NERCOMP Annual Conference

It has been a terrific day today. The Cricket World Cup that began about six weeks ago came to a fantastic conclusion with a classic game between India and Sri Lanka. Though I was born in Sri Lanka and grew up there, I belong to India, so I support them always and wanted them to win this one. India’s last World Cup win was in 1983.

Sri Lanka put up a total that was considered hard to beat, the legendary opening Indian pair got out early to set up a drama that finally ended in India winning it. Several days of me getting up between 4 AM and 5 AM to watch these games is over. Thanks to advances in technologies, the diehards like us were able to view live cricket through willow tv. Not sure how many simultaneous viewers watched some of these games, but the experience was flawless. After a short nap, it is time to root for UConn Men tonight.

Northeast Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP) is a regional affliate of EDUCAUSE. Many of the Higher Ed institutions from the Northeast and a few from other states such as New York and Pennsylvania are members of NERCOMP. My association with NERCOMP goes several years back in that I have presented several times at NERCOMP SIGs (Special Interest Group meetings) as well as in their annual conferences. I have also been a member of the Program Committee and I was elected in early March (2011) to serve in NERCOMP Board for the next three years. I really like the the NERCOMP annual conference which provides an excellent venue to network and listen to colleagues on topic of direct relevance to what we do.

I do not plan to go into great details about the conference itself. There is a group of us who agreed to tweet from the sessions that we attend. I find tweeting from conferences as a way to inform others who may be interested in the proceedings as well as making it to be my notes from the sessions. I have been doing this for a while and it is great. You can view all tweets from NERCOMP 11 by clicking here.  You can view all of my own tweets by clicking here.

In addition, our own Becca Darling was remotely encouraging all of us to structure our tweets so that they can be grouped appropriately and archived for use with an excellent startup idea by Mick Darling called TweePLayer.

*** The topics that I discuss below have a link to the EDUCAUSE NERCOMP 2011 program listing of the presentation. Please look for the Resources tab. If it exists, click there to see the presentation materials from the talk. ***

As you can see from my tweets, I was truly multitasking – watching the cricket matches in the mornings on my iPad (with sound muted) while listening to the presentations and tweeting. The keynote address by Lois Brooks from Oregon State University was excellent. Her point was simple and well laid out – the new challenges for Higher Ed IT organizations require us to rethink the way we deliver services. Budget pressures are requiring us to “to do more with less” (the most used phrase amongst the Higher Ed IT folks recently), however, the “more” keeps growing in ways that we can’t control.

The message I got from Lois are consistent with what we are strategizing on doing at Wellesley. “”The IT department no longer owns the technology on campus. We have lost control. That’s OK.” Whereas certain aspects of IT need to be controlled and centralized (for various security and access control reasons), because of the way emerging technologies are empowering the end users, certain aspects of computing is going to be distributed. We need to figure out frameworks to bring them all together through creative technologies and processes – mashups.

Mashup stands for bringing various forms of information from a various sources together – an integration of sorts. For example, when a faculty website is created, the sources of relevant information is spread all over – courses and certain information about the faculty are in Banner, publications and abstracts are spread all over, bio/cv are maintained by the faculty (mostly in personal files, copied and pasted on their website). The best mashups are the ones that automate the collection of these information from various sources and presents them in the most useful fashion. A faculty website should pull the course listing, their department/program affiliations, degrees, office locations, phone numbers etc. from Banner, publication lists by harvesting them from journals that support such a method, and then provide a framework for them to maintain additional data (like our faculty profile system). Lois provided examples of this for a medical school faculty where several publicly available information is automatically pulled into the faculty webpages, thereby making the data accurate, timely and avoids the duplicate data entry.

She also talked about many other topics very close to my heart – cloud computing, using open source strategically, and distributed reporting using newer methodologies. The second keynote by Cliff Lynch was very disappointing. I will leave it at that.

I also listened to excellent presentations on the use of virtual computing frameworks at NYU. I am happy to say that we are going to shortly have a virtual desktop environment to play with whereby Mac users can easily provision a Windows machine remotely or Windows machines can remotely connect to a virtual desktop to run certain software that the local machine may not be capable of running.

I enjoyed the presentation by Brown where they discussed how they managed the migration of their faculty and staff email to Google Apps for Education. I plan to take our Google Apps implementation team to Brown to learn directly from them. Great points. It is all about process and communication.

Two other presentations worth mentioning are resource planning and agility related. This is an extremely important topic for us because it is a fact of life that the demand for services will always outstrip the availability of resources. This is precisely the reason why we should be agile, willing to change the way we do business and look to adapt new technologies where applicable. It can be very unsettling – just when you have mastered one technology, something new comes along which looks like it has the potential to help us do things better. Those organizations that spend a lot of time worrying about the demand and lack of resources or unwilling to make changes in tech habits are unlikely to succeed. Those that talk about creative ways to manage the resources while being agile succeed – this was the message, and they did not have to convince me!

I strongly encourage everyone to check out – the agilemanifesto site. Honestly, I was not aware that such a manifesto existed! You will see that many of what I have been talking to my staff in the three organizations I have worked are captured in the 12 principles, especially the notion of “Deliver working software frequently”, something I have called “Forever Beta” (a project in the works). The same core idea – don’t wait for that ideal fully completed software, instead, deliver working pieces with a plan to keep developing other aspects as we go along.

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