Monthly Archive: June 2010

next in higher ed: outsourcing as strategy

A hot topic for some time now in Higher Education is outsourcing.  Generally, this has taken the form of using Google for e-mail.  In fact, other than a handful that use Microsoft’s live@edu for e-mail…I can’t think of anyone else doing anything through outsourcing.  No storage, no running of Exchange in the cloud, etc.

Having said that, this is a really heated and controversial topic for a number of reasons.  There is the legal one – FERPA states, essentially, that an educational institution cannot provide student information to an outside organization.  Whether having Google host your e-mail, which is relatively secure behind encryption, etc, is violating FERPA has often been based on interpretation by General Counsel.  Second, I am convinced that there is a strong belief that university data should stay on university servers.  Even more than what most companies feel at an emotional, possessive and perhaps maternalistic level, universities have this suspicion about letting data go.  Academia is free and intellectually unbound and independent – to host data at Google is like selling one’s soul.

Personally, I’m interested in taking this a step further.  Let’s talk about outsourcing as a strategy.  Right now, universities that have gone to Google have done so out of cost savings.  No storage servers, fewer admins, etc, and you save money in providing e-mail to faculty, staff, and students.  This is often the end of the discussion.

But if one were to take the emotional aspect out of things, and presume (fiat power!) that the school’s interpretation of FERPA allows for off-campus storage of student data, then one can start applying more strategy-based approaches to outsourcing. (more…)

managing by exceptions == anarchy

Recently, it seems like all I ever hear is how, because there is such great certainty that students or other customers will just break the rules anyway, we should plan for the exceptions, rather than modify and/or enforce actual policy.

For instance, since we know that students routinely share account information with each other, we should not trust our academic integrity policies that specifically forbid such behavior.

Or, even though “covered” data – a document or set of documents that would jeopardize one’s electronic identity, such as Social Security Numbers, addresses, etc – is not allowed to be kept anywhere for an extended period of time, since we know that some will violate this anyway, we should limit resources rather than pursue new initiatives.  We should essentially box everyone in through limitations on functionality in order to prevent those that break the rules from doing so.

Managing for exceptions rather than believing in and enforcing rules is simply a recipe for anarchy.  If we cannot believe in the sanctity of our regulations and policies, then why do we bother having them at all?  Yes, we need to make sure that penalties are levied when people violate those policies.  But when I bring that up, people often just say “but they don’t mind the penalties anyway.”  Then increase the fine!  Put people on probation!  Revoke access to needed resources!  Make the penalty hurt.  Don’t just stop innovating, stop improving others’ jobs, and lose faith in the policies themselves.

Let’s put this simply:  if we did not believe that people would follow our system’s laws, then why bother having laws?  And how do we make sure that people obey laws?  By penalizing the heck out of violators such that only a very small subset would dare take on such punishment.  Major crime?  Years and years in prison.  Park in a handicap spot?  Really big monetary fine.  Whether it’s time in jail or money out of pocket, make it so that people follow the law.  Only then will we have faith in the law, and only then do we avoid anarchy.

When it comes to provision of services, if we operate under the presumption that people will just ignore policy, then we are just making excuses not to provide new solutions.  And in some cases, to purposely limit options so that people will have fewer opportunities to violate protocol.

And the last thing we should do, in academia and in academic technology, is to focus on how to prevent people from improving their ability to get work done.

the new (scarier?) conservative

The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle a few days back included a story about Carly Fiorina’s bid to oust Barbara Boxer as one of the US Senators from California.  Actually, the article is more about how Carla is part of a “new” breed of pro-woman, pro-life voters.

This article struck me for a number of reasons.  First, there is an immediate concern that people will be so wrapped up in the Whitman-Brown gubernatorial race that they will forget about the one for Senate between Fiorina and Boxer.  While I am worried that Whitman is going to grab me off the street and tell me I’m an immigrant and try to send me to China (can’t send me “back” if I was born in New Jersey and have never been to the “homeland”), I am also concerned about Fiorina’s platform.

The other and perhaps more important aspect to Fiorina’s run is that she is apparently representative of this new group of women voters that are feminist and fight for women’s rights, yet are also pro-life.  I must admit that I had a hard time separating the two – that a woman can believe fiercely in her own rights, yet no in having the choice on the issue of abortion.  One can be pro-choice but anti-abortion.  But specifically pro-life, which means taking away the right to choice, is striking.

This brings me around to several articles that emerged when the Obama administration took over and the Democrats seemed to “control” Washington (ugh – what a mess that all is now, including Obama’s recent moves regarding the oil spill in the gulf, compromises on health care reform, inability to bridge the gaps even within his own party, etc) about how young, moderate conservatives no longer had a party to call their own.

