Collectively Advancing Information Technology Through Collaboration
By Jack Suess, CIO, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)
Collectively Developing a Cloud Strategy
A major challenge in HigherEd is to increase our agility without increasing costs or limiting future flexibility. For that to happen we have to take advantage of cloud services Many HigherEd institutions have been in existence for more than 100 years and tend to be risk-averse when it comes to the cloud. In addition, most institutions expect to be around for hundreds of years in the future, requiring a long-term view in developing their cloud strategy that presumes cloud vendors will be replaced or go out of business. As a result, it is important that institutions develop a cloud strategy that includes the full life cycle: from acquisition through exiting the contract, including a consistent model for service integration, security, privacy, and full access to important data. Through a well-defined strategy it is possible to exit a SaaS contract when other options prove more viable.
"Users not only want choice around what device they use and when, but what software and services they use to collaborate"
HigherEd has a long history of institutions collaborating with each other and we have funded organizations to support that collaboration. One such organization is Internet2, founded in 1996 to support development of an advanced network serving research universities. It now has almost 300 members and operates a 100 GB network linking universities and national research labs. This network regularly allows universities to exchange terabytes of data each day and is now being extended to data intensive cloud services such as AWS and Microsoft Azure.
In 2011, Internet2 worked with its members to collectively develop a strategy to cloud computing. When we started this initiative the major barriers our institutions had were unacceptable contract terms from vendors, lack of transparency in security practices of cloud vendors, and custom integration strategies for authentication and authorization. By working together as a community we have developed model contracts that work for all parties, partnered with the cloud security alliance to develop a more robust version of the cloud control matrix, and standardized on a federated identity management approach that simplifies provisioning and authentication.
Collectively Working to Improve Educational Outcomes
Improving education outcomes, such as the number of students graduating and/or lowering the time it takes to complete a university degree, have taken on increased importance in HigherEd. This is increasing both advances in educational technology to improve teaching and adopting data analytics to help institutions determine what interventions work best with students. Increasingly more institutions are looking at developing predictive analytics that can identify the interventions and provide advice most appropriate for a specific student based on their data and risk factors.
In concept, this is much the same as personalized medicine and is still in its very early stages. We are beginning to have universities partner with each other to collect data across universities so that we can leverage the benefits that large data sets can provide in predictive modeling.
Collaborating to Create Standards in Education Technology
One way to improve learning outcomes is to redesign some of our high-demand courses that have higher failure rates. Usually this entails moving away from a lecture model to courses that require students to be active-learners without the professor lecturing all class. Many of the advances in educational technology tools are making this more viable and cost-effective.
The EdTech boom is providing many more innovative technology tools allowing faculty to customize their class. For this to work well requires well-defined standards. In the educational technology space, higher education is working closely with our K-12 partners and industry suppliers through IMSGlobal, our standards development organization. IMSGlobal brings stakeholders together to define the standards and develops conformance tests to make sure supplier’s products meet the standard. Through this collaboration, we are increasing interoperability and making it easier for vendors to innovate.
Creating the BYOE Revolution
BYOE means bring you own everything and is the evolution of bring your own device (BYOD) to also include software and services. Increasingly, users not only want choice around what device they use and when, but what software and services they use to collaborate. As a result, giving people more choice in how they learn or do their work is important. Through a well defined cloud strategy, and through the use of standards, it can be easy to add additional cloud services that give user’s choice. At my institution we offer people the ability to use both Google Apps and Microsoft O365. In addition, we are working with other universities to enable flexible learning environments that allow faculty and students more choice in the tools they use, especially around collaboration and educational applications.
Driving Innovation and Process Transformation
In my role as Vice President, I work very closely with the other senior leaders to use technology as a catalyst for driving innovation and increasing efficiency. A significant part of my work involves working across stakeholders in support of change management. As a result, IT works closely with our business units on improving business processes through a combination of providing robust business intelligence solutions to support reporting and through the aggressive use of SaaS solutions to streamline business processes. The use of SaaS solutions is enabled by our cloud strategy that the business units understand and support. In addition, through our IT governance process all the business units have a seat at the table in deciding which SaaS solutions we will implement.
Building the Right Solutions Collaboratively
My IT organization focuses on collaboration in two dimensions – externally and internally. Externally, we actively engage with our higher education associations like EDUCAUSE, Internet2, and IMSGlobal to identify innovative solutions and best practices that we can bring back to my institution. Internally, we collaborate within the university to implement these innovative solutions in support of the organization’s overarching goals. As a result, IT is viewed as a strategic business partner for organizational success.