Friday, January 31, 2014

The path to scale

EDUCAUSE Review recently shared a video message from Brad Wheeler, CIO and vice president for information technology at Indiana University. I know Brad from my time working with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, while I was senior manager in the Office of Information Technology at the University of Minnesota main campus.

Wheeler's message is about finding our path to scale, what Wheeler sees as the central issue facing higher education. Digital goes to scale. Wheeler points to Amazon, whose global marketplace supports not just Amazon but smaller sellers. Leveraging the digital marketplace, even a mom & pop shop can sell products to people all over the world.

Brad encourages leveraging digital as our path to scale. Higher education can use digital to scale up in ways we haven't seen before. IT has previously sought to do this through vendor dependence, but Wheeler also suggests interdependence among higher education institutions. And this isn't surprising, as Wheeler is behind some of higher education's largest, most transformative software and service collaborations including Sakai for teaching and learning software, Kuali for financial and other administrative systems, HathiTrust for digital copies of scanned books as part of the Google Book Project, and the formation of Internet2's Net+ Services.

I've always looked at digital as an opportunity to provide bigger and better services by outsourcing certain services so we can focus on other, high-value services. I'm reminded of my previous suggestion to privatize the bookstore using Amazon. Like Brad's example, higher education might form such a partnership to reach a new level in customer support.

Not all outsourcing is bad. And in the hypothetical case of Amazon, students might buy their course textbooks online, and have them delivered directly to their dorm room or campus apartment. And next to each textbook, you might have a list of other, related resources. "Students who bought this text book also bought…" might show study guides, Cliffs Notes, or textbooks from related courses. For example, a physics textbook might link to a statistics textbook. Or a novel (such as for a literature class) might link to the movie adaptation on DVD.

Just like Amazon's regular online bookstore, students could rate the textbooks and leave comments. "This textbook was good, but also buy the study guide that goes with it" or similar comments could help other students make the best decisions in buying their course materials.

That's just one idea in which higher education might turn digital in their path to scale. MOOCs are another obvious example, and today we see many experiments that test ways students can use MOOCs. What other ways can you imagine using technology to scale up education?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Higher Ed IT must change or die

Technology in higher-ed is on the verge of major change. 2014 will introduce major shifts in campus technology, and higher-ed IT has no choice but to adapt. In only a few years, our roles will change dramatically.

