Meeting the Modern Student’s Expectations: Joe Burkhart Explains How Oracle Creates Administrative Software for Student Success
When people think of the college experience, they think of campus activities. Dorm rooms. Dusty books and hours of studying in the library or the quad.
But what you don’t think about are the everyday things outside of academia, like registering for classes, paying tuition, checking grades, requesting transcripts.
According to Joe Burkhart, Director of Higher Education Solutions at Oracle, students shouldn’t have to think about them.
“It should be just as easy as when they pick up their next smartphone, whatever that smartphone is. And they download an app. And they know how to run that app without ever having to take a training program. It should be that type of process.”
And not only should the students be able to focus on the more important side of the academic experience, but administrators should, too. That’s why software companies like Oracle create solutions that enable university administrators to focus on the academics, instead of the day-to-day business process of the institution.
“That becomes our core mission. It’s still mission critical to you when we’re enabling to do that, but by doing that you now free up resources to really function on the innovation, innovative and differentiating activities that you can deliver around delivering education and conducting research.”
Listen in to our full interview with Joe Burkhart to see what Oracle is doing today to help higher education institutions modernize their systems.
Hannah: This is Hannah Nyren from EdTech Times. And today we are talking about how universities are transforming to the cloud with Joe Burkhart, director of higher education solutions at Oracle.
Hannah: Hi Joe. How are you doing today?
Joe: I’m doing well, Hannah. Thanks for allowing me to join you today.
Hannah: Yeah thank you for joining us. So in a sentence or two could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Oracle and what you do?
Joe: Sure. I am Joe Burkhart. My title is director of higher education solutions, as you mentioned. My job in Oracle is to keep us focused on higher education, basically. I go across all the different organizations inside of Oracle and make sure that we know what’s going on in the higher education market and our solutions are meeting the needs of that industry. At Oracle, we tend to fit into primarily the technology stack and the administrative applications pieces of the enterprise of higher education. We do very little support on the actual kind of learning management degree teaching side of things. But we do support research, and we support the student experience through the administrative side, the ACM, the financials applications, and the underlying technology to run the institution.
Hannah: Great. So within the educational solutions, what problems are you trying to solve in education? What do you think the biggest problems are that you’re trying to tackle?
Joe: Well there’s a lot of problems in education today. But there are probably three big ones that that all kind of interrelate.
Joe: The first one being around this idea of now outcomes in education. For the longest time in education, the past five, six, seven hundred years if not longer, it’s all been about getting access to education. If you could get into education, then the natural assumption was the outcomes were guaranteed. The economic downturn in 2007-2008 changed that mindset. Now it’s about success. It’s not about just getting into school, but it’s about getting students through those courses and out. And that’s starting to affect the way schools are funded. It’s starting to affect the way they operate, it’s starting to affect the way they actually manage their curriculum.
Joe: The next big piece of that is the rapid evolution of technology. You know, we tend to think about it in a digital environment today. But it’s really about the experiences that students and learners from all age groups are now are expecting when they come into higher education. It’s not that the schools are being benchmarked against the next school down the road or against X Y Z institution, they’re being benchmarked against the website or the mobile site that the student was on five seconds before they started interacting with that institution.
Joe: And then because of that rapid increase of technology, what we’re really seeing with younger learners today is actually a new personality, almost a new culture. We tend to think about changing business processes into a digital environment. Sometimes schools think about just digitizing the current environment, but they’re doing the exact same business process.
Joe: Some students today and learners that are coming that have grown up with that technology actually have much different expectations, right? We’ve got new learner expectations that are rocking how they actually want to be treated and how they want to learn. We’ve got all this new technology coming in. So it’s kind of a perfect storm on what’s happening with education today.
Joe: What we’re trying to do at Oracle is to help schools navigate that process and recognizing that that’s not going to be an easy journey. They’re going to have to chart out a road map and figure out what their path to success actually is and what are the high value projects they need to take. So that’s how we’re trying to help them navigate this complex environment. This is the new normal in education today.
Hannah: What does your product look like and what does it do and what components are available?
Joe: Yeah there’s… So what does Oracle do for higher education? We do a lot.
Joe: We provide a lot of widgets from a high level on the application side.
Joe: We have financial solutions, human capital management solutions, and student information solutions. Our cloud solution to really drill into the thing that is unique about higher education is student cloud.
Joe: We took a bit of a different approach as we started developing student cloud a couple of years ago. First off, in talking to our customers, from their point of view, they view student information systems to be much broader than the traditional transactional. What they were really focusing on as well was those traditionally CRM applications. So we leveraged our robust toolset of CRM applications and verticalized those for higher education through student recruiting and advancement, student engagement, student support and help desk functionalities, and then not just embedded but harmonized those now within our more transactional.
