Friday, June 7, 2013

Are college IT departments starting to write programs again?

I have been in the college game for more years than I want to admit. "Back in the day" (70's and 80's) college IT departments actually wrote programs do do things. Really! If you wanted to do anything on a computer you had to write the program. Most colleges were lucky to have a registration system that was written in house or by a computer science faculty member. In the 1980's we began to see the first integrated commercial systems. My first experience was with the Information Associates' SIS system. This was just for registration, records, admissions and financial aid. Development or programming began to die at around that time. In the later 80's HR and Finance became commercial products as well.

Fast forward to Y2K or year 2000. We all feared these legacy programs would die. We patched furiously with great fear that the end was near. It wasn't. We survived. Then came the web. Most us adopted ERP systems. The services were the same, but on the web. For five years this took every ounce of effort and talent to keep up and running. Years later only two companies are in the market - Sungards Banner product and Oracles Peoplesoft products.

The world may finally be changing again. Banner and PeopleSoft are the new legacy systems. Sorry guys, you have been long and faithful servants. We all use one or the other (yes, Datatel is in the space too but owned by SunGard). Enter WorkDay and SalesForce. The world of higher education is about to change again. I forgot to mention that for the last 5 years colleges have deployed dozens of third party niche systems. We did not build we bought. For those of you in the business, you know that this cannot continue. IT shops on college campuses are too small to manage a big ERP AND dozens niche products used all over campus from campus police to residential life to medical records to judicial affairs ... .

Back to WorkDay and SalesForce. Workday is a new player (created by Dave "the legend" Duffield). Mr. Duffield created PeopleSoft back in the 90's. This totally web architected cloud system is doing well in the HR and Financial Management space. Higher Ed has not been real interested because they have not had a student systems module. Rumor is this will change this summer (2013). Workday will get into the higher education space for real with the new student system. I will learn more about it at a meeting with Workday next week. This is exciting. A cloud system, developed for the cloud, by innovators who we know have what it takes. There are two big wins for higher education here. If we move to systems like this, much of the time spent on maintaining our ERP can be spent on development again. Imagine programmers programming!!

Next, the SalesForce Foundation offers an inexpensive way for colleges to reduce the number of niche apps they are running by creating home grown targeted apps on the SalesForce framework. Programmers get to program again. Colleges can reduce their inventory of third party apps, save annual maintenance costs on dozens of products, and become more self sustaining without adding lots of new staff. Better service to campus users, lower costs, and interesting work for programmers. Thank God we are headed back to the future. A few predictions for the next 5-10 years:

The current big players with still be around, but will not be growing customers.
College spending on bandwidth will jump, but costs will be recovered from reducing spending on campus data center infrastructure.
Data centers will shrink even more than they already have as colleges become more comfortable with having their data in the cloud
Colleges need to start developing again and reduce the number of third party apps they are now supporting. New development tools can enable this.
Development for the mobile device will never get traction because tools like SalesForce do this as you develop.

So what do ya think?