpoint experience. So I’ve been flying these other airlines more… but once I get through security I remember why I really like Southwest.
The board meeting I’m heading to is for the Kuali Foundation, where I serve as a director. The Kuali Foundation is a member organization of education-focused organizations like Indiana University, Cornell, University of Hawaii, my company rSmart, and 70 or so others. We create administrative software for colleges and universities that saves them 10′s of millions of dollars that they can put to better use in their core teaching and research missions.
Tomorrow I’ll see Brad Wheeler, the chairman of the Kuali Foundation Board, CIO at Indiana University, and a business school professor. I was thinking about my experience this morning and a classic business school paper Brad often references called “On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B.” I keep flying other airlines that I really don’t like and rewarding them with my business (A), while hoping that Southwest Airlines will get with the program (the super-secret program) and keep my security checkpoint experience streamlined (B).
When Brad talks about the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B, he’s usually speaking to his colleagues–other higher education leaders. His purpose is far more important to the success of our society than getting through airport security fully clothed and bags intact. He is talking about institutions that continue to reward the the old, expensive ecosystem of metered software, escalating maintenance, and co-dependent consultants who point to the old ecosystem in which their fortunes are enmeshed (A), while hoping for alternatives that provide economical tools that support higher education’s unique administrative functions (B). In fact it seems that some have lost even the hope as they accept tens of millions to continue upgrading these systems as the cost of doing business. Why does this matter? Because these are dollars that aren’t going to support students and faculty. And with tuition about as high as it can go, state support shrinking, and endowments flat at best, we need to find ways to direct more of the current institutional resources toward teaching and research.
It seems useful to contrast the old ecosystem with the rapidly evolving sharing economy that points to new ways to reduce the costs of things we need. Likewise the Kuali community is creating a new ecosystem that leverages the shrinking cost of collaboration, and trust relationships among the participants. The new ecosystem isn’t less commercial than the old ecosystem. It’s simply a more productive use of tuition and taxpayer dollars that creates new opportunities for both buyers and sellers.
The Kuali community is well on it’s way to producing all of the administrative functionality institutions need to replace the legacy ERPs–Student Enrollment and Services, Human Resources, and Financials, and more. There are 5 major systems complete and best of breed in their area: Financials, Grant/Research Administration, Enterprise Mobile, Workflow & Middleware, and Business Continuity Planning; and 3 more well underway: Human Resources, Student Services, and Library. It’s a very exciting endeavor that has the potential to collectively redirect hundreds of millions toward teaching and research at a time when most institutions are struggling with reduced funding from states, growing enrollment, reduced government funding for research, a growing public dissatisfaction with the cost of education (tuition, etc.), and rapidly growing competition for students.
While some remain skeptical (yet hopeful) of Kuali’s potential to produce better administrative software *and* dramatically reduce the cost of administration for institutions, the fact is that dozens of institutions are already realizing these benefits. And the folly pouring hundreds of millions into the old ecosystem rather than modern classrooms and supercomputers… while hoping for Kuali’s success and timely completion of the remaining capabilities, is that these funds, if directed toward Kuali, would ensure what they are hoping for. Some institutions have chosen to end the folly. Institutions like these are Rewarding A by investing in and Hoping for A. Ending the folly is part of the solution for reducing the costs of higher education going forward–something we must find a way to do (before my kids get there).
Time to board. Be right back…
Perfect. I got my favorite seat (12A). And yes, my next flight… it will be Southwest.
When Indiana University, University of Hawaii, NACUBO and rSmart started the Kuali community in 2004, our motivation was to shift college and university spending on administration toward the academic and research mission of these institutions. The “big idea” with Kuali was that we could reduce costs and increase “fit” by applying a community development model and open source licensing, to big administrative systems that replace functionality in areas like finance, HR, student, and research from the legacy ERP systems.
The premise was (and is) pretty straightforward. By building these most mission critical systems as a community by and for higher education, they would embody higher education’s best practices and so would require less customization than the legacy ERPs, and therefore would cost less to implement and maintain. We would also eliminate costly license and maintenance fees and provide institutions with more control over the direction of the software, it’s sustainability, and when/how/if they upgrade.
In the first few years there was a lot of buzz about what we were doing. There was a lot of excitement, hope, and promise. And of course there was also a fair bit of skepticism and defense of the status quo. It did feel a bit Machiavellian back then…
“And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”
But today, with more than 70 higher education organizations contributing and dozens of institutions large and small running Kuali administrative software in production, the Kuali community is saying to colleges and universities everywhere: Put your money where your mission is. In other words, leverage Kuali software (you already own) to reduce the cost of administration, and put those savings into education and research.
What was potential in 2005, was reality in 2009 when Colorado State University and San Joaquin Delta College successfully replaced Oracle and Ellucian (FRS) Financial Systems and implemented the Kuali Financial System. And, in 2013 it should be as obvious as a smack upside the head with a 2×4 with successful adoption from all sizes of colleges and universities.
Indiana University has been a leader in the Kuali community since before it had a name. They recently did a press release about how they saved $20 million implementing the Kuali Financial System instead of one of the legacy ERPs. In a separate, but related release IU announced “raising the bar in supercomputing power” with the unveiling of Big Red II, a powerful new supercomputer with a processing speed of one thousand trillion floating-point operations per second (one petaFLOPS). The savings from implementing Kuali Financial System could have paid for their supercomputer and a state-of-the-art classroom! IU is clearly putting their money where their mission is.
