I don't know who said it, but the following pretty much sums up how I feel: "just when I started to know the answers, they changed the questions." My institution has theSunGardHE portal, Luminis. We have WebCT CE, now Blackboard CE. We're in the process of implemeting Hannon Hill's Content Management System. We are exploring Identity Management directions. We have a fairly well integrated environment.
Now for the latest opportunity.
My colleague, Zach Tirrell, shared this link to Google's latest effort with me today. I have waxed on the impact of web based services before, but it's definitely a direction that is now plainly obvious. While the current state of web-applicatons such as Writely and Google Spreadsheets offers a compromise in functionality that is largely offset by collaborative opportunites and ease of access, there should be little doubt in anyone's mind that these services will only improve over time in both functionality and collaborative capabilities.
The question is, how will this affect the current slate of 3-5 year plans and iniatives at higher education institutions? Here's what the NY Times is saying the impact will have on businesses. This is clearly disruptive technology. Just see where Google's chief rival, now being lead by Ray Ozzie, is taking Microsoft:
Microsoft is taking a very pragmatic approach; a seamless, blended, client-server-service approach. We want to make sure that you can easily transition client and server-based applications to services, or vice-versa. Our services won't be disconnected from existing applications, but instead are going to be designed to complement and extend our Windows and Office platforms to the Internet.
Under the name Live, we'll provide a blend of desktop software, server-based software, and our own enterprise service offering, and our partners' offerings, enabling you to make the right tradeoffs that make the most sense for your business. One notable example of this client-server-service synergy can be found in our approach to information management and search. Our goal is to provide the people within your organization a simplified, unified way of getting at the information that they need, no matter where it resides.
So if Google and Microsoft are busy charting a course to web-based services world, what should we be doing in Higher Education to leveage and prepare our institutions for this environement? Clearly, one area that will heat up is Identity Mangement. We can't even begin to think of integration with web-based applications or social networking environments unless the IdM house is in order. Secondly, we need to excerise pressure on all our vendors to start to think along these lines if we are truely going to work together to create a seamless experience from a prospective student making general inquries about an institution, to providing life-long services to alumns via integrated environments.
How many of those life-long services remain exclusively the domain of Higher Education institutions and how much of it will be hosted at vendor sites remains to be seen. In the future, will Higher Ed need to provide their users with email? How can social networking environments, such as FaceBook, be integrated with the efforts of Alumni and Advancement offices or perhaps be extended in online e-portfolios. Speaking of electronic portfolios, while they are a current hot topic in Higher Education, they have not yet gained as much widespread adoption in the corporate sector as anticipated, but apparently there is enough belief in the concept by Microsoft that they have made an investment in Onfolio.
Increasingly, online education will include a mash up of web-based services that augment learning management systems will be significant. Well, as long as innovation is not inhibited by the legal efforts of such companies as Blackboard to protect their alledged intellectual property.
The bottom line is that students will live in an increasingly integrated world. That world is increasingly going to become user centric. Higher Education institutions who fail to integrate, adopt and adapt, risk becoming marginalized.