Taking the Bull by the Horns
Whether raising blue-ribbon livestock or developing the latest
community source software, Lee Belarmino’s success is based on
tackling new challenges.
Belarmino on community source:
"What’s important are your ideas, your ability
to produce and get along with the community."
Lee Belarmino isn’t timid about embarking on new adventures,
and his career reflects that. At Educause 2005, he
gave a talk called, “Community Source ERP: What? Are
You Crazy?” Belarmino and his peers at San Joaquin Delta
College (CA) have since been instrumental in the development
of Kuali financials, the first bold step
for community source administrative software.
You’ve worked in information technology for many years.
Could you tell us about your background? I’ve been at this
for 40 years, starting in California’s Silicon Valley working for a
large development service company. But I was ahead of my
time with Silicon Valley burnout: I personally had to lay off a lot
of good people, and that took its toll. So, I retreated over the
Altamont [pass], bought a farm, and went to work at San
Joaquin Delta College. I didn’t know much about farming or
academia, but I was looking for a better quality of life for my
family—I have four kids—and me.
Most of my tech friends said that I wouldn’t last long in
academia, that I would be bored and come back with my tail
between my legs. But that never happened; I’ve always been
super-stimulated. I’m in charge of all the technology at the
college—not only the business problems, but the academic.
It’s been wonderful. And our family ended up raising rodeo
bulls, which keeps me well balanced, between working with
technology and living on the farm.
Is there a connection between learning about farming
and jumping into higher ed? Is it all about “taking the
bull by the horns”? It’s true! You just have to learn to be
aggressive and learn the hard way.
What transferred well from your experience in industry?
My orientation and foundation is built on development, on providing
services to our customers. And I still believe in a very
strong ethic of service. Being in charge of instructional as well
as administrative IT at Delta, I figured out that ultimately, everything—
from registration and computer labs, to back-end
processes—has to help the students.
You developed an in-house administrative system for the
college, which earned a lot of recognition. Can you tell us more about how that came about? The business systems
were not working, and that had to change. But we weren’t
just interested in the latest technology for technology’s sake,
so we protected our legacy investment in processing on a
very large mainframe Unisys system while
we did our research on all the major players in the administrative
world. We found the choices extremely pricey for what
they were delivering. So, we developed our own administrative
system—almost a full suite: a student information system,
a human resources system, and a payroll system. As
the first large-scale administrative system based on objectoriented
development, it took a number of industry awards.
We do have an off-the-shelf Oracle financial
Did that development work help lead to your current
involvement in Kuali? As part of succession planning, we
completed a more recent scan of available administrative
packages, which really haven’t made much progress. They’re
still monolithic systems; one size fits all. And you can’t get
your own functionality, so you end up changing your business
processes or changing the system greatly. I was very discouraged
Then, in December 2004, Delta President Raúl Rodríguez
and I attended the Open Source Summit [see here] in Scottsdale, AZ,
hosted by rSmart. We went to the presentation
on Sakai, and things just
started clicking. While there, we went to lunch with John
Robinson, the founder of rSmart, and Barry Walsh, [director
of university information systems] from Indiana University.
Barry told the story of Kuali, and I told the story of
our development at Delta. Little did either side realize, we
were really interviewing each other. After about 20 minutes,
Barry said, “What are your thoughts about Kuali?”
and our president said, “We’ll do it!”
How d'es that fit into Delta’s priorities? Your institution
now has a big commitment as a founding partner in
Kuali; is that a risk? Well, it’s a half million dollars, between
funds and dedicated resources. But when we looked at our
strategic goals for the year, out of 250 initiatives, Kuali came
up number one, and it was funded. Obviously, a lot of this
had to do with Dr. Rodríguez’s passion for it. But, as he says,
Oracle and PeopleSoft have been around for maybe 15 or
20 years at the most. Our partner schools like Indiana
University have been around for 160 years, and Delta has
been around for 60. So, we’re not worried that Indiana,
Cornell (NY), or the others are going to go out of business
any time soon. In that sense [community source is] actually
more secure than going to a vendor.
What has your institution’s Kuali partnership experience
been like, thus far? Initially, we thought we might get swallowed
up by the large universities involved. But it’s clear to
us now that it’s a level playing field. What’s important are
your ideas, your ability to produce, and how you get along
with the community. We have more than held our own.
Another good thing: We’ve found that Kuali is totally driven
by the functional people. They decide how the system should
operate and behave, and the developers have to come
What’s happening at this point in time with Kuali? We’ve
completed our first deliverable, which is our test drive. The approach is service-oriented architecture,
where you can tailor the system to your needs and you
have the ability to change. And we’ve eliminated anything
proprietary: You can get everything you need for Kuali development,
free. By July ’07 or early ’08, we’ll have a full-fledged
financial system, ready to install.
What about a community source student information
system? Is that a possibility, and if so, will Delta be part
of that effort? We believe this is the big one, and one we are
anxious to do. We’ve had a number of meetings with the
other interested schools about whether it’s feasible to build
an SIS in pure service-oriented architecture and what kind of
attention it would attract. Responses were quite positive.
Plus, we’ve identified vendors who may be willing to partner
with us on open source code, so we won’t be starting from
scratch. But without question, Delta will be part of this next
Do you feel you’ll continue to “take the bull by the horns”
as you approach new challenges like a community
source student information system? My president and I
have a great partnership, and our team at the college is so
good; they’re the ones making this happen. It’s a passion,
how much we believe in [community source]. We all believe
that we’re onto something big.