Monthly Archive: July 2010

litl :: webbook – great product, stupid return policy

litl :: webbook.

This seems like a great alternative to a netbook, laptop, and the iPad.  Bigger screen than a netbook or iPad, smaller footprint than a laptop, and it does crazy flip-over-backwards action, with HDMI out for a TV, and runs on linux.  For less than the basic iPad (but no, it does not have touch-based interaction).

However…it has a really stupid return policy.  “Full refund” within 21 days “less applicable restocking fees.”  And by applicable, they mean if it’s not defective, we’re gonna charge you 15%.

Just lost yourself at least 1 customer until you change that policy.  And I was seriously considering recommending this to the school in general, too…

dear university…

Dear University General Counsel,*

I write to ask you to help foster an environment of creativity, innovation, and to engage us in how to push the envelope, rather than present to us the dimensions of said container and the strength of the glue that keeps contents within.

I ask that you consider how important innovation is to the process of learning and teaching.  That it is a powerful skill and force within an organization that benefits all.

I ask you to see the thread that ties innovation and experimentation with effective execution and meaningful results.  Thinking outside of the box doesn’t have to mean that we’re just coming up with crazy ideas.  We can think outside of the box and come up with solutions that will immediately impact everything that faculty, students and staff touch and use.

I ask that you help create an environment where we seek not to copy someone else’s RFP on “some-technology-someone-else-is-already-doing-exactly-the-way-we-are-thinking-of-doing” but instead to be the ones that write the very first such request for proposal.  Let us live in a place where we set the trend

I challenge you to fling wide the gates labeled FERPA and PRIVACY.  I urge you to knock – nay, tear – down those gates and turn them into paths.  Wide paths upon which we can walk and find our way to new solutions while staying within the right boundaries.

I challenge you to always ask us what we want to do next, rather than to tell us what we cannot do today.

I challenge you to stand with us as we forge into new territory, rather than be in the shadows, waiting to be called upon.

I ask that you let us – upper management, CTOs and CIOs – surround ourselves with the best and brightest.  I challenge you to let us let them run wild.

I challenge you to let us run wild with them.


*this is not directed at any specific university, much less my own.  This is a general comment on the need to unshackle many of those that are trying to innovate in technology & higher ed but are held back by legal concerns.  I think that should be obvious by the time you’ve read

the Groupwise to Google experiment (part 3)

As I’ve described in two previous posts on my efforts to use Google rather than Groupwise for work e-mail and calendaring (1 & 2), as a connection point for my Android phone, I have run into a lot of interesting behaviors.  I’ve had challenges and successes.

Right now, I have Groupwise set up to straight forward all incoming e-mail to Google.  I set up a separate google account just for work, and use the web interface to work with my calendar, etc.  I keep things separate from my personal Google account simply by running the work stuff in one browser and my personal stuff in another one.  Different browser apps, different cookies, no conflicts.

Even this basic forwarding has had problems.  I’m still not 100% confident that when an e-mail comes into Groupwise, it is forwarded right away to Google.  Most of my uncertainty can be tied to a power outage about a week ago, which caused a whole lot of problems.  But there was at least one other instance when I just stopped getting e-mail for a few hours.  Then suddenly everything from a 1.5 hour period came at once.  As a result, I set up an IMAP connection to my Groupwise account so that I can double check there.  Kind of defeats the purpose.

As for Companionlink for synchronization, I am now dead set against it as a recommended solution because it is not an enterprise-level product.  I knew that going in, of course, but if someone at the school were to ask what smartphone to get, I’d say “Blackberry” in a second (we have an Enterprise Server on campus).  Also, it has some quirks.  For instance, if I set up a repeating event in Google, only the first one shows up in Groupwise (this happened with another Groupwise calendar-only synchronization software package, too, so it might be a GW thing).  Also, while invitations to meetings do show up in Google, I only get an option to add it to my calendar.  Not to actually respond to it.  I know I tested this before and I had “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” as options, which was nice (maybe allowed me to have it show up as declined but still visible on my calendar).  I can’t figure out why it’s not working.

So I do a all of my meeting proposals in GW.  I often accept meetings there, too.

In the end…it’s a tough call.  I miss a lot of the functionality of the blackberry and might even go back to it as new versions come out.  But right now the benefits of the Android phone (the HTC EVO 4G in this case, but it could be any one) outweigh things overall.  Many of my core apps exist on the Blackberry OS, but are not nearly as easy to use.  For instance, I can view an excel sheet on my large 4.3″ screen and actually see the important information without losing view of every other cell.  Things scale well when I zoom in.  I can’t do that on the smaller Blackberry screens.

Ah.  Technology…

I have instructed my staff to recommend Blackberry units without hesitation.  We have the Android units only so that we can play with alternative smartphones.  We already know how to set up a Blackberry account in about 10 minutes, but this is the first extensive testing with something else.

deeply misunderstood…or stuck in a professional rut

I read through a post by a friend who has been struck by the changes between working at a start-up and now in academia.  I, in turn, have been thinking a lot about whether I’ve been painting myself into a professional corner.  Making myself irrelevant to the rest of the working world…

About 4 or 5 years ago, I applied for a job “in corporate” – aka a for-profit company.  Here in Silicon Valley, and quite a prominent company.  The job requirements were pretty straightforward.  It was for product management, and they had both an entry-level and a lead position open.  I needed to have 5 years experience managing projects from start to finish for the entry-level position, but at least 5 for the team lead job.  To be honest, I was pushing it a bit on the lead job, but as far as my resume sounded, I met the requirements.  When I finished my interview, I inquired about whether I could put my name in for the team lead job.

“Well, you don’t meet the job requirements for that position.  You need to have at least 5 years experience.”

“I have been managing teams and projects for the last 5 years, as you can see from my resume.”

“Yes, but that’s in higher education.  That would be more like 2-3 years if you were in corporate.”

This struck me as a bit odd, since I was not aware of some kind of fractional multiplier when converting from “higher education experience” and “corporate experience.”  But at least at this company, there seemed to be something of the kind.

Ever since then, I have been wondering if, as I move along on my career path in academia, I’m boxing myself in, professionally.  That I’ll reduce my chances of ever working in corporate with each passing year in some weird way.

It’s not that I’m trying to change careers.  And it’s not that there aren’t any jobs out there for higher education professionals.  Many companies (admittedly larger ones) have higher education vertical units, where entire groups focus on products being used in academia and/or strategic planning for the market.  But it still lingers in the back of my mind that as I make progress one way, I may be making myself less and less relevant other ways.

the limits of outsourcing

In my last post, about approaching outsourcing in higher education from a strategic view that goes beyond simple cost savings or privacy concerns, I talked about how outsourcing should either lower costs, increase value, or do both in order to help an organization develop and maintain a competitive advantage.

Defining competitive advantage in higher education or specifically IT therein is not easy.  It’s more than simply how a university or college does in rankings or how well it attracts students.  It might be measurable in terms of how it does compared to its direct competitors – how many times a student that applies to both schools chooses a particular one is somewhat indicative of a competitive advantage.

But let’s just presume that there are a great many factors that lead to something akin to an advantage that is useful when in competition for the best and brightest students with other schools.  The quantity of factors makes it all the harder to quantify the benefit of specific strategic planning decisions, but overall there is at least room for reasonable conjecture.

So the question remains – what should be outsourced?  What activities do technology departments in higher education engage in that are not directly beneficial in terms of competitive advantage?  What activities could be best outsourced such that cost goes down, value goes up, or both, leading to more students choosing one school over another?