Top 10 Issues

Earlier this year, EDUCAUSE published Top 10 issues facing technology organizations. In an opinion piece, Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian at Temple University, posted a similar list for the Libraries “Top 10 Academic Library Issues for 2015 | From the Bell Tower“. These lists provide us a way to look at what we do and gauge how we are doing. Sometimes, it is pretty heartening to see that we are not the only ones facing these issues and other times you are glad that these are no longer “issues” for you.

It is not my intent to go over them one at a time, rather just highlight some of them.


The (repeatedly) broken promises about Integration

Data integration is a fact of life for those of us who are in the information technology business. Since we are yet to invent a single system that does everything for everyone in an enterprise, it is inevitable that we have to support and deal with multiple systems. It is equally true that unless the data from these diverse systems are integrated, we will not be able to understand the data in a coherent fashion. With the proliferation of “best of breed” solutions we have a complicated mess in hand.

Most institutions have a large administrative system like Banner or PeopleSoft that is considered to hold the authoritative data. In addition, for the purpose of reporting, we all have a data warehouse or a data mart into which data from the central systems is inserted typically on a nightly basis. The general premise of this is that the administrative systems were originally designed to take in the transactional data and therefore optimized for that purpose. They were not designed for complex reporting. Combining both of these in one system means a drain in resources and everyone suffers. Modern systems like Workday claims to have designed their system in ways that you can do all activities in one system. When you have multiple systems, generally, the data is integrated with the administrative systems, though in some cases, directly into the data warehouse.


What’s in a name?

It turns out that “Name” is complicated business. For all the official purposes, we use the legal name. When someone begins at Wellesley, this name is recorded in Banner, our ERP and is used to generate a username and email aliases. This then propagates through integration to several other systems, some internal and some external. In other words, the fist instantiation of this official name becomes pervasive.

There are many reasons why the legal name is not enough. Many use their middle name instead of their first name and would prefer that this is properly noted and used in some fashion. There are several others who would prefer to use a nickname. For example, several of us from Southeast Asian countries prefer this approach as a way to spare the rest of the world from the agonies of learning to pronounce our complicated names. There are many cases where our given names, when not correctly pronounced, may mean something totally inappropriate either in English or in our own languages! I strongly recommend that you read this article titled “Personal names around the world“.


Viewpoints – from inside and from outside

I really liked the piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Administration Vacation“. I think the paragraph “In short, we as faculty members and administrators have to stop viewing one another as monolithic and antagonistic entities, and instead begin seeing ourselves as dedicated individuals and shared stakeholders working toward a common good.” captures the current situation in Higher Ed accurately.

Each of us is on the “inside” in several aspects of our work and life and “outside” in others. And our view points differ so drastically depending on the view that we have. The article suggests that we should have the faculty shadow an administrator for a few weeks and vice versa as a way to get a better understanding and appreciation of the other side. This is the same as moving someone from the “outside” to go “inside” to get a better understanding of the situation.

The practicality of this is a serious issue, but we all can benefit from trying to find some common ground, whatever the path is. (more…)

Teaching & Learning – What problem is technology trying to solve?

I have touched on this topic several times in my postings, but it is always a good reminder as we begin another academic year.

We often see the tension around which technologies will enhance teaching and learning as perceived by the various players. The predominant public discourse on this comes from those connected to education in some fashion or the other, but not from the faculty and the students, . In many higher ed institutions, instructional technologists play the role of both being the resource for the use of existing technologies (such as classroom technologies, learning management systems etc. etc.) but also researching emerging technologies and finding appropriate venues to talk about them to see if the faculty are interested.

There are also institutions where the adoption of technologies seem to be more a top down mandate. I was talking to a friend of mine who is an excellent teacher in a very prestigious institution who was complaining about the pressure to flip classrooms. He flipped and it was a big flopped classroom! (more…)

Things we can be proud of…

A Disclaimer: The fact that we have a very large organization means I am highly likely to miss some of the things we are proud of… I have chosen a few for the sake of brevity.

Response to the Glycol Spill: As I wrote in my last blog post “A leak, a move & a redo”we had a pretty nasty leak. The way our staff came to the rescue is something we can all be very proud of. It was amazing to hear how well everyone responded, minimizing the damage.

Wide use of data analytics: I am extremely proud of the collaboration between the Provost’s Office, the office of Institutional Research and LTS on the data analytics/business intelligence project. It has taken us a bit longer than we would have liked, but every faculty member who has been introduced to the Blackboard Analytics based dashboards and reports are thrilled to be able to have access to data this way. Everyone who worked hard to get us here should be very proud of the road we took and for hanging in there patiently.


A leak, a move and a redo!

A Leak

The archives in Clapp Library after the leak

The archives in Clapp Library after the leak

We had a major issue in Clapp library this past Monday. I was not here and this is based on what I have gathered since then. A pipe in the cooling system broke and glycol began leaking from the ceiling in the fourth floor near the archives. A staff member noticed it and several others came together and through their extraordinary collaborative effort, many of the affected boxes in the archival storage area were saved and moved to a makeshift area. The 4th, 3rd and the 2nd floor were all affected and the recovery is in full swing. Apparently in some locations, the amount of Glycol was ankle deep! The damage was pretty severe based on what I can tell. It is the amazing dedication of our staff and their ability to rise up to the occasion that served us well and I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped out!