What challenges face technology in higher-ed?
One driving force comes from the faculty and students. Already we have seen a shift from in-person classrooms to online education, including massive open online courses (MOOCs). MOOCs offer courses to those who want to learn new subjects in a different, non-traditional way for free. MOOCs are a disruptive innovation in education, and as such they continue to evolve as student needs drive change. Over the last year, MOOCs have shifted to hybrid open online courses (HOOCs) that better enable students to connect with other students.
Faculty and students also drive campuses to adopt Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs). In an ALC, an instructor leads small group discussions, so students learn from other students. The role of instructor shifts from its traditional performance of "sage on a stage" to "facilitator."
The ALC also moves campuses to implement new technology. Mobile devices begin to replace laptops and desktops. The future belongs to the tablet and smartphone. While we may have devices that look like laptops, in five years I believe the "laptop" concept will merge with the smartphone. The iPhone will become the computer. The only difference is that you'll have a "tablet" display when you want to use a larger display to consume content, and a "laptop" interface when you want to create content.
With such a dramatic change in the personal computer, "standardization" will be meaningless. How can an organization enforce a "university standard" for laptops and desktops when users own their own device? The ultimate conversion to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) will require IT organizations to re-think desktop support, data management, and security.
"Genius Bar" and "Geek Squad"
All of this means the role of desktop support needs to change. Until today, the helpdesk has remained a physical place that users visit when they need help. For some problems, users might call the helpline - but overall, the university helpdesk expects users to visit the support center when they need help.
Helpdesk must change. In 2014, the helpdesk needs to transform into a hybrid of two functions: The "Geek Squad" where helpdesk personnel arrive at your space to help you with a problem. Obvious examples include "The classroom projector isn't working" or "This printer is jammed." And the "Genius Bar" for questions and problems that still require an in-person solution, such as "Please help me set up my phone to talk to Gmail."
To achieve this new level, the helpdesk must offload "low value" questions to a centralized call center. An in-person helpdesk doesn't provide any additional value to common problems such as "I forgot my password." A centralized call center can provide this assistance for users, freeing up the helpdesk personnel to visit with users in-person, either as "Geek Squad" or "Genius Bar."
The Cloud
In 2015, we'll continue to see more services move to the Cloud. The domain of the IT Director will no longer be "Servers" but "Services," shifting from "Service owner" to "Service provider." We've already witnessed email move to the Cloud (Gmail). Even office documents are delivered via the web; you can store files via technologies that include Dropbox, or edit them online using services such as Google Drive. Similarly, event ticketing and library management may now be delivered via Cloud. It's possible that in another few years, even student management systems will be in the Cloud.
Big Data
But 2015 will also be a year for Big Data, as institutions look to leverage their data to provide maximum value. Large companies such as Target already do this, using purchasing histories and analytics to determine future trends of shoppers, and hooking these consumers to the company so they remain faithful buyers into the future. My favorite example is how Target can predict pregnancy with surprising accuracy.
Data analytics will enable higher-ed to predict student performance. Imagine a student who is not performing well within the first ten days of class, the time period during which he or she may drop the class without penalty. Big Data might identify the student is not interacting with the course management system, and send a hint to the instructor that this student needs more individualized attention. Or the system might remind the student of study aids or outside resources that might improve performance.
Shared Services
As higher-ed continues to experience shrinking budgets, administration will need to leverage shared pools of resources to complete projects. Sharing resources and services will enable institutions to use staff time more efficiently, either for developing new projects or for maintaining existing systems. Shared services will become more visible within higher ed in 2014, and will be unavoidable by 2016.
The Pendulum Will Swing Back
While services will continue to move to the Cloud, concerns about privacy (recent NSA revelations as one example) will cause a rift among institutions and outside providers. But if you've been in IT long enough, you know that there's a "pendulum effect" - for example: once we used terminals to access a central mainframe, then later we moved to individual desktops on a local area network, then (eventually) to web-enabled devices connecting to Cloud services.
If privacy concerns continue, institutions will prefer to move applications back into the data center where they can maintain greater control over access and privacy. However, the pendulum will not swing entirely back to data centers providing centrally-managed services. Rather, we will see application "appliances." In 2013, we saw a preview of this: institutions no longer run their own instances of Oracle databases on centrally-managed Unix systems. Increasingly, database customers implement an appliance such as Oracle's Exadata, effectively a "database in a can," to deliver database services.
Ten years from now, many enterprises may "take it local" by implementing similar appliances that can be put behind the corporate firewall.
I'm excited for the future. But higher-ed IT must ask itself how it can be involved in these changes (or drive them) while delivering value to the institution. We must engage our faculty and students, who may not be particularly motivated to discover new technology, to provide a framework upon which education can build and grow. If higher-ed IT cannot meet this challenge, if we cannot adapt to address the changing landscape, then we will become obsolete and die.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Stop that - 8 ways to deter fraud on campus

Since I just wrote about how to spot bad leadership behavior, this article from University Business Magazine seemed apropos: 8 Ways to Deter and Detect Campus Fraud. The article shares the unfortunate truth that fraud is no stranger to higher-ed, listing three examples where three higher-ed institutions reported six-figure losses to fraud. But fraud isn't inevitable. Higher-ed institutions with effective fraud prevention controls are already reducing the risks and consequences of fraud.

1. Know your enemy

Kevin Robinson, executive director of internal auditing at Auburn University in Alabama, says it's critical for everyone in higher education to understand that a perpetrator can be anyone, including your most recent employee of the month." That's why we "trust, but verify."
2. Know your role

"Every employee, throughout the university, plays a role in having a fraud-free environment," says Sharon Loiland, controller in the division of finance and operations at the University of North Dakota.
3. Set the top from the top

According to Terri Clark, director of fiscal affairs and CFO for the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, "It’s critical that leadership doesn’t just talk about fraud prevention. They must also follow up by establishing controls and investigating reports of suspected fraud."
4. Find and fix vulnerabilities

Whenever you have a single person in charge of an entire process, from start to finish, that's an opportunity for misbehavior.
5. Formalize anti-fraud policies & processes

Allan Bachman, previously director of internal audit at a college in Boston (currently education manager for ACFE) advises that institutions should be direct. "State very clearly that if you are caught, you will be prosecuted."
6. Establish an anonymous reporting system

University Business reports that some institutions, such as Auburn and UND, use third-party providers for their hotline. Others, including Tennessee, leverage the state auditor’s office. Still others tap the free national crime reporting hotline, WeTip, which is available for anyone’s use.
7. Educate

