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Kuali 2.0

August 25, 2014

Last Friday, the Kuali Foundation made an announcement that stirred up quite a buzz. Kuali has formed a new Kuali Commercial entity (referred to below as Kuali-Company) that is a “for profit” enterprise owned by and aligned with the higher ed community through As a co-founder and community leader, rSmart has naturally been asked for comment, clarity, and information.

Kuali 2.0 logoLet’s start with some facts…

  • Kuali software will continue to be open source.
  • Kuali will continue to be driven by higher education.
  • Kuali will continue to engage colleges and universities in the way that it always has.

… and we expect that…

  • Kuali-Company will be better at engaging the higher education community from a marketing and sales perspective.
  • Kuali will have a more effective product development capability organized in Kuali-Company.
  • Kuali-Company will deliver Kuali software in the cloud.

The Kuali mission is unwavering, to drive down the cost of administration for colleges and universities to keep more money focused on the core teaching and research mission. Our (the Kuali community) mission hasn’t changed, but the ability to execute on it has improved dramatically. The former structure made it too difficult for colleges and universities to engage and benefit from Kuali’s work. This new model will simplify how institutions can engage. The former structure breeds a lot of duplicative (and even competitive) work. The new structure will be more efficient.

People have been calling and asking what this means to rSmart. rSmart is made up of people who, like me, are passionate about the mission. We wake up every day and work hard to achieve the mission. rSmart has been involved in the leadership of Kuali since the day it started… actually before that since we are one of Kuali’s founders. This change is no different, and we believe that this change is going to better enable us to fulfill our mission.

We’re excited about Kuali’s future. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Joel Dehlin a bit and I’m confident that he is going to be a great addition and I look forward to working with him. rSmart is committed to our customers, to the Kuali mission, and to supporting this new direction.

Managing Climate Change in Higher Education

April 7, 2014

It seems that Arizona has been the beneficiary of climate change this winter. Friends and colleagues from across the eastern United States have experienced severe storms and frigid temperatures while our weather here in the desert southwest has been unusually pleasant. Don’t worry friends, we’ll get what’s coming to us when it’s 130 degrees this summer and we run out of water. But for now, I’m enjoying it and trying to be responsible about my water and energy use. In fact, every time I walk by one of my Nest thermostats it reminds me with a friendly little leaf icon that I’m contributing to the 1,774,469,650 kWh that nest users around the world have saved.

There’s another, mostly unrelated, climate change going on in higher education today and it’s causing clouds of a different sort. Colleges and universities, like many of their industry counterparts, are moving systems off campus into aggregated above campus services at an accelerated pace. These above campus or cloud services take advantage of great economies of scale so that computing capacity and application services like email, learning platforms, and even ERP systems can be quickly and easily scaled up and down to meet business demand.

I’m seeing evidence of the trend from several angles:

  • The Educause Core Data Survey (2013) found more than half of all institutions had at least one core information system in the cloud, half of those had two, and twenty-five percent had three.

  • The Campus Computing Project Survey (2013) reported that more than half of all institutions consider it strategic to move their ERP to the cloud. The survey also predicts thousands of instances of mission-critical applications like research administration, HR, student services, and financials will move to the cloud by 2018.

  • Eight of the Top Ten IT issues highlighted in the Educause Review for 2014 include some cloud angle.

Personally, I’m finding it increasingly common to hear that an institution’s strategy is to first look for new application services in the cloud. And, to only consider introducing new services in the campus data center after cloud options have been ruled out.

At rSmart, we’re both a provider and a consumer of cloud services. Strategically we look for services that increase our effectiveness as a team without taking focus away from delivering on the company’s mission. We want as much of our energy focused on helping colleges and universities keep their money in their mission, and as little as possible running our email, marketing, and finance systems. The same seems to be true for an increasing number of higher education institutions.

There are enormous benefits to treating computing and application services like an elastic commodity that can scale and adapt with an organization’s needs. There are also material risks that need to be thoughtfully addressed and managed. Mission-critical applications that are highly configured to the organizations business processes, and have hundreds or thousands of campus users, deserve particular consideration.

Brad Wheeler, CIO at Indiana University and Kelley Business School professor, recently recorded a guest lecture at Stellenbosch University in South Africa on the economics of open source. The full presentation is a good listen, but if you only have a few minutes, Brad touches on an important aspect of the trend toward cloud computing at about 28 minutes into the lecture

Rights and Provisioning Matrix

Rights and Provisioning Matrix

His focus is on two dimensions: Ownership (Y-axis) and Location (X-axis). Brad makes it clear that giving up control on both dimensions dramatically increases the risk. If you don’t own it and it’s off-site, you better hope that the vendor’s values and direction stay aligned with yours.

I use a lot of cloud-based services so I understand this risk well and have occasionally experienced the impact. One recent example happened when Beats Music acquired MOG. Many years ago I decided that there was no need to own physical media for music anymore. I could get the music I like streamed to me at home, in the car, at work, and on the road. My service of choice has been MOG. It is integrated with my Sonos at home and set up on all of my devces. I have all of my playlists there, etc. When they announced the acquisition I hoped that Beats would leverage MOG’s great platform and that I’d eventually move to Beats. Well, as it often happens, it didn’t work out that way and now I’m starting over with Spotify. So it goes.

Music playlists and personal entertainment are trivial examples compared to the disruption that occurs when mission-critical enterprise systems are used by hundreds or thousands of people in the organization. When the application is running in the cloud and the vendor owns the software, the vendor holds all the cards. And in a situation where the vendor goes in a direction that’s not aligned with your organization, you just don’t have many options.

Fortunately, there is another option. Kuali (the “K” in Brad’s slide) is a global collaboration of more than seventy colleges, universities, and companies working together to create an option that is “owned” by higher education. rSmart, a co-founder of Kuali, is one of those organizations and our unique role is to provide colleges and universities with a trusted cloud option for these mission-critical systems. With rSmart and Kuali in the cloud, institutions can leverage the economies of scale of the cloud and retain peace of mind. That’s because control of the software’s direction lies firmly in the hands of higher education.

Climate change in higher education is inevitable. As consumers of higher education continue to face soaring tuition costs, their expectations are rising accordingly. Now is the time for institutions to find ways to be more agile and leverage the benefits and economies of scale that come with the cloud.

With rSmart and Kuali, we can help you make sure your cloud resembles the kind that accent on a beautiful blue sky day. And, you won’t be put in a position to have to weather an untimely storm with ominous looking thunderheads.


The Value of Kuali

November 17, 2013
Kuali Days

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.

I-8 Approaching San Diego

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!

Kuali: We Don’t Just Make Administrative Software, We Make Talented People.

September 4, 2013

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.

rSmart Kuali InfographicRose’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

  • Competency-based degrees

  • On-demand learning

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! :-)

5 Things Every Higher Education Exec Needs to Know About Kuali

August 15, 2013

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.

Kuali Foundation board of directors election 2013

August 13, 2013
Kuali Logo

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.

In Service,

Chris Coppola

On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B

July 23, 2013

Take your shoes & belt off. Remove your laptop from it’s bag. Take out your aerosols, gels, and liquids.AB Image

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.


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