Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sungard Summit 2012 conference summary

Here are my top takeaways from the Sungard Higher-Ed Summit conference, hosted this year in Las Vegas, NV.

Sungard + Datatel = ellucian

I really enjoyed hearing nine-time Grammy award winner John Legend speak at the general opening session on the importance of Education in addressing poverty and attaining societal goals. After his talk he also sang a few songs, and although R&B isn't my personal preference of musical styles, he exhibited both his musical talent and flexibility in entertaining a crowd of over 6,000 Higher-Ed professionals. Legend's message contributed to the most applicable general session I have attended at Summit.

At the end of the opening session was the announcement of the new name for the newly-merged company: ellucian. 

The investment merger of two of the biggest names in Higher Education caught my attention when the initial announcement went out, as we use Sungard's ERP solution, Banner, and I administer our web portal which runs on their Luminis technology (Sungard's repackaged take on uPortal). The implications of this merger have yet to be seen, but hey, apparently their marketing team and lawyers were able to pick a new name, so that's good, right?

I feel like Santa Claus,

Because I am making a list and checking it twice. It's been nearly two years since the news of the release Luminis version 5, the latest-and-greatest release of Sungard's portal solution for Higher Ed. But finally the patches and feature improvements have progressed to the point that I feel ready to take on the transition from our existing portal. This will require a lot of planning -- there is no upgrade from our current portal running Luminis 4, so we will be starting over from the hardware through content creation.

Technically speaking, this upgrade will bring us out of the late 90's of web portal technology into the modern world of Web 2.0. The underlying platform will change from uPortal to Liferay, meaning a proprietary content delivery system will be replaced with a standards-compliant Java portlet system. A proprietary SSO framework (CPIP, GCF) will be sidelined by the centralized, industry-standard CAS authentication. A central content management system (based on JackRabbit) and improved permissions delegation will mean I can off-load the responsibility of content management to the actual content owners much more deftly and to a more fine-tuned, targeted audience. AJAX, Flex and Springboard will provide the interactive experience that our online constituents are already used to and expect.

This will be a major step forward for my University to offer the services that our students, faculty and staff have come to rely on and expect from the institution, and I am excited about the opportunities ahead of us.

Vegas is overrated.

This is a pretty minor point, as I spent most of my time in sessions or participating in discussions with my colleagues at the convention, and the locale doesn't often play much of a role in a good conference experience. But I have been to conferences in other cities (New Orleans, Anaheim) that did have a huge positive influence. So here it is:

My most cultured experience in Las Vegas was a trip to the local In-N-Out burger.

The conference was hosted in the Mandalay Bay convention center and my hotel room was in the Excalibur, so it was pretty hard to avoid the lights, noise and smell of casino gambling. Even the shopping areas were superficial and sad, as most of their products were either branded with a casino logo, a Vegas show personality, or a tasteless slogan. None of it was really all that pleasant.

I have decided I generally dislike the Las Vegas strip. This is my own personal bias, as I am not a gambler. But if all of The Math states that when you gamble money in Vegas, you are going to leave with a lot less money than when you arrived: no thank you. So I did not waste spend any of my hard-earned money in any of the casinos, shops or other ridiculous "attractions" on the strip. And the Vegas strip really has little else to offer than temporary, expensive vices.

If there was an easy way for a convention attendee such as myself to get off-strip to see some actual culture in Las Vegas, I am still not aware of it.

Technology is the future of Higher Education.

Technology allows us to serve more effectively and efficiently, and reach people around the globe in ways that we hadn't even begun to imagine 5 years ago. 

Technology alone cannot educate, but when used properly can enable us to better educate. 

Concordia University Chicago launched it's first mobile application last month (you can find it right now in the Apple iTunes store and the Google Play Android market). Students can check their grades and look up their course schedule at a glance from their mobile devices; the community can stay connected to news, events and services on campus like they never have before. And we have only just begun to get our feet wet in what mobile services can do for our community.

Over the past 5 years we have implemented a web portal that integrates with our ERP; gives direct access to our online learning system; faculty can interact with their students and submit grades online; students can register for classes, apply for campus housing, pay their tuition electronically, and get their parking permits. Some of these functions may appear trivial at first glance, but as a part of a greater integrated solution it has changed the experience of our students, faculty and staff for the better.

Sungard Summit is not only a showcase of new technology, but also a forum for sharing ideas and successes, common struggles and creative solutions. If you were in Las Vegas this year at the very last Sungard Summit, I hope I had an opportunity to interact with you in one way or another. But if not, I look forward to seeing you next year at Ellucian Summit 2013 in Philadelphia!

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