An ACFE survey shows that in 81 percent of reported fraud cases, the perpetrator’s behavior exhibited red flags. Kevin Robinson at Auburn reminds "Your employees need to know those red flags to question them and report suspected problems."
8. Repeat

Even if you aren't familiar with your institution's policies, you can follow the general rule that if something doesn't "feel" right, it should be looked at. Is someone taking home retired equipment, and selling them online for personal profit? Is someone taking home old laptops for their kids to play with? While some private organizations might allow such behavior, these are not allowed in public institutions where state funds are used.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Put a stop to destructive behavior

An article in The Economist discusses how to spot the early signs of leadership going off the rails. I found this a great reminder to watch your own behavior. Through regular use of i-time, you can reflect on your work behavior and self-identify if you begin to exhibit these trends.

The article lists a few common self-destructive traits:

Grandiosity
From the article: "He attributes the company’s success wholly to himself, indulges in endless self-promotion or demands ever more extravagant rewards. Jean-Marie Messier, who transformed Vivendi from a staid water utility into a media conglomerate that ran up huge losses, borrowed his nickname—“J6M”, which stands for “Jean-Marie Messier Moi-Même-Maître-du-Monde”—for the title of his autobiography. One study shows that chief executives who appear on the covers of business magazines are more likely to make foolish acquisitions."
Over-control
"The boss surrounds himself with yes-men and crushes dissent. He tries to control every detail of corporate life rather than building a strong executive team."
Distorted decision-making
"The chief conflates personal and corporate assets, is obsessed with buying other companies, or focuses on bizarre details. Mr Messier spent $17.5m of Vivendi’s money on a New York apartment for his personal use. Fred Goodwin, boss of RBS, micromanaged the building of a £350m ($630m) head office, called “Fredtown” by his underlings, and found time to redesign the bank’s Christmas cards."
But how can organizations put a stop to this bad behavior in leadership? According to the article, the best answer lies with the executive him/herself. Look inward, and be honest with yourself. Do you focus too much on the short-term wins? Do you put the spotlight on yourself, rather than on those around you? Also, cultivate an understanding with those around you, so they can honestly let you know when things get out of hand. The article mentions Kevin Sharer, the former boss of Amgen, who used to get his direct reports to list his strengths and weaknesses annually for the board. He also kept a painting of General Custer in his office as a warning against hubris.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Chromebook, part 2

So far, I'm enjoying the Chromebook. I find it a great second laptop, although I haven't quite replaced my primary laptop with it. The HDMI-to-DVI issue with my external monitor is my main issue. The 11.6" display on the Chromebook is nice, I just prefer using the larger screen area of my external monitor.

However, I'd like to share a few things I've learned on the Chromebook that you might like to know:

Yes, you can use SSH
I don't often need to use SSH ("Secure shell," a terminal program that lets you connect to other computers). As a director, I just don't need to login to servers anymore. But I do maintain a personal website, and I need to use SSH to edit my web page. I was excited to find a version of Secure Shell that runs within the Chrome web browser, so I can use it on the Chromebook.
On taking screenshots
I occasionally find it helpful to take a screenshot of what I'm seeing in my web browser, usually so I can report a problem on a website somewhere. On Linux, I would just use the PrtScr key on the keyboard to save a screenshot directly to a folder. On Windows, you can do something similar, but you need to copy/paste the screenshot into MS Paint, and save it from there. On the Chromebook, it's a key combination: ctrl + window switcher (the "three boxes" key above the "6" on the keyboard). Here's a quick screenshot to demonstrate: 

I promise not to make a regular habit of posting my progress on the Chromebook, but this seemed interesting for anyone looking to replace a desktop system with a Chromebook.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Exploring a new mode of working

In discussing the changing landscape of desktop support, I've often said that the laptop and desktop will change dramatically over the next few years. That isn't really a novel concept; many industry analysts have predicted the same. In one vision of the future, the tablet and phone will merge with the laptop and desktop, providing a truly portable system. VR and AR systems such as Google Glass may further modify that future state, so that the "display" is something you wear, rather than something you put before you.

However you envision the future, "data on the desktop" will be a thing of the past. Computing will shift to the Cloud; we are already on the way there, with office applications moving to Google Apps, and other day-to-day applications moving to web-based systems. In a few years, your laptop will contain nothing; it will be a simple device that lets you connect to other systems.

