Brad Wheeler / EDUCAUSE 2009 / Collaboration is Strategy

Brad Wheeler delivered a talk, “Collaboration is strategy” at the EDUCAUSE Annual 2009 conference this morning in Denver. Here are my notes.

First, to pull from Michael E. Porter’s work on strategy.

1. Operational effectiveness is not strategy.

2. Strategy rests on unique activities.

3. Inter-relatedness of activities can be inimitable.

4. Trade-offs are essential.

Activities. “the essence of strategy is choosing to perform activities differently than rivals do.” Porter, HBR, p. 64. Think about Southwest Airlines.

Corporate strategy: we think of it as a zero-sum game. But when Cornell graduates more people or brings in a grant from a wealth donor, that doesn’t hurt Indiana University. In higher ed, when we think about competitive advantage, it’s a different world.

Brad says, “essence of collaboration as strategy is choosing to perform activities similarly to partners …. and driving down costs via leverage.”

What is collaboration? “An unnatural act.” “EDUCAUSE members are prolific writers regarding collaboration.” Collaboration is not cooperator. It means to “co-labor.” We can look at collaboration at an individual level, departmental level, school level, campus level and institutional level. Brad suggests the value and the challenge of collaboration could increase exponentially as we move from individual level across the domains up to the institutional level. But experience yields improvement. So we can bring the degree of challenge down through gaining experience, while acquiring high value.

Brad offers the example of the HathiTrust collaboration, and how participants are forced to define their institutional goals.

“The New Normal.” State appropriations for higher ed are not likely to come back to their previous levels. Why collaborate? We have to. We achieve more, serve our mission,achieve favorable econoimcs over time, and align institution to external environment.

Sakai example: it results in knowledge creation, and more staff engaged in activities relevant to Indiana University’s core mission. Brad estimates 18 million of expense avoided through Indiana University’s participation in Sakai project.

Leverage – and collaboration math. We hit process losses when collaborating. 2 + 2 = 3. or 2 + 2 + 2 +2 = 5. But what we all collectively get back is often better than what we could achieve on our own. Brad quotes Patrick Burns of Colorado State University, “We are MUCH stronger together than apart, and we have observed the expertise of the group steadily spiral upward as a result.” Brad says the case of CSU is an amazing story because they were last in first out (LIFO) and were not founders on the collaborative project they participated in.

Brad quotes Charles M. Vest of MIT. Read the excellent EDUCAUSE article by Vest, from the May/June 2006 issue of EDUCAUSE Quarterly.

Examples of meta-university collaborations include: Hathi Trust (library books), Public Knowledge Trust (journals), Connections (text books), Sakai (learning), and kuali (administrative). Brad believes we are “starting to build the platform for the meta-university.” It will enable, not replace, the campuses.

Higher ed ecosystem. Academic and commercial. Kuali commercial affiliates include Sun Microsystems, IBM, Huron Consulting Group, Exeter, Rimini Street, rSmart, Syntel, Vivantech, sciQuest, and Innovativ Consulting. Commercial affiliates have same power at the table (i.e., voting) as academic partners in Kuali.

Brad quotes Kevin Morooney of Penn State University on the need to have a strategy for when we should compete and when to collaborate.

Collaboration essentials. You need goal alignment. There is a dating process with new collaboration partners. You need values alignment. For example, in the earliest days of Sakai, we had no Plan B. We were not hedging out bets — we decided Sakai must succeed. You need temporal alignment. Be careful if partners are not in alignment with their institutional clocks and need for results to come with some urgency. You need talent alignment. You need governance clarity (input/decision rights). This is critical. You need to codify how you’ll handle disagreements when you hit those conflicts in the future.

there are many ways to collaborate. You may have just one programmer who can contribute time on the project. Design, code, test, etc.

“Collaborative capability can’t be bought.” It “must be grown via experience”. Developing trust comes through experience working with each other.

Collaborative IT agenda going forward. EDUCAUSE motto is “uncommon thinking for the common good.” Priority number one is to get federated identity done, now. Get in InCommon now. If you are not a member, go home and figure out how to join. Brad says “We have to get this one done.” Number two, do not talk about “clouds.” We need to be more explicit. Talk about it as “above campus services.” Examples include commercial sourcing. Give student email to Google or Microsoft. Institutional sourcing is another example. Just as an example, maybe an institution such as Carnegie Mellon would like to run an email factory for those institutions that don’t want to send email to a commercial vendor. Consortium sourcing is another example. See Brad’s article on “Above Campus Services” (in EDUCAUSE Quarterly?).

Brad quotes Herman B Wells, from his memoir Being Lucky. Eliminating duplication of effort is essential.

Useful links

Kuali Foundation

Sakai Project

Hathi Trust



One response to “Brad Wheeler / EDUCAUSE 2009 / Collaboration is Strategy

  1. Pingback: EduCause 2009 – Collaboration is Strategy: from DIY to DIO | UnionBlend

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