Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

EDUCAUSE 2012: MOOCs, Games, and More

It is time again to spend a few days (nearly a week, including pre-conference seminars) expanding my horizons beyond administrative technology and thinking broadly about information technology disruptions and innovations facing the higher education industry at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. Now, it isn’t as if there has been a dull moment in the decade-plus I’ve spent in #highered IT, but the profile of IT in higher education has reached a zenith, with massive open online courses (or MOOC – a shitty acronym if you don’t mind my bluntness, for an even worse fully-qualified name) splashed on magazine covers, including this weekend’s Education Life supplement in The New York Times.

Lousy appellation aside, MOOCs are very exciting: one of my undergrad classmates is teaching CS50x, edX’s introduction to computer science class, this fall. This is a modernized incarnation of a class I avoided as undergraduate for fear of the 9am lecture (I held strictly to 10am+; amazing that I am now the early bird) and I have been tempted to enroll (dissuaded mostly by the fact that I don’t see myself finding 20 hours per week for problem sets). Although I’m a big fan of “place-based education” I am also pretty darn lousy at sitting through lectures; consequently I have pursued most of the IT and project management certifications I’ve achieved through the years via online options. What’s different about these MOOCs from such predecessors, plain old “distance learning” or other online courses, is their sheer massiveness (if that is a word) – hundreds of thousands of enrollments, tens of thousands of “graduates.” That has the potential, truly, to change the world.

But the MOOC is hardly the only game in town this week at the Colorado Convention Center. Innovations fueling those massive courses are also re-defining learning management for run-of-the-mill online courses and web-based supplements for traditional offerings on our campuses. The rise of “gamification” – where every interaction between machine and human can be turned into a contest, with the theory being that some of us learn best through game-like interactions – is another fascinating development. In fact, I am attending a pre-conference seminar on games for project management in just a few hours...

There are also movements to embrace IT industry trends and best practices – I have invested significant portions of my department’s training budget in two topics the last two years: Agile and ITIL. These two frameworks/methodologies/religions can appear somewhat dichotomous; the former promises fluidity and the latter demands discipline. But in fact I see them as complementary; we need to be more nimble and yet we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I know I’m not alone in pursuing these efforts in parallel; one of my top goals this week in Denver is to learn how colleagues are doing it.

Networking at EDUCAUSE is not without its challenges. In combining IT leaders and practitioners from across the higher education spectrum, we are not a homogenous basket of apples. I remember last year in Philadelphia striking up a conversation with a man at one of the receptions. He was in library IT whereas my focus is administrative systems; we quickly ran out of professional common ground and moved on to sports. There is always sports. But then this week we have another potential topic for discussion: our individual jubilation or abject horror about the outcome of the election can easily fill the gaps in conversation between apples and oranges!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eight Million (User) Stories

“There are eight million stories in the Naked City.” The Naked City, 1948.

How many stories can we write for data analysis and reporting at this institution? That is the key question, soon to be answered, as we formally launch our public efforts to transform business intelligence at Harvard.

The project began a year ago when a litany of complaints and concerns was articulated by campus financial leaders and two dozen eyes turned toward me in an unsettling moment of “and what are you doing about it?” The ocular mandate to take action on this long-festering problem – a dramatic disconnect between business operations and information technology – has driven my personal work agenda for the last year. And throughout that time I have spoken melodramatically about that day and how I instinctively curl into a fetal ball when I step foot on the Divinity School campus.

Today I return to the same room with the same group (more or less) with a plan. (I wish it didn’t take so long, but so it goes when you are also upgrading all your ERP systems and implementing a few new modules and securing funding and negotiating various and sundry other details). We now have a team in place, a platform that is available and partly configured, and funding for the next few months. We have defined a vision for improving tools and technology and a rubric for making sense of root causes beyond IT. We are embracing a new (for us) methodology – Scrum – and investing in resources (full-time Scrum “advisor”), training (CSPO, CSM, Agile Bootcamp), and tools (GreenHopper) to support that transition. It is an exciting time.

The next step is to build a backlog. Despite the long list of concerns with the current state of business intelligence / reporting / metrics, we do not have an inventory of gaps and pain points. We need that list, preferably prioritized, in order to do anything. So for the next three months we will be interviewing anyone who will talk to us and writing user stories. Lots and lots and lots of user stories. How many? How about 5,000 – that is my working target. That seems like a realistic number based on what I know – wearing my hat as a consumer of current-state reporting, I know that I can come up with a hundred, and my needs are fairly simple. 5,000 stories would be a good problem to have – talk about an unambiguous metric regarding the scope of unmet business needs! But it could also prove overwhelming. How can we possibly manage a backlog of that scale? As good as GreenHopper is for managing sprints, I think it might choke on that chicken bone. We will have to think creatively, that’s for sure! And my full-time job might be backlog grooming!