If you are a CIO or a senior IT manager there's no shortage of "advice" on how to manage or lead an IT organization. But what if you are an IT line manager? Aside from the usual and useless platitudes ( "align with the business", "drive innovation", "demonstrate value") there is very little available in the way of practical guidance for line managers. IT is the nervous system of the modern organization: every critical business function relies on IT systems and the IT line manager stands at the forefront of delivery.
What is the role of an IT manager?
What are the different elements of IT and how are they inter-connected?
What should be in the "language" and "vocabulary" of every IT line manager?
As a result of thinking about these questions for my own organization I have come up with the following "mental model" for managing IT. By a mental model I mean a parsimonious representation of a knowledge domain. A mental model provides the key concepts for understanding a knowledge domain and priorities for acting on that knowledge. In the video I elaborate each of the concepts of the mental model.
Imagine having purchased a new household product. Imagine relying on it more and more until it becomes a fixture and eventually your home can't be said to function at all without it. Imagine also that there have been no improvements to the base product, except at the margins and in ornament. Imagine finally that product cost soars, with no end in sight, while your total household budget declines. Would you have cause for alarm?
Let's start with the three basic trends identified in the study. We might classify these now as the "Known Knowns" regarding the enterprise LMS in higher education.
Trend #1: The enterprise LMS market has settled around 5 products: Moodle, Sakai, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and eCollege. The first two are open source and the remaining three are proprietary. Blackboard is the dominant firm and enjoys approximately 75% of the market share. Moodle, as the next competitor, recently attained double digits at 10%.
Trend #2: There has been no innovation in the core LMS product since 2004. An academic Rip Van Winkle falling asleep in 2004 would not recognize any substantial difference between today's LMS and the LMS circa 2004. In Michael Feldstein's words, innovation in the LMS world has all but "flatlined" since 2004.
Trend #3: LMS costs have increased dramatically and will continue to increase. According to Phil Hill, one of the authors of the Cal State U/Delta Initiative Study, "the amount of dollars charged to each institution has risen dramatically, in some cases up to an order of magnitude (emphasis mine) just in the past seven to eight years. And that's a trend that's continuing at this point." In the webinar Hill makes the further point that the business model for LMS vendors is brutally simple: they need to be "able to charge more per customer moving forward."
In The Economics of LMS in Higher Education - Part II, I will examine Trend #1 in more detail.
In enterprise IT-land Fall startup is an exciting and anxious time: we welcome a new class of eager students and put to the test our summer preparations.
Will our systems withstand peak load and continuing growth, particularly in e-Learning and e-Services?
Once again our Desire2Learn LMS held up to massive load during Fall Startup. As the chart above shows, during the first day of classes we had 284,600 logins, approximately a 38% increase from last year. Of the more than a quarter million logins, 86,511 were distinct users.
An important story behind the numbers is that despite continuing declamations that the LMS is "dead", our statistics show that increasingly faculty and students rely on the LMS as the basic electronic tool for teaching and learning. What mainstream faculty and students seem to want above all else is stability, reliability, and predictability. On that front I am also pleased to report that for the past eighteen months our availability has held steady at about 99.98%, which translates into less than 2 hours of downtime per year.
On July 27, 2009 the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a resounding victory to Desire2Learn Inc. in its patent battle against Blackboard Inc. In the patent war the ruling is likely to be the beginning of the end for the Goliath Blackboard, which has waged an unrelenting, and some would say ruthless, campaign to crush its small and outgunned Canadian competitor based near Waterloo, Ontario.
This is the first in a series of posts which attempts to take stock of the litigation battle and its significance for IT in higher education. There are multiple strands in this story. Let's begin with the key facts surrounding the central litigation.
The Patent. On July 26, 2006, the USPTO granted Blackboard a patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,988,138, "the '138 patent") for invention of an "Internet-based educational support system and related methods." Immediately that day, Blackboard filed an infringement suit against Desire2Learn in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
The Court Case in East Texas. The '138 patent consists of 38 "claims" of intellectual property. On October 2007 the district court invalidated claims 1-35 for reasons of "indefiniteness" but held that a jury trial was warranted and should proceed for claims 36-38. On February 22, 2008 a jury found Desire2Learn guilty of patent infringement on claims 36-38 and awarded damages of approximately $3 million.
The Appeal. On May 12, 2008 and May 13, 2008 D2L and Blackboard each filed their notice of appeal, respectively. Blackboard sought to reinstate the validity of claims 1-35, while D2L sought to reverse the trial ruling and to invalidate claims 36-38. On July 27, 2009 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit granted D2L a decisive victory on both counts by a) affirming the district court's decision that claims 1-35 are invalid and b) reversing the district court's ruling on claims 36-38. In brief, the Appellate Court invalidated all 38 claims in the '138 patent. The ruling is subject to further appeal, including all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. But, according to at least one patent attorney, the likelihood of Blackboard succeeding now is very dim.
In the next installment I examine the patent itself from a technical and legal perspective, particularly in the light of the new appellate ruling.