And IU certainly isn’t alone. Institutions as diverse as Stevens Institute of Technology, UC Irvine, University of Connecticut, University del Sagrado Corazon (Puerto Rico), Masdar Institute, University of Arkansas, Northwest University (South Africa), and many others have joined the early pioneers.
We’re not quite there yet, but the days of $84 million upgrades to a legacy ERP are numbered. What could your institution (or the institution your kids are/will attend) do with $84 million? I’m thinking a tuition reduction would be nice to see.
There’s been quite a bit of discussion, analysis, and reaction to last week’s announcements that Blackboard had acquired Moodlerooms and Netspot, hired Dr. Chuck, and cancelled the Angel LMS’ end of life.
There are lots of questions. And much speculation about the answers. But I think we’re just going to have to watch closely to see how this all plays out. What seems clear at this point is that:
- Blackboard has bought back some of the market share they’ve lost over the past few years
- Angel users have a reprieve at the moment from the forced march to choose another LMS
- Blackboard, through Moodlerooms and Netspot, has a new ability to engage with the Moodle community
- Blackboard is more seriously evaluating how to monetize open source… if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
Phil Hill has done a nice job organizing the key announcements, statements, and reactions in his April 4th post. Who knows, maybe Phil will add this one.
From my perspective, these new announcements are mostly consistent with what we’ve seen for years. Blackboard’s core business continues to be the LMS. It is the basis for the relationship they have with their customers. And while they are quickly diversifying through acquisitions beyond the LMS, they can’t afford for their LMS base to erode as quickly as it has been eroding. Acquiring a bunch of Moodle customers buys them time. Letting Angel customers continue on Angel for now buys them time.
It’s no surprise that the open source aspects of the announcements have generated the lion’s share of reaction. But Blackboar
d’s strategy is not really about open source. It’s about customer acquisition and retention. And there just aren’t that many proprietary options with significant market share to acquire anymore. So Blackboard looks to acquire customers that have chosen Moodle or Sakai–the open source options.
Naturally many have expressed concerns about what this means for open source. Fortunately neither Sakai nor Moodle can be acquired. They will be perpetually available to anyone who wants to use, modify, or share them. The licenses guarantee it. And “the key”, as Brad Wheeler, CIO at Indiana University and Chair of the Kuali Foundation board of directors, notes is
“… to ensure that this doesn’t become a different path back into the old set of problems yet again.”
The key is community
Those of us who’ve been deeply engaged in the open / community movement know that the open license is important, but insufficient, to generate the most compelling benefits. I’ve spent nearly a decade working to establish and build open source options for education that span support for teaching, learning, research, libraries, student services, and administration. Most of my work has been through the Sakai and Kuali communities, who I believe are empowering institutions to improve education–and that’s something that I’m passionate about. Community is the key. Moodle and Sakai are first and foremost communities that have developed deep competencies that enable innovation through diverse global collaboration. One result of these communities’ effort is innovative software that helps students and educators extend and re-invent education. Community is everything. Moodle and Sakai have very different community models, but for both community is everything. Did I mention how important community is? Community brings diversity–a key ingredient for innovation. Community is resilient to change–there is no single point of failure in community. Community is the safety net that minimizes the risk of lock-in. Community promotes transparency and predictability. And so on…
And so the good news for higher education is that we have built two very durable open source communities. And it’s not up to Blackboard whether these communities continue to thrive. Hundreds of colleges, universities, and companies like rSmart, whose values and mission are aligned with the community mission and values, are investing in community developed and governed software. It is this diversity and breadth of contribution that gives me great confidence that Sakai will continue to thrive. Sakai is a path that we can count on to empower students and educators with innovative support or teaching, learning, and research.
Will Blackboard be a contributor in the Moodle and/or Sakai ecosystems? Time will tell. But as Brad put it recently…
“Blackboard now has an excellent opportunity to demonstrate its new values in openness in licensing and community,” although “time will tell” how deep its convictions are on that score.
… and aligning values and mission is very different than shifting strategy.
So despite the uncertainty that comes with announcements like these, there are a few things that I’m sure of:
The Sakai software will continue to empower students and educators. Hundreds of institutions and millions of learners and educators around the world use Sakai with great result. The current generation of LMS’s including the Sakai CLE have matured to a high level of parity. And the Sakai open academic environment (OAE) is demonstrating community innovation at its best by creating a new learning platform that isn’t shackled by current market expectations.
The Sakai community will continue to be diverse, durable, and capable. The Sakai community is made up of a highly diverse group of education-focused organizations who share strong alignment of values and mission. And the community has demonstrated for nearly a decade the collaboration competency to produce and evolve great software, and the durability to endure changes that impact individual members of the community.
rSmart will continue to deliver Sakai. rSmart was founded to support the open community development movement in education. Our mission is to deliver the open platform and achieve the greatest potential impact by making our community’s work accessible to the widest possible spectrum of institutions. We’ve been doing this for many years and know how to engage as an integral part of communities like Sakai, and to leverage that community engagement to partner with our customers and help them improve learning outcomes and increase access to education.
A couple years ago I wrote about how path matters… and how choosing the right LMS is more about choosing a path, than choosing a product. I believe that the community source path enables a rich ecosystem of like-minded, education-focused organizations to put the best innovation in the hands of students and educators. Will Blackboard’s change in strategy help them align values and mission to contribute to that ecosystem? Time will tell.