Is Microsoft Ready to Listen to Campus IT?

HEAB stands for Higher Education Advisory Board, an advisory group previously brought together to let some very highly-connected IT officials on campus provide feedback to Microsoft on issues relating to higher education. For a while it looked like the group had been abandoned, with its last meeting having been more than a year ago.

Recently, at a different meeting, the annual Microsoft Research Faculty Summit, a number of people were critical of the apparent disappearance of HEAG (Higher Education Advisory Group) and what looked like a tendency on Microsoft’s part to convene conferences and meetings at which it presented, rather than listened. A very short while later, it appears that Microsoft kick-started HEAB (HEAG?) back into gear.

That’s a good thing.

Regardless of the undoubtedly somewhat altruistic intent on Microsoft’s part to keep good communications with higher education, everyone knows that the bottom line is sales of products.

Higher education is a pretty good market, but given the number of giveaways and deep discounts Microsoft and others offer colleges and universities, it’s clear that they have a sharper vision than that. Like the folks who are working hard to instill sustainability principles and operations in higher education, Microsoft is looking to the students. Our students are the workforce of the near future and the decision makers in that work force for a longer future. What they learn from us shapes their lives, and Microsoft wants to be a part of that.

It was at the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit that Bill Gates seemed to be irritated when The Chronicle of Higher Education asked him what had happened to the Higher Education Advisory Board. As others have commented, that kind of event, with 400 academicians (175 colleges, 20 countries) seems like a great place for feedback to occur. However, the event included displays of projects at least partially funded by Microsoft, as well as tours and cruises, and presentations of various sorts. There was little opportunity for attendees to be listened to.

What some want is to maintain a forum for frank, two-way discussions with high-level Microsoft decision makers about things like “software features, licensing terms, and integration of Microsoft programs with other software products.”

Neither the faculty conference or the CIO Summit that Microsoft hosts are, they claim adequate, as their issues get lost in a larger group and those are structured in such a way as to not be frank, back and forth discussions.

Apparently, their wish is being granted. Last week Microsoft sent a message to 18 institutional folks about its wish for them to be part of an exchange between Microsoft and higher education community leaders. Many of the names, which I will not list here, of the people to whom this message was sent, are names that anyone working inside higher education information technology areas would recognize (EDUCAUSE leaders and people affiliated with Campus Technology--Can someone get me invited to lurk?--as writers as well as leaders on their campuses); and they cover a nice range of large/small, private/public, two- and four-year, and research oriented institutions.

So now the Higher Education Advisory Board, either renamed or there is confusion about the name, as the Higher Education Advisory Group, is back in action, beginning with some web-based discussions.

So, it appears that Microsoft will hold some frank, multi-sided discussions during which people can intelligently disagree. Thank goodness it has not really adopted the White House Press Conference model. That’s definitely a good thing! It’s nice to see the head of something major getting irritated, disagreeing, and listening to people who disagree and who have different perspectives.

About the Author

About the author: Terry Calhoun is Director of Communications and Publications for the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). You can contact him through CT's IT Trends forum by clicking here. View more articles by Terry Calhoun.

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