Enterprise Vision: Unleashing the Power of the Internet in the Education Enterprise



The headline of USA Today's April 26, 1999 Money section sums up the concern that is beginning to grip college and university leaders: "Failure to tangle with Web may Jeopardize CEOs." The story boldly states that "CEOs are endangered if they lack an Internet vision," and documents how organizational leaders in various industries are scrambling to strategically integrate the power of the Internet into their enterprises.

Predictions that once rang with hyperbole are being answered by hard facts about how Internet technologies are changing the way we work, play and learn. It took only four years for the World Wide Web to be regularly used by more than a quarter of the U.S. population - a feat that took electricity 46 years, the television 26 years, and the personal computer 16 years to achieve. More than 100,000,000 people currently use the Internet, and its network traffic doubles every 100 days. The U.S. Commerce Department estimates that consumer e-commerce will reach $300 billion and business-to-business e-commerce $1.53 trillion by 2002. America Online has grown to more than 16 million members, increasing more than 4 million members in the last year alone.

In higher education, the explosive growth of online learning is challenging educators to harness the potential of this innovation while staying focused on core institutional missions. In these fast moving times, taking a step back to gain perspective on the use of the Internet in the higher education enterprise is easier said than done. However, if we briefly look at how the Internet is being used in business and industry, and relate that to its already rapid integration into education, we can point to some key implications for educational leaders striving to formulate an "enterprise vision."

Enterprise Vision in Business and Industry

Success in business and industry today means linking Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications (e.g., finance, human resources, decision support systems) with a set of new tools to enable Customer Relationship Management (CRM). An Internet-based CRM system - commonly referred to as e-commerce - supports marketing, sales and service on at least three levels: 1) in person, 2) on the telephone, and 3) over the Web. Using Internet technologies and robust databases to underpin both the ERP and CRM systems, businesses are providing an array of integrated services to both their employees and their customers (e.g., employee self-service, Web-enabled field sales and service, call centers, and Web stores). Oracle Corporation is working with top companies globally to use Internet-based ERP/CRM systems to streamline and improve operations, and to develop holistic relationships with customers that move from "lead to loyalty."

In a relatively short period of time, we as consumers have come to expect this sort of enterprise vision in business and industry. For example, we expect our preferred airline to have a Web site where we can peruse and reserve flights online; an 800 number we can call if we have more detailed questions; and a counter in the airport staffed by knowledgeable agents who can answer our questions. Of course, if we have problems or questions about our reservations for our upcoming vacation, we expect to able to use the Web, phone the airline's call center, or visit their counter in person for help - whichever mode is most convenient to us at our moment of need.

Finally, because we indicated in our customer profile that we wanted to be notified about the airline's frequent flyer program, we expect to receive e-mail informing us about new promotions and free tickets for first-time enrollees. Of course, all of these interactions should be seamlessly supported by an integrated data system that keeps our information on file so we don't have to go through a customer history with each and every interaction. If we look back only five years, we can see that the use of the Internet to enable ERP and CRM has certainly changed the ways businesses are operating and, more so, what we as consumers expect.

Enterprise Vision in Higher Education

Higher education is embracing Internet technologies as well. In the administrative and student service areas, almost every RFP released over the last three years for major administrative systems has required that most key functions are "Web-enabled." In instruction, Kenneth Green's 1998 Campus Computing Survey reveals that more than 44 percent of higher education classes use e-mail, 33 percent require Internet research and the average faculty member or student accesses the Internet at least once a day. Since 1994, the use of these and other tools to enable online learning has taken the distance learning field by storm. Every day we read of another "cyber" college or consortium of colleges that are "going virtual" to provide on-demand, synchronous and asynchronous online instruction.

Given the usual rate of adoption for technologies such as CD-ROMs, these developments are staggering. They are not as surprising, however, when one considers how effectively Internet technologies connect students and faculty to educational content, rich context and to each other - not to mention how readily they enable better service and support. In short, Internet tools have more quickly and easily proven their value than have their technological predecessors.

This rapid integration notwithstanding, educators are now challenged to take a step back and look at how they are using the array of Internet technologies in all areas of the enterprise - operations, services and learning. The challenge is to think holistically about higher education administrative systems, student services and learning options. Indeed, Internet technologies can improve each of these areas individually. However, as has been seen in other sectors, there is greater promise in using the Internet to bring together long-separated processes and people to improve higher learning.

Clearly, students, faculty, staff and communities are beginning to expect the outcomes an enterprise vision provides. They expect to have a variety of options - Web, phone or in-person - to check out programs and services; apply for admission; register for classes; take courses; reference syllabi; check grades; communicate with faculty, staff or peers; and access state-of-the art research materials. Moreover, they expect all of these services to be supported by an integrated data system that shares information seamlessly and securely.

With these expectations comes the realization for today's educational leaders that developing, fostering and maintaining a thriving academic community in the modern age also means that they, too, will have to develop an enterprise vision. Our hope is that the result of these endeavors will be technology infrastructures that transparently and seamlessly support the important mission and goals of higher education, allowing the rich interactions between educators and students to take precedence as they develop relationships with students.


Dr. Mark David Milliron is Executive Director of Oracle Education Initiatives and can be contacted at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.