COMMUNITY: Up Close
Filling the Needs of Higher EducationBy Jeff Erickson
As institutions grow and expand, a user group follows suit.
Ted Simpson doesn’t just work in higher education. Yes, he’s currently the director of administrative systems at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), but he’s also a student—studying for an MBA and MS in information systems at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.
That gives Simpson, vice president of communications for the Higher Education User Group (HEUG), a unique viewpoint on IT in higher education.
“An educational institution is more like a business than it has ever been,” Simpson says. “We have to support business operations—financial services, human resources, and payroll—plus all the administration of the college—who are you admitting into the college, who are you paying to teach a class, who’s enrolled in what class, how do you evaluate your students and faculty, that kind of thing. So our footprint has grown.”
HEUG now supports more than 18,000 users from 900 institutions in 28 countries. The organization is focused on using technology to meet the challenges of higher education administration efficiently and effectively.
Simpson remembers when the organization was still a PeopleSoft special interest group (SIG). “Several institutions, mine included, bought PeopleSoft applications,” Simpson recalls. “A fair number of these organizations implemented them fairly rapidly, and we needed a community to help us understand how to operate the software better and get the most out of it. We also needed a community to speak in one voice to PeopleSoft and then to Oracle.”
The upshot was that back in 1998, those SIG members started a conference, which has become known as Alliance. “I’ve been going to that conference since 2002,” Simpson says.
The SIG incorporated as HEUG in 2001, and as the organization has grown, its needs have diversified. “We’ve always wanted to reach out to our members throughout the world to understand what they need to run the software well and what we can provide to help them do that,” Simpson says. In addition to the annual Alliance conference, HEUG holds Webinars and now has a 24/7 online presence to meet the needs of its members.
HEUG’s mission is a lot broader today than it was in 1998. “A lot of the divisions between applications and middleware are getting blurred, so our focus has to spread as the focus of our institutions spreads,” Simpson says. “Identity management is a good example of that. This is an explosive topic among our membership because we all do it, we all have a vested interest in knowing who’s on our campus, who’s coming on our campus, who’s leaving the campus, and so on. So the requirements around identity management are growing, and as more of our members implement systems and middleware that handle identity management, we as a user group have to grow to meet that challenge. We have to provide opportunities for our members to share best practices around these middleware components.”
Simpson says that members spend a lot of time talking about how the applications serve end users. “The general thrust of any conversation about the here and now is, how do we use this technology better, faster, or cheaper? How do I tune it so that my end users can do their jobs faster, easier, and with less training?” he says.
But that conversation is likely to segue into the future. “The general buzz lately has been about what we need to do today to future-proof our application stack so that we can move to next-generation applications,” Simpson says. “We’re finding our members are doing fact-finding and preparing their institutions for that move, whatever that move looks like and whenever it comes. We need to give our members the opportunities they require to prepare their institutions for that move.”
Jeff Erickson is a senior editor with Oracle Publishing.