We have such a device today. Google's Chromebook is a glimpse into that future state. We showed a Chromebook at last year's Technology Showcase, among other new technology devices. The Chromebook is basically a laptop that connects to a wireless network, and where you use the Chrome web browser to do your computing.


But how well can the Chromebook replace an office computer? I'll be testing this experiment over the next month or so. My intention is to use the Chromebook instead of my work laptop, using it to do all my daily tasks. Since most of my work is done via Gmail and Google Docs, this should be a fairly straightforward transition.

I've already started the experiment, and I can report a few findings:

1. Printing
In a typical laptop or desktop computer, you load drivers to talk to a printer connected to your computer, or to a printer connected to your network. But the Chromebook doesn't work quite in that way. Instead, you need to use Google CloudPrint, where you "print" to a CloudPrint system, and a printer essentially "picks up" the print job. If your printer doesn't do CloudPrint by itself, you'll need to set up another computer to do CloudPrint for you. In my case, I've set up a Raspberry Pi to do CloudPrint to our office printer. That's working very well, and adds only a few seconds whenever I print something.
2. Second display
I have a second monitor at work. When I'm using my regular laptop, the second monitor provides a larger "desktop" where I can do most of my work. For example, I typically do Google Docs in the larger display, while keeping an eye on Gmail in the laptop's display. So I'm using two displays to provide a single "desktop" experience. The Chromebook supports a second monitor using HDMI, the same connection that you use on your HD TV. Unfortunately, my Dell monitor doesn't support HDMI. Using an adapter cable provides a lower resolution (1024x720) on the Dell monitor, so everything is huge. Looking on message boards, I see others have this same problem. Since I don't have an HDMI monitor, I'll plan to use the Chromebook without a second display during this test. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Don't check your email

Erika Andersen at Forbes writes about a company that has taken an unusual approach to work-life separation: they enforce it. Bandwidth, a 15-year-old company that focuses on IP-based communication technology, enforces a total embargo on email to and from the company while you are on vacation.

When you plan a vacation, Bandwidth wants to make sure that you get to enjoy your vacation. They recognize that workers who are able to completely "unplug" from the office during vacation return refreshed and better able to tackle their work. Often, when we are able to do this, we discover a new energy and enthusiasm, and bring a fresh perspective to challenges. Andersen writes:
That is, when you’re on vacation, you may not communicate with the company and they may not communicate with you.  And to make sure the policy is followed to the T: when someone goes on vacation, all the folks he or she would ordinarily communicate with (employees, partners, boss, etc.) get an email, saying “so-and-so is on vacation.  If he or she contacts you for any reason, please let us know.”
It's not a single-person effort; at Bandwidth, co-workers are expected to take on the slack when one of the team is on vacation. This unusual policy also has the extra benefit of testing "transition plans," so members on a team may exercise procedures and instructions, and managers have an extra incentive to make sure everything is documented properly.

On top of that, Bandwidth requires that you take all your vacation days in the year that you earn them. No "banking" your vacation days to another year.

It sounds weird for a company to require time off from work, but there you are. Bandwidth recognizes that it's better for employees to take their vacation and enjoy it, and the company benefits by re-invigorating employees with restful vacation. In other words, vacation benefits Bandwidth's bottom line, as Andersen reports in her article:
These unusual policies seem to be paying off in terms of business results: Bandwidth is set to make $150M this year – up about 20% from last year –  and they anticipate $200M in profitable revenues next year.
So when you plan your next vacation, discuss with those around you the need to stay unplugged. Do what you can to remove yourself from the day-to-day of what's happening in the office. Find an opportunity to "unplug" so you can return refreshed to your work upon your return.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Seven habits, and why jerks always seem to get ahead

I came across two older articles from Forbes that seemed very closely related to each other:
The seven habits article is interesting as a do-not example. I think we've all worked for (or with) people who exhibited these traits. I used to work for a director who typified bad habits #3 (all the answers), #4 (my way or the highway), #6 (underestimate obstacles), and #7 (what worked before will work now) all at the same time. Not fun.

I view bad habit #2 (identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporation’s interests) as a work-life separation issue.

Yet according to the "jerks" article, people who have these habits seem to get ahead somehow. Why is that?

According to the article, overconfident people are perceived as having more social status, and social status is golden. But it's important as leaders to recognize when someone is being overconfident and try to coach them on that behavior. That coaching relationship may be easier if the overconfident person is in our own teams, but it gets more difficult if the person is a peer or up the ladder. That requires building relationships and coaching upwards.