Interview

OpenWorld for Education

A Q&A with Oracle's Curtiss Barnes

Each fall Oracle OpenWorld, the company’s annual conference, virtually takes over every inch of the Moscone Center in San Francisco plus part of the street outside along with meeting space in several surrounding hotels. Markets within Oracle’s broad user base have their own tracks--they are almost conferences in themselves--including one for the Education and Research Industry. CT met with Oracle Vice President for Education & Research Product Strategy Curtiss Barnes following this fall's Oracle OpenWorld to capture some conference highlights for higher education.


Oracle OpenWorld is always a huge conference. What was the size of this year’s conference, and what part of that was specific to the education market?

There were about 1,500 customers who affiliated themselves with the education and research industry out of the 42,000 total conference attendees. We had more than 40 sessions presented by us, our partners, or our customers, targeted specifically to the interests of the education and research industry, and then, of course about 1,400 sessions available to anybody who is interested generally in Oracle technology and applications.

Given those numbers, what is the emphasis Oracle places on the education market—where does education stand in Oracle’s overall customer base and strategy?

Oracle continues to invest in and expand its commitment to the education and research industries--higher ed, K-12, and nonprofit research. Part of Oracle’s overall corporate strategy is to align itself with a vertical focus. The activity that Oracle has undertaken in the past few years in consolidating the technology industry is led in large part by the idea of industry verticalization--building our applications and technology with a view toward supporting the unique needs of each specific industry. This is the way that the technology is going to be sold and developed, implemented, and used going forward--to be more ‘fit-for-purpose.’

Can you talk about a few of the highlights of the conference, in terms of announcements or coverage that might be of special interest to higher ed?

Sure. First, I want to point out that at Oracle, we have the advantage of the entire technology stack. Oracle is not just a database company, or just a middleware company, or just an applications company, or just a business intelligence company. It’s all of those things, and we can now engineer solutions that rove between and leverage those different components. So, this intersection of technology, middleware, and applications is a critical aspect to understand.

One technology product announcement at the conference was that of the Oracle Data Privacy Shield, engineered to very directly meet the demand for improved security as it relates to personal identification of information in a system. We’ve all heard of many security breaches in higher education, with social security numbers being hacked or made public in some way, and what this product does is help institutions conceal those numbers better in the first place by putting a proxy value on them and storing the ‘real’ information in a vault.

Another announcement, falling between technology and applications, was of our work on a master data management solution for higher education. We are leveraging the Siebel Universal Customer Master, which is a data hub, a way of representing the data of customers. We’re going to deliver a higher ed schema into that solution, to make a real fit for higher ed. The idea is that a student may not be just a student--they could also be a faculty member or employee, and they obviously have personal identifying census data about them that in many cases on campuses get duplicated because of today’s heterogeneous environments. So the solution will enable institutions to have a single golden record or source of truth about an individual, and they can employ this to be the provisioning system for their heterogeneous environment. It comes with very strong data cleansing and data management capabilities. Because, for example, in the recruiting cycle schools pull tapes in from various organizations like SAT, ACT, etc., and students may also come in through the school’s Web site. The institutions can end up with multiple records for a single student in their student system, and then they’ve got data challenges. We’ve seen a remarkable degree of interest in this solution from schools. The release of the product we’ve announced is for next calendar year [2009].

Now let’s talk about an application that we covered in our conference track. The Student Administration Integration Pack (SAIP) is an integration application that we released in August. Many people have called this our Sakai strategy, because we used Sakai as a reference target for the architecture of this product. But it is by no means just for Sakai. Its purpose is to offer a solution to a very well defined and expensive problem in higher education today. The problem is that student systems don’t talk well with learning management systems. SAIP is providing that bridge. And we do this employing an industry specification, the IMS Learning Information Services (formerly known as the Enterprise Services Specification), which we hope will become a standard for that model. So now we’ve got a handshake with our partners on the LMS side to say, “If you build to this model, and we version our products [using the standard], that integration should not break.” Many schools say they have solved their data integration problems [with the LMS], but what they’ve done is often point-to-point and brittle. And often they actually have multiple systems on the LMS side, a space that is expanding--they no longer have a single LMS provider, and in a course setting they may also want to bring in a Wiki, or employ FaceBook. They want to govern how those things are provisioned based on what the enrollment looks like in Campus Solutions. Our new solution is a very clear way to manage that integration.

I know we’ve just touched on some highlights here. Can those who didn’t attend Oracle OpenWorld get recordings of or materials from some of the sessions?

Yes, they can go to the Oracle OpenWorld Web page if they’d like to order a CD that includes all 1,400 of the conference sessions (At: http://www.oracle.com/openworld/2008/index.html)

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