As we celebrate Fourth of July, I am reminded of how lucky some of us have been to be living in countries that are independent and how so many others all around the world do not have that luxury. I was born in Sri Lanka which received its independence in 1948 from the British; lived in India which received its independence from the British in 1947; and have spent the longest period of my life in the US which declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776. We all value independence so much and it is part and parcel of our DNA and we don’t even consciously think about it.

This spirit extends so much into technology too. We make independent decisions all the time – about choosing operating systems, smartphones, how we each configure our desktops, the choice we make about apps that do the same thing etc. However, just as individual independence has limits and constraints that are imposed by many other factors (cultural, political, and financial amongst many other things), so are technology choices.


CLAC 2015

During our driving trip last couple of weeks, we stopped in Virginia Beach. This was from one of the evenings.

During our driving trip last couple of weeks, we stopped in Virginia Beach. This was from one of the evenings.

I was at the annual conference of Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges (CLAC) last week. It is a really fun conference, where you get to meet colleagues from other small liberal arts colleges and exchange notes. Wellesley was well represented in terms of presentations, one of them that included remote presentations. The conference website is a good place to check out the schedule and other information such as the twitter feed and photos from the three days. Wellesley had a total of 5 presentations. My two presentations were well attended and the attendees had some really good and probing questions.

The two keynotes were very interesting. One was by James Higa, who was the “right-hand man” for Steve Jobs in Apple. Since James requested that we do not discuss his presentations in public, I won’t. Angel Mendez, who is the senior VP for transformation at Cisco, gave an excellent presentation on a variety of topics.  He was sharing a lot of the information from Mary Meeker’s 2015 Internet Trends. The numbers are sometimes beyond comprehension, especially when it comes to the growth in data storage and big data that is being generated. It is very clear that small institutions like us are simply not positioned to support these internally – we simply do not have the human and financial resources. This is why taking advantage of external resources, or relying on hosted services comes into picture, something we have been successful in doing.

In addition, consortia like CLAC provide a venue for us to collaborate and work together in choosing similar platforms and infrastructure. Angel’s call for action to the CIOs included “Stay current – engage experts, participate & study; Foster the digital learning of your constituents; Speak the language of the institution; Collaborate, break the silos; Allow the stakeholders to learn what is possible”. Right on! Every one of these is what we have been trying to do and have been pretty successful in many of these areas. One advice he gave is for the CIOs  to do something hands on. As many of you know, I am a firm believer of this not just for myself, but also for every manager in the organization.

I am very happy to report that based on an informal benchmark, we are doing great! However, we can aspire to do a lot more and that will be the plan for the upcoming year.

Dear Vendor, Please read this carefully.

Dear Vendor

I fully understand that you have job to do, which is to try to sell your products. I am pretty sure that you have obligations to call and bug as many CIOs as you can, as many times as you can and at whatever time you can. But, you see, we CIOs know a thing or two about this. So, we screen calls in one of many ways and for the most part ignore you. We do the same thing with emails. So, your hit rate must be pretty poor. I feel sorry for you, but you must be able to target the clients in a more intelligent way and find ways to get their attention through channels that they trust, like, a publication or two reviewing your product or creating a buzz through reliable social media methods.

I hate it when I get an email from you where you address me “Hey Ganesan”. Sometimes, I send these emails to Trash with such vengeance  that I can hear my keyboard cry! Few times when your number seems close enough to a recognizable number, I pick up the phone and out of pure politeness, I give you 30 seconds to convince me why I should continue to listen. 95% of the time you have barely finished asking me how I am doing and how the weather is, before 30 seconds pass by and I cut the conversation. Sometimes, you try to impress me by saying how great my blog is or my tweets are. Thank you so much for doing some homework. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a product that matches our needs, this doesn’t do you much good, but I sincerely thank you for your efforts.

If you read my blogs carefully or follow my tweets, you should have a pretty good profile of our philosophy. We love open source, we are on to a careful management of our product portfolio, and we generally are cheap, among other things. I may have introduced myself as the Cheap Information Officer for that reason! BTW, don’t let our endowment fool you, so saying what it is and thereby implying that we can afford to buy your product will take you nowhere. We are no different than many other Higher Eds when it comes to tight finances.

Please understand that I have a job to do which already takes up a lot more time than the regular work hours. So, if I don’t respond to your emails or voicemails, take it as a No! Saying things like “I have already written to you two or three times…” doesn’t make me feel bad or guilty for not having responded. Responding to every vendor who tries to reach me would be a full time job in itself. By the same token, if I accept to go to every dinner invitation thrown my way, I can eat free food for months and possibly put on a lot of weight. Thanks for those invites, but I don’t fall for them.

CIOs tend to be very well connected and rely on our group for referrals and explorations. We each have other trusted channels that we read from where we gather information about products. We go to professional meetings where we look at some of your products. These collectively help us chart our plans for the future. Not random calls from vendors about whom we have absolutely no idea. Sit for a minute and think if you would buy anything from a random person calling and trying to sell you something.

Finally, I have a request for my brothers and sisters from India. Please don’t try to fool me with an anglicized name and fake accent.

I hope, Dear Vendor, you are reading this and giving up on calling me or sending me emails. When I come knocking on your door because you have a great product that I found out about, you can tell me “If only you had taken my call earlier…”


Call me just Ravi!

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