I'm attending the NITLE "Changes in Provisioning and Supporting Enterprise Technology Tools" event at Rollins College next week. The leader of the even t asked us to send our comments and questions ahead of time, which I have neglected to do up to now.
This event is devoted to discussing the implications of the "Big Switch" for information services at liberal arts colleges. What are some of the big issues in my mind regarding this transition?
- I see strong parallels between the challenges faced by libraries and IT departments in the move towards cloud computing. The web has allowed the aggregation of more and more content via licensed electronic resources. Along the same lines, IT departments now have increasing opportunities to purchase software as a service from companies like Google.
- It is questionable how much value the library and the IT department can add to these external services and content. In order to be viable, we need to demonstrate our expertise in the selection of these services and in their integration within our local environments.
- We also need to educate our communities. We need to work on raising expectations about what's possible with the extremely deep and powerful resources emerging on the network.
- IT operations and libraries face increasing competition from "free" consumer oriented services in the cloud that compete with institutionally provided ones: Google Docs vs MS Office, Google Scholar vs library research database, Google Books vs. library catalog, NetVibes/Voicethread/Google Groups, ____Web 2.0 app vs. of Blackboard, Flickr vs. of ContentDM, Google Research vs. DSpace, etc.
- With the web as the medium, it becomes that much easier to take the IT department (or the library for that matter) out of the loop when provisioning software or academic content. The HR department, the development office, or an academic department can select content or services over the Internet that meets their needs. User communities for cloud software and services can easily transcend institutional boundaries and make what used to be isolated choices seem less so. Nick Carr recently discusses how cloud computing is exerting a centripetal force throughout the web as a whole, with a trend toward centralization. In the context of an organization, it's exerting a centrifugal force: it is now much easier for a department or professor to deploy a multi-user application (eg VoiceThread, a NITLE favorite) without the participation of the IT department.
- In some ways, small colleges should be able to benefit from these developments, as they decrease our competitive disadvantage due to our size. With more and more resources on the network, we should be able to provide "research level" computing and library resources. In the fast changing environment, should also be nimble enough to capitalize on opportunities quickly.
- Open source projects like Moodle have worked well in the last decade, but in some respects they will have trouble competing against network level applications that feature a single, continually updated installation and benefit from the network effects of a centralized user base. Open source projects need to be reinvented to take advantage of the cloud computing model.
I have a feeling that some of the event will be devoted to discussing the practical application of some of these "cloud" applications like Google Apps for education.
As an example from the field, I would offer our library's transition to WorldCat Navigator for the Summit consortium and soon WorldCat Local for our local catalog. It's a move that moves our library catalog functionality from our local ILS server to a network level application. As I've discussed in previous post, it's as much about sharing data as it is about sharing an application.