As the Republican party has become more and more conservative and, if you listen to Limbaugh and Palin, rather extremist (IMO), it seems that there are many that identify themselves as right of center (sometimes significantly so) yet are not comfortable with what the party has declared to be its values.  I used to think I was a bit right of center.  I’m a centrist, but maybe a bit conservative.  But now, as I look at how far to the right the Republican party has swung, I look at my opinions and realize I’m decidedly on the Democratic side.

But this is in terms of beliefs.  I don’t necessarily want to label myself as a Democrat, but if I go by positions on various issues, that’s where I am.  In comparison, there are many mild conservatives that have beliefs and positions that leave them too far to the center of current Republican ideals and therefore with nowhere to go.

I believe in Keynesian economics and, more specifically, that the only financial entity that can “afford” to make massive, nation-wide fiscal changes is the federal government.  I believe that the only way to fund such stimulus is by deficit spending.  I can easily place myself within the Democratic camp on this one.

In comparison, what if there is a conservative who believes that the government has to intervene, has to spend to grow, and must put in regulations on the financial sector yet also is pro-life, generally small-government-oriented, and in accordance with other Republican positions?  Well, based on the rhetoric that comes out of the right-wing camp about the stimulus package alone, I have a few friends that feel left out in the cold, with no party to call their own.


Does Fiscal Austerity Reassure Markets? – Paul Krugman Blog –

Does Fiscal Austerity Reassure Markets? – Paul Krugman Blog –

My favorite line from this article is the last one:

But hey, what are you going to believe: what everyone knows, or your own lying eyes?”

Krugman spends all this time basically analyzing whether it’s a good time to move away from deficit spending and more towards some kind of balanced approach to spending.  I have always thought this was one thing that was ignored by all of the critics when the stimulus package and budget were first being rolled out by the Obama administration.

Specifically, that this deficit spending and all of the activities by the Treasury and the Fed had to happen now, but also had to be temporary.  That the monetary base of the Fed would decrease as it wound down and that the Treasury had no desire to be the owner of AIG or GM forever.  But we had to do this for a while, at the least.

After all of that, Krugman then says that those who push for “fiscal austerity” now have “blind eyes.”  Way to go, Paul.

the land of the lost

Some organizations are monolithic and distant.  Huge, hulking, single-minded set of drones that present an impenetrable barrier to two-way communication.  Messages within are often top-down.  Big Brother tells you what to do, and all you have is a memory hole at hand.

Should messages be top-down, from the organization but emanating out to the rest of the world, then hostility and autocracy comes into play.  The Borg have arrived. Resistance is Futile (and nanites really, really hurt when they take over your blood cells).

Other organizations are smaller, agile, and quick to respond to opportunities and threats.  Kind of like a a fox, except without the whole “killing rabbits” schtick.

When these nimble groups do get aggressive, however, you’re more like Jurassic Park Velociraptor food if you get in the way.  And I’m not talking Jurassic Park 3, where you can trick them by blowing air into an old skull (as if Sam Neill knew exactly how much air a raptor used to communicate with others).  I’m talking the first movie, where they figure out how to open doors.

But let me describe yet another organization.  Somewhat less together, and harder to describe.

Tribes exist on separate islands.  Some islands are bigger than others, and many are clustered and somehow related, but are separate islands nonetheless.  Many islands have not yet established communications with others.  Some tribes have not even invented means of communication.  Jungles as dense as those on Papau New Guinea, where entire civilizations are still being discovered each year, cover many of these land masses.  The tribes are competitive – this isn’t just Survivor, but Survivor:  The Villains.

The islands and sets of islands are floating on a giant set of tectonic plates on the most seismically active planet ever.  Volcanoes erupt between islands, cutting them off from each other and sending giant plumes of ash that serve to annoy if not disrupt operations on other islands.  What’s worse –  various well-meaning people die horrible deaths trying to save others that have strayed too close to the edge.

The planet is so active that, like Jupiter’s Titan on seismic steroids, it actually changes shape with eruptions and quakes.  At times, the planet becomes almost cubical in shape.  It is also like a giant balloon – if you try to poke it with too sharp of a stick, with too much energy, in an effort to elicit a specific response, you just set off more eruptions and discontent.

Welcome to my land of the lost.

note:  in no way is my group the fox, the raptor, Big Brother or the Borg (though we could certainly use transwarp tunnels now and then).  We are far from perfect and sometimes the messages we send are so mixed that it’s like we just fell from our own tower of Babel.  And sometimes I am the one doing the talking.  At the least, I am absolutely the one responsible for what we say and do.  My comments above do not mean that we are better and perhaps we’re not any different, either.

pissing off one group at a time

With my recent graduation from business school, many colleagues, peers, friends, and family have been asking me what’s next, and how work is going.  They kind of go hand in hand (though a negative answer to the latter doesn’t mean that I’m rushing forward to something in the former).