Joe: The next big piece that we had to adopt and had to think about was these new educational models. So we had to throw out the concept of terms to start with, in order so we could adapt to badging and continuous and competency-based education and MOOCs and all those other kinds of concepts.
Joe: And then finally what we’ve really been focusing on is this idea of artificial intelligence in making the overall application smart around that individual student experience. So as institutions and members start to see what the process is or the solutions that we’re delivering, it’ll be very much in that mode of anticipating the need of the student and enabling them to to act on them using things like virtual advisors and predictive- not just predictive but prescriptive analytics to actually make rapid recommendations at each step of the business process–whether that’s planning out your academic career, or just registering for classes, and then continuing to meet those needs of the student.
Joe: We have so many widgets, but we’re trying not to sell widgets. We’re trying to really position solutions to help our institutions be successful in this new normal of rapid change today and new student experience expectations.
Hannah: What are some special considerations that need to be made when working with higher education institutions undergoing cloud transformation that you might not be making with other businesses that are integrating these technologies?
Joe: One, we have to remember that all higher education institutions are not the same. That’s the biggest one. The pathway to a cloud transformation, the needs and their capabilities to uptake that will vary a lot by institution. If you’re a large land-grant flagship institution, you probably have a lot more resources to manage that process. But at the same time you’re probably going to have a much more complex path, because you’ve got so many different moving pieces that are inside that organization navigating. Versus, let’s say, a small community college in a rural environment. You may have an IT staff of two. Or three, if you’re lucky.
Joe: The other part of that is, typically in the commercial sector, we talk a lot about return on investment. That could be increased revenue and profitability. In higher education, we have to recognize that they have a unique mission that they need to complete, especially in public sector higher education. And the return on investment may not be increased revenues or increased profit, but it just may be allowing them to complete their mission.
Joe: Not saying that ROI and revenue and cost takeout and all those other things aren’t important, but the fact is these institutions need to spend some money in order to do what they need to do- deliver education and conduct research.
Hannah: So I know that a lot of schools are making this transformation now they’re starting this change or in the process of moving over to the cloud. But why are they doing this? What are the benefits of cloud transformation for higher education institutions right now?
Joe: So there’s near-term benefits and then there’s long term benefits. Right? So, you know, not every institution but a lot of institutions, have tended to be technology laggers. And that’s primarily because…they haven’t necessarily valued technology especially on the administrative side or the infrastructure side of how they operate. That’s been viewed more as an overhead cost, maybe a necessary evil, as opposed to an investment in a way to run the institution more efficiently and effectively.
Joe: So you know near-term, it’s about increasing or improving the user experiencing, adopting mobile technologies, about delivering new best practices, around really trying to really leapfrog ahead and get caught up on the technology path.
Joe: Long term it’s a different kind of story. All those things are valuable but the real value in cloud long term is to recognize that they’re freeing up their resources in order to really concentrate on their core mission.
Joe: So when I talk about this with customers and with institutions, I talk about the difference between things that are mission critical versus things that are truly core mission.
Joe: So running a payroll, doing student registration, doing your accounts payable, those are all mission critical activities right, your institution’s not going to survive if you don’t do that. But it’s not their core mission to do that. Their core mission is to deliver education and conduct research.
Joe: In a cloud environment with a vendor like Oracle or any of the other vendors, our core mission now is to make sure your payroll runs, it is to make sure that your databases are highly conforming or our databases are highly conforming, it is to make sure that registration functions properly. It is to make sure that accounts payable is happening and there’s no technology glitches with that. That becomes our core mission. It’s still mission critical to you when we’re enabling to do that, but by doing that you now free up resources to really function on the innovation, innovative and differentiating activities that you can deliver around delivering education and conducting research.
Hannah: So, what do you think are the best examples of schools that have successfully implemented enterprise systems at least partially? You know many, again like I said, are in the process of implementing these new systems.
Joe: OK. So the big challenge. One of the biggest challenges in moving into a cloud environment is the cultural change.
Joe: Actually the technology and the implementation piece is probably the easiest thing that happens.
Joe: So the biggest change is in the cultural change that goes along with faculty and staff as they adopt these new business processes.The biggest challenge is bringing your faculty and staff along. That ties heavily to actually understanding what you want to transform into.
Joe: I do a lot of presentations to a lot of conferences. I did one in New Zealand not too long ago and I asked the audience and it was all C-level executives from across Australia and New Zealand about how many of them had transformation projects going on. Almost everyone put up their hands. I asked why you were in these transformation projects, didn’t get too many responses. The most telling one was because they needed to remain relevant. And my third question was, “What did you want to transform into?” and nobody really knew. They just knew that they needed to transform into something to remain relevant.
