From Context to Core
At Campus Technology
2008, Arizona State
Officer Adrian Sannier
with his mandate to
become more efficient
by doing only the 'core'
tech stuff-- and getting
someone else to slog
through the context.
The following is excerpted from Sannier's hour-long keynote address at Campus
IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS, we've moved from optimism
to pessimism as oil prices soar, as the economy gets tighter, the credit crisis widens,
and foreclosures continue to rise. It's like 1930 all of a sudden and we don't have any faith
in politics. We have faith in one thing in this country: technology. Everybody knows we're
going to solve climate change and they know it's going to be technology that's going to
do it. Everybody knows we're going to solve the energy problem and they know it's going
to be technology that's going to do it. And we also know that if we're going to extend education
to a broader sector of people, if we're going to increase excellence and make it have
an impact, technology will have to be part of that solution.
Technology is growing like wildfire. Yet for all the wikis and the blogs and the portfolios
and the networks and the wireless and the yik and the yak, the learning process--
at least here in higher education-- still revolves around going to class, listening to a
professor, and telling him what he said, on a test.
So we've got to get a little more serious about this whole thing. Frank Rhodes, president
emeritus of Cornell University [NY], wrote on this subject, and I'm going to
read you just a little bit of something he said:
The business of learning remains largely untouched by information technology.
Most instruction is still a cottage industry, little influenced, as yet, by the benefits
and support of modern technology. It's as though an industry had computerized
its business and management activities but left its manufacturing operations
and sales distribution essentially unchanged and unimproved. Universities have
not yet applied new technologies even to reduce costs. In their basic business of
teaching resident students, they have not diverged much from the methods of
Socrates, except faculty members have come indoors.
In Forbes magazine, John Chambers, president of Cisco, wrote
that he is very concerned about the state of education in the United States, and I think
he has some really interesting things to say that are different than the things you hear
in the academy. "Many agree that technology should play a greater role in our education
system," he wrote.
I believe, though, that many don't fully understand the impact or extent of the role
that technology has to play in our future. I also believe that the real question is whether we will be prepared when
it becomes clear. We call this
"catching a market transition"--
something you need to anticipate
three, four, or even seven years in
advance so you can position yourself
properly to compete.
According to Chambers, what happens
to a company that fails to anticipate a
market transition? Good-bye. That's why,
for academic institutions, anticipating
these changes is so critical. At Arizona
State, we believe a number of things must
happen in order to succeed, and this is
what I'm charging my team to do because
you can only do so much.
Most of these things revolve around
enabling transformation-- the most difficult
thing for any institution to try to
do, and the one that's the most critical
because it's the one that liberates
resources. Still, the approach is very
controversial. What I'm getting at here
is: Universities are the cottage industry
of IT. Even big ones.
ASU is a big one. We have 65,000 students.
That's 65,000 e-mail accounts.
What did it cost us? It was costing us
$400,000 a year to provision those for students.
How many megabytes do we give
them? Megabytes? Who measures e-mail
space in megabytes? Universities still do!
The question is: How much longer are we
going to compete like this when other
people are competing in gigabytes?
Which brings me to the theme here:
We need to convert context spending to
core spending. You have to change from
taking 80 percent of your resources and
spending them on context, and switch it
so that 80 percent is spent on core. Think
about what that actually means in practice.
Look at your budget, see where it's
all going and then ask yourself, "How
am I going to switch it?"
Why is it important to do this?
Because you pay attention to what you
spend money on. Unless you figure out
how to change, or leapfrog your competition
by doing something fundamental,
the time for just deploying the tools and
getting the free advantage is gone.
This strategy revolves around the "concept
of one": Go into your data center,
and collapse everything. How many databases
do you have? How many people
make choices? How many different standards
do you have? How many applications
do you have for something? How
many ERPs do you have? Collapse them!
Then think about the "concept of zero."
The concept of one is: "Do it once, do it
well, and do it everywhere." But the concept
of zero is: "Don't do it; get someone
else to do it-- someone bigger than you,
richer than you, and far more powerful
than you." This breaks the heart of every
technologist, but it makes sense.
Some examples: I'm used to shelling
out a lot of e-mail addresses-- 65,000.
How many do you suppose Google has? Well, they have
a "googol." By going with Google for
e-mail, I saved $400,000 a year. And
that's irrelevant; it's not the savings, it's
the curve. It's like they landed on our
campus and they said, "We can take that
thing you have legions of people doing,
and we can do that." In general, you get
on that curve, and suddenly, you're not
doing anything-- they do it all.
We've got to start riding these curves
and we've got to quit arguing about it.
We've got to get moving here and it
means we have to sleep with the devil. We
have to sleep with commerce and get in
bed with those guys. We absolutely have
to. The most common thing you'll hear
when you hear this strategy advanced, is
this notion of, "Why are we doing this?"
You just have to get over it.
to change from
taking 80 percent
of your resources
them on context,
and switch it so
that 80 percent is
spent on core."
Compare some idealized universe to
the commercial universe: Compare
what you're really doing, to what they're really doing. Compare your business
continuity strategies to their business
continuity strategies. And compare your
disaster recovery strategies with their
disaster recovery strategies. Make all of
these comparisons. No matter how well
you're doing these things, economy of
scale forces them to do theirs better.