At work, the biggest development has been that we have started moving away from the status quo and just building up our resources and onto actual new, (hopefully) meaningful initiatives.  I have learned a couple of valuable lessons already in doing so.

The first one is rather obvious – no matter what you do, you’re going to piss someone off with whatever it is you’re trying to get done.  If it’s new, then at the very least the status quo folks will be unhappy.  My goal is to piss off just one group at a time.  Furthermore, I try to keep the effort sufficiently segregated that one will not be pissed off either on behalf of someone else or out of sympathy or some other weird connection.  This is more than the “you can only please 80% of the people 20% of the time” or whatever the saying is.  I’m challenging the status quo, and impacting (and therefore potentially upsetting) 90% of an entire group at a time.

The second part is that it takes perhaps even more political guile than I had realized to piss off only one group at a time.  The issue is that these groups are layered.  Some layers are cooperative and open-minded, some are less so.  And it’s important to keep the more receptive layers happy.  In a way, they end up being allies against the less friendly sub-groups, but at the heart it’s just about keeping good relationships on solid footing.  I like to think I’m pretty good at dealing with politics, but I don’t try to manipulate as a standard method of operation.  It’s just simply illogical to burn bridges with potential allies.

The dangerous thing about these layers and sub-groups is that other people know that they are the receptive ones, too.  Which means they often get inundated with calls, e-mails, etc trying to get them to help because others are less tractable.  Even when I employ alternative means of communicating – offers for lunch, coffee, stopping by randomly – they can be less than receptive due to simple overload.  This is especially problematic at a small organization, such as Santa Clara.  So in one’s efforts to be friendly and reach out, it’s possible you might start to singe some bridges.

The point of this post is not to “educate” readers (do I even have a dozen?  who knows) that one cannot make everyone happy at the same time.  It is a little bit about how one should often forget happy and be willing to accept controlled annoyance.

All of the business school methods and techniques about management, inter-office politics, etc really start to take useful shapes when the MBA is done and the real world starts to envelop one’s actions (before it’s kind of a blend – learn something new tonight, try it out tomorrow.  Now it’s “assimilate everything you’ve learned and apply it all at once”).  Sometimes they are “useful” in demonstrating how tough things can be.

fighting complacency

I had a conversation with a classmate of mine recently, discussing various issues of interest at our school, the university at large, and educational technology in general.  We quickly moved from the specific – technology that we have seen implemented ourselves – to the general.

We spoke, essentially, about how one must approach educational technology.  Academic Computing, academic technology, instructional technology – they all refer to the same thing.  Servers, switches, computers, projectors, even dry-erase boards and the types of walls that surround a room – any kind of technology, hardware, software or otherwise, used to improve teaching and learning.

This topic has come up a bit since I completed by MBA, as well.  People ask me what my plans are next.  I have no intentions of leaving my current job for the time-being, but it has put a renewed emphasis on what it is I want to accomplish in my job.

What drives me is, in one way, the desire to fight complacency.  The flip side of fighting complacency, of course, is the pursuit of innovation, to ask why and why not at the same time, and to always pursue the best, even when better will do.

I hope that I will be able to stick to this path.  I hope that I will not succumb to complacency, losing my desire to always pursue the continued improvement of services and tools that the students, faculty, and staff at the school can use.

Not quite the post I wanted it to be, but it gets to the point…

the endless pursuit of…complacency

This is a post about differing perspectives on technology and support of student learning here at SCU, so I must preface things a bit.  Any administrator at any academic institution, especially in “these tough economic times” (a phrase that I am so sick of…yet I use here in this post) has to make tough decisions about how to invest one’s money.  Especially if expenses have trended and gone generally in one direction for many years, it’s hard to suddenly say “let’s spend more money, in a different way!”  I know this, even as I put together initiatives for new projects and programs that either change my budget or require additional funds.  So I can empathize with the mentality that I’m describing below.

Doesn’t mean I agree with it, though.

Santa Clara has a great program that supports innovation in technology.  The Tech Steering Committee offers up grants to those that are pushing forward with technology in the use of teaching, learning, and/or research.  It’s meant, at the least, as seed money to see if something will be useful.  Ideally, it’s to get a project off the ground that will, with proven success, turn into an ongoing operation.

I have applied for a grant each year I’ve been at SCU with the latter goal in mind – I want to start something that will last for years into the future.  As part of a larger roadmap of where I think the law school should be headed.  And I have received 2 grants in 2 tries, totally over $24,000.  I applaud SCU for this program, which was offered even during the especially lean 2009-2010 budget year.