Joe: The big challenge here is knowing what they want to transform into and recognizing what their unique differentiators are between them and the next institution down the road. So that as they transform and as they go forward it’s not just transforming for transforming’s sake or it’s not just technology for technology’s sake it’s actually driving them to their unique market position in higher education.
Hannah: Right. They’re not doing it because it’s the thing to do right now, they’re doing it with an intent purpose that aligns with their strategic plan.
Hannah: So how will this all affect the students? How will these outcomes of cloud implementation directly affect students in a noticeable way?
Joe: You know our guiding beacon for this is we want to anticipate the need of each individual student. And then we want to empower them to be successful. So what they should see at the end is this frictionless business process that is actually intuitive to them.
Joe: It should be just as easy as when they pick up their next smartphone, whatever that smartphone is, and they download an app and they know how to run that app without ever having to take a training program. It should be that type of process.
Joe: When we look on the administrative side, there are some things that they’re only going to do once. They’re only going to get accepted to a school once, they may go through seven eight 10 12 different application processes, but that’s going to be just at the beginning of their academic career. They’re going to go through the registration for classes maybe two or three times a year, or depending upon how they’re pursuing their degree they may go through that a lot.
Joe: But they should be able to do that on their own terms. They should be able to figure out how they want to pursue through their degree and how they flow through those business processes in a frictionless manner.
Joe: It should not create an administrative or a bureaucratic barrier. Right? It should just be something that they have to do that goes through very smoothly seamlessly, without any friction, so that they can also really focus on what their core mission is in this case, which is the understanding and the uptake of this knowledge that the institution is delivering to them.
Joe: We think about the types of devices that they’re using. We think about the fact that not every business process and not every technology that they’re going to utilize across their entire lifecycle at an institution is necessarily going to be an Oracle application. So we need to open those up so that they can actually mash up applications and technologies from other vendors.
Joe: Really flexibility and individualism is what they should be expecting. A lot of students success programs right now are all about identifying students that are at risk and intervening. Frankly, our technology is strong enough now that we should head them off before they ever become at risk.
Joe: You know and the few that do manage to become a risk because of factors beyond their control or our control, then we need to be able to rapidly identify them and step in and intervene.
Joe: So I think that’s what they should be expecting, an individualized treatment, individualized learning, individualized processes, something that’s truly unique to them because frankly that’s what they’re expecting based upon their consumer experiences now in every other areas of life outside of academia.
Hannah: Right, I agree. And that’s such a good argument for the individualization of technology…particularly in education.
Hannah: So how do you think this technology could possibly change in the next five years, and how can institutions prepare for these changes now? What are institutions doing to prepare for these changes now?
Joe: So, if we look at how fast technology has evolved you know, unless you’re you know a soothsayer I don’t know that we can say what the next big piece of technology is going to be what the next disruptions are going to be in five years or 10 years. What we do know is it’s going to happen, and it’s going to continually happen faster and faster and faster and faster. So what schools should be doing is thinking about how to open up this architecture.
Joe: Right this is where you get into that innovation and differentiation. Can I quickly adapt to that.
Joe: So as they start adopting these new technologies, we still have to protect the students’ privacy and protect the intellectual property of the institution. So there’s a lot of complexity that goes onto that, but frankly that’s more of a reason to start thinking about cloud environments so that you could shift some of those kind of keeping the lights on maintenance functions over to vendors like Oracle and then you can focus on those new things.
Joe: The advantage to Oracle, I think, is that, in addition to offering those software service solutions like student cloud and HCM cloud and financials ERP cloud, is we actually within that same cloud environment deliver all these emerging technologies, like chatbots and adaptive intelligence solutions and machine learning and things like that. So I don’t know that you can really plan for it. I think you can plan for the fact that it’s going to change.
Hannah: Great. Thank you for speaking with me today, Joe.
Hannah: It’s been really valuable getting your experience and your expertise on this particular subject.
Joe: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to speak with you. Hope we can do it again sometime.
Listen to the full series, Transforming Higher Ed with Cloud Technology.
This episode is brought to you by Huron.
Huron is a global professional services firm with an extensive history in higher education. For nearly two decades, Huron has provided consulting services for over 500 educational institutions, including all 100 of the top research universities in the United States.
This year at EDUCAUSE, you can learn more about what Huron does by attending the panel, Reshaping the Future: A Guide for Preparing Your Cloud Migration, or by visiting booth 1552. And of course, you can always visit huronconsultinggroup.com.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.