Change. In the world of technology, it is an absolute constant. Over a five year period, technology that was once the hot new thing can suddenly be obsolete. This is true even in our own lives. Just recently, Blockbuster, a staple of the American landscape since the 1980s, announced that they were closing literally all of their domestic stores. Why? Because media, whether it be music, movies or even first run TV shows, are all moving to an online streaming model. Few people buy physical media like CDs, DVDs or Blu-Rays much less rent them. Why run down to Blockbuster when you can simply rent from the comfort of your couch?
Universities are not immune to technological changes and, as a result, have experienced similar dramatic changes over the last few years. We have seen the rise in higher education of “big data” and analytics with a strong focus on outcomes. Students, faculty and staff are literally bringing their own devices (a trend called BYOD) in ever greater numbers at colleges nationwide. Indeed, the average student now has three wireless devices all connected simultaneously to the network. The media has documented the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCS) and the push for digital collaboration amongst colleges as ways to help make higher education more affordable. With these and many other trends, many say that they have not ever seen so much technological change in higher education before. No doubt, the resulting strain of all this rapid change has been difficult for everyone in higher education to manage.
All this change is no less true here at Puget Sound. While we are a liberal arts college that places great value on small classes in an in-person environment, technological changes over the last few years have been dramatic. We have seen:
- The university’s Internet bandwidth quadruple in less than four years to meet needs.
- The need to replace Cascade with a new ERP whose core was not in danger of being end-of-life and yet also provided significant new critical capabilities like analytics to the university.
- We rolled out new services like vDesk, Moodle, Mahara, SoundNet and PrintGreen.
- We are working to deploy a new library, medical record and admission system.
- We just collaborated with Communications to deploy the new website.
- We completely rebuilt and redesigned the backend server infrastructure to not only be more resilient and cost effective, but far more energy efficient.
- We rolled out a new phone system to replace our legacy end-of-life solution.
- We completely reorganized Technology Services (TS) with the goal to deliver better services to you. (Does anyone remember Perceptis?)
- And much, much more…
Yet, with change comes disruption. While we in TS work very hard to minimize the effects of change on our community, sometimes there is nothing we can do to avoid the disruption that comes with change.
For example, in the case of the ERP replacement, we know that this conversion has been difficult. This is true for all universities that have to do such a thing as we here at Puget Sound have had to do. Further, big conversions like this just take time. While we are now running all our core systems on the new ERP, it will be some time before the system gets to where it was with Cascade both for our users and for the people who have to support the system. The good news is that we picked a system with enormous potential, one that has capabilities that few other universities like Puget Sound have. In the complex and competitive market that is higher education today, this new system will serve us well.
In the end, we in TS are a service unit. Our ultimate goal is to do what we can to further the teaching mission of the university. With all this technological change and with the disruption we are now seeing in the higher education market, we are doing our best to help give the university the best tools to not only compete, but also provide our faculty the resources to give our students the most relevant liberal arts education that we can. It is quite the task!
However, if we have to change, we are also taking the time to not just replace what we have with something equivalent. Instead, we are making the effort to think strategically. How can we use this required change to make things better? After all, we want to make the disruption that comes with change worth it.
We in TS appreciate and thank you for your patience and support as we have undertaken all these tasks. Indeed, your support is what has made all of this possible. After all, change is never easy. We appreciate your trust in knowing that we do not make changes just for change’s sake. Just as when you build a new building or a new pathway on campus and experience all the disruption that comes with it, we have faith that, in the end, you will see that what we have been doing these last few years was all worth it.