Where now for University Systems

A Question that popped into my mind the other day was “Where now for University Systems?”.  By that I mean we currently deliver some traditional solutions such as Exchange for E-mail and the Blackboard ”Managed learning Environment”, but there’s now presure to deliver some “Web 2.0″ applications such as Elgg – an open source social network solution.  How do we cope with these changes.

One problem with some of these “Web 2.0″ solutions are that they are changing very quickly – look at the rise of Facebook – and we are constantly laging behind.  It’ll take us a year to ready a new service, by which time the “fad” has moved on – blogging was cool (and is still OK), but now there’s things like Twitter!  Another problem is the open source implementations also lag behind, if it’s trendy it’s new and it’s hard to select a stable solution – Elgg being one that’s already developing an interesting history.  Even the “big boys” struggle with this – Microsoft for example with Sharepoint – it’s finally what it should have been, but is already lagging behind in the social networking element.  We also spend a lot of time and effort “integrating” a mixed bag of solutions to form some sort of cohesive whole.

The people leading the way use rapid development tools and programmers “in house” to provide a Web Service which changes almost weekly – Google’s various services are always being added to for example.

This has lead some University’s to outsource many services to the likes of Google, and hence to Students at least, are using services that are “modern”.

So we have some University’s like ours, chasing the current vogue but always being behind, we have others who’ve outsourced to some of the more imaginative companies and are therefore running “with the pack”.  But shouldn’t a University be ahead of the game?  Should we replace our staid systems with something we have proper control over, so we can add new functionality quickly rather than waiting on Microsoft or Blackboard to adapt their systems?

It’s radical, but may be it’s a way forward, at least in the “Web 2.0″ sphere – so replace Blackboard, Elgg, WordPress, MediaWiki, with in house developed solutions based on a common platform – e.g. Sharepoint?

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