Jul 30 2013

Campus Technology 2013: Gonick Urges IT to Drive the Innovation Conversation

IT leaders shouldn’t risk their — and their institutions’ — future by clinging to legacy systems

Higher ed IT departments that find themselves mired in debate over whether to support BYOD are not focused on the proper arguments, OneCommunity CEO Lev Gonick told those gathered at the Campus Technology conference in Boston.

The former Case Western Reserve University CIO acknowledged that “almost 3 billion people in the world today are more connected than what we even imagined was possible 25 years ago.”

“We celebrate the digital revolution, but not always the digital revolutionaries,” Gonick said, and higher education in particular needs “to be cautious about the realistic challenges we face.”

As academia now finds itself within a cycle of technologies and disruptions that were introduced outside of the academic ecosystem, “it’s no longer simply sufficient to say we were there at the beginning of the digital revolution."

“It’s time to end our commitments for earlier events, for more impactful technologies,” he said.

What the Future Holds for Higher Ed

Gonick laid out several trends higher ed IT leaders should be considering instead, including the death of the PC or desktop era.

“Even when we see these inevitable declines, we fall in love with the technology, and then we scaffold it with institutional realities that really stand in the way of progress,” he said.

But within the next 20 years, Gonick said, the death of laptops will also occur, “while on many campuses we still argue whether we should be using PCs or Macs, or whether we should be supporting BYOD. These conversations are fascinating for the time, but they really are of no consequence because our young people have already moved on.”

Instead of being able to introduce solutions on the devices students prefer, on-campus IT leaders find they often spend more time “trying to cajole the campus to move on” and adopt new technologies, Gonick said. “That’s a much harder activity to engage in.”

Gonick also laid out his predictions for the growth of private networks beyond the World Wide Web and the continued explosion of Big Data — in particular the rise of zettabyte-scale research — which he said even top higher ed data centers aren’t currently equipped to support alone.

“What could happen if we built a next-generation network that was more open than the Internet, that allowed for the possibility of end-to-end experimentation and end-to-end uses of channels on the network?” Gonick asked. “We’re still in the mainframe era of the network. But we are now poised for a very personal networking reality.

“There will be a revolution unfolding in the network environment and it affords us an enormous opportunity to engage in experimentation and maintain that leading edge in the communities around us,” he said.

Gonick’s forward-looking statements encouraged the higher ed IT leaders present to act as forces of change and technological advancement on their campuses, rather than risk being viewed part of the effort “to maintain the entitlement culture.”

“These conversations are fascinating for the time, but they really are of no consequence because our young people have already moved on.”

“I’m trying to poke at almost everyone I can think of in this entire room,” Gonick said. “It’s up to us to have the hard conversations within our environment and redistribute the resources we have to advance these changes.”

Of all the capital now being spent in the disruption of higher education, Gonick said, much will go toward “disturbing our core last monopoly that we have, and that is on the certificate called the degree.”

“Have no doubt, in the next 10 years, there will be valuable alternatives to the certification we are currently holding onto as though it is the last vestiges of the core values we represent.”

Golnick also encouraged the audience to break down institutional walls by working with the communities their campuses call home and by engaging with cognitive scientists to chart new ways for personalized learning.

“Our mission is not alone to serve the insular castles of the research community, but to transform the human condition, and that means extending our networks to the larger community,” he said.

As an example, Gonick shared how 2,300 community institutions within Cleveland and Northeast Ohio are using OneCommunity’s 1,900 miles of broadband. “If OneCommunity is a model, in the next 10 years the city becomes an operating system,” he said. “The city becomes an experiment of the Internet of things.”

“For most of us, there isn’t a strategic plan,” he concluded. “Most institutions are under huge stress, and too few of our institutional leaders see the need to align IT as an enabler. We should not dismiss that conversation about how we [in IT] help our institutions shape things moving forward.”

<p>Credit:&nbsp;Tom Brown, Campus Technology</p>

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