Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Public Relations // Case histories

Jame's Surowiecki has always provided interesting lenses into American business and his 2005 New Yorker Article "In Case of Emergency" may help illuminate the way Blackboard manages p.r. issues when CLE deployments that use the BB software experience failures. Of course, when universities are trying to make strategic CLE choices, they need access not only to p.r. material but to a repository of case histories that document failures and successes. Without ready access to these case studies, it’s challenging to make the kind of deliberative and informed decisions that lead to defensible CLE acquisitions. Are these repositories being developed anywhere or does the CLE community suffer from shared historical amnesia? What repositories are universities currently using and are they adequate?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blackboard catastrophic system crash in Utah

In a recent Chronicle article outlining the Utah Network Blackboard crash, my former colleague Scott Allen said that the cause of the crash "was not caused by a defect in the Blackboard product but most likely by a problem with a computer network port." While I'm sure that Scott's analysis is technically true (he's a super-competent admin) it's important to contextualize this. The ultimate worth of a system is contingent on the systems it depends upon; when we disaggregate Blackboard from these other systems, or from Blackboard's historical track record in the state of Utah, we're engaging in a form of abstraction that ultimately inhibits our ability to assess the product.

The more grievous problem is that Utah schools have experienced multiple catastrophic failures with Blackboard in the past. Given this history it’s perplexing that UEN has elected to partner with Blackboard anyway. One way UEN can redress this liability is by making sure that it is carefully evaluating alternative learning management solutions. There are a lot of other systems out there that are, in many ways, better aligned with the mission and spirit of higher education. Let's hope UEN continues to evaluate these other options as it moves forward.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Managing Innovation

In a recent post on the CIO listserv (http://www.educause.edu/SEARCH/606 ) there’s been some discussion on how much to centralize or decentralize the management of IT in the university. As one respondent said:

"polarizing the choices of management approaches to A (centralization) OR B (decentralization) is bound to get you down the wrong path......The interesting challenge for us is whether or not we can now create compelling services centrally whose service attributes, performance, and even governance look and feel local......This challenge changes the discussion to one about where and when and how can we can centralize..."

In Katz's edited book Dancing With the Devil there's an essay (“Developing and Using Technology as a Strategic Asset”) that elaborates on this challenge. The basic argument is that campus information technologies (like most other technologies) go through a life cycle. In the early incubation stages, when they are just being conceived and developed they probably shouldn't be hosted or 'centralized.' But as the technology becomes more reliable, as it becomes a service that everyone uses and depends upon, as it becomes effectively 'commoditized' it becomes a technology that should be centrally hosted and managed. The essay in many ways substantiates the above post to the listserv: it's not a question of whether to centralize or decentralize, it's a question of "where and when" to centralize.

One thing that is interesting about this management strategy is that it provides a caveat to Carr's IT Doesn't Matter. Carr is often conceived as someone who thinks of IT as something that has become commoditized, and that because IT has been commoditized it should be treated strictly as a utility. Katz' position offers some qualifications to this vision of IT; to be sure there may be types of information technology that need to be centralized within the university. But that doesn't mean that everything should be centralized or that the university shouldn't continue to provide incubation spaces where innovation can continue to occur.