Where do I get this strategy? I read
what people are doing and I try to figure
out how we are going to apply it. I have
an RFP on the street right now to get out
of the network business. That's right:
I'm going to stop being an internet service
provider. Why should I be an ISP?
I have vendors doing that job already,
and every one of them does stuff at a
scale that I can't even approach.
Another example: We did our ERP in
18 months. That's unprecedented in higher
education for a school our size. How'd
we do it so quickly? We didn't try to do it
at all. I didn't try to take my team, train
them, figure out how to deploy machines,
then configure them, then build all the
different environments. I didn't do any of
it. What I'm telling you is that if you're
out there without partners, you're doing it
wrong. Context to core. On your campuses,
it's a revolution.
Now I'm going to tell you some of the
things I think are core. The first one is
administrative services. We have all these
systems producing all this data and we're
doing all this training. We're training all
these people on PeopleSoft. We train them on this system, and we train them on that system, and every
one of these people has to become an
expert in all of these systems so that they,
in a distributed way, can run all these
reports to justify whatever position they
need to justify. Admit it! If that's not happening
at your campus, it's certainly happening
at mine. We have fractured
business intelligence, but we need to
change it. At ASU, you can go to a new
dashboard and look up any department,
college, or center and ask a series of questions
at any time. What's your research
path? How many proposals do you have?
How many awards? How many expenditures
do you have? What are the trend
lines? What we're doing is managing
academia like a business. The bottom
line: You've got to get to intelligence.
You've got to run the same report every
week. There's money to be had there.
There's intelligence to be had there, too,
because our people are capable of real
analysis and much, much more.
Another core approach is to anticipate
the way students are going to need to
compute when they graduate and move
on. For too long, we've said, "Students
won't bring their laptops to campus," and
"They won't do this," or "They won't do
that." Hey, that ship has sailed and the cattle
car has got to go! We've got to transform
the way we approach this overall.
We have to build students an environment
that's going to be like the places they're
going to go, and find economic value.
That means scary stuff for any IT organization.
It means you're going to have to
support them: 65,000 kids packing virusladen
laptops that are critical to their
education. Some schools will say, "We'll
standardize the laptops." Others will go
straight to the iTouch or some other portable device. Whatever
you do, this is what you should be spending
your time and your energy on-- not on
building the next e-mail system.
It's also important to make applications
that we deploy available to everybody,
everywhere, all the time. This means web
delivery. We've got to put pressure on Adobe and Microsoft. We all should get
Adobe Photoshop from the same hosting
provider because I don't have any special
expertise in building a giant server farm to
serve up the same applications that you
have. We all should be doing that.
"The concept of zero is: 'Don't do it.
Get someone else to do it-- someone
bigger than you, richer than you,
and far more powerful than you.'"
We've got to go from cop to concierge.
What are our students used to? Amazon.
com? Well, I have a word: On his
Comedy Central television show, Steven
Colbert got famous with the word "truthiness."
My word is: "Amazon.comification."
That's what you must do. You must
"Amazon.comify" your web presence.
When somebody says to you, "That's on
my website," you should say to them,
"There is no my website. There is the website," and the website is the web page
where the services are.
In order to accomplish "Amazon.comification,"
you need a heavy dose of
prune concentrate. Prune concentrate is
the notion of taking your website and
pruning it because you've got too much
there. At ASU, we've got more than 1
million web pages but, if you look at the
distribution of hits, 50 pages get all the
traffic. Yet, all of the best stuff needs to
be concentrated in the core site. This is
not a technical problem; it is a political
problem. It took two years for us to build
an Amazon-like site that we deployed in
the fall; two years to get people to be
willing to use the same thing at the top
and the same thing at the bottom. You
need to do this too. You have to start
asking yourselves, "Where does this go?
Where do we put this in the presence so
it gets traffic?"
Another thought: You don't belong in
the help desk business. I know we all
invented help desks, and lots of us have
help desks, but not many of us know how
to run them. It's a massively data-driven
business where you analyze every day. If
you ask me, what you're doing is taking
some of your most experienced and oldest
employees and having them answer the
phone from 8 am to 5 pm. Well here's a
news flash: The next generation stays up
all night long and when they want an
answer, they want an answer immediately.
Help desks must be a combination of
having the wherewithal to make that happen
and getting the political buy-in to outsource
the answering of certain kinds of
questions at 2 am, because there's no
other way to achieve scale to do it.
Finally, I suggest you burn down the
library. All the books in the world are
already digitized! Burn the thing down.
Change it into a gathering place; a digital
commons. Stop air conditioning the
books! None of us has the Alexandria
Library; Michigan, Oxford [UK], and
Stanford [CA] have digitized their collections.
What do you have that they
don't? Why are you buying new books?
Buy digital and let's spend some more
time making those things level, flat, and
transparent so a single search turns up
everything we have. This has to change,
because it's clear that people want to
find information digitally. They want to
search for it, find it, have it, and then
amalgamate search results into a précis.
The bottom line is that we're tool
rich. We have all the tools in the world
and we've got more tools coming every
day. If we embrace core versus context,
we can unleash these tools without even
getting in the flow. Our faculty members
believe that the only technology
that they need is a death ray from their
eyes to hit all the people with laptops in
their classrooms. And this is a tough
problem because I realize that what I've
been sharing with you today is my intuition
as a technologist who has an interest
in higher education. I know that
intuition doesn't really cut it in our
enterprises. But I can hope...