By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: What about higher education–specific vendors?
RS: I would put Apple in there. Apple would count as an education-specific vendor.
SM: How so? Do they have specific offerings for higher education?
RS: Every other year, Apple organizes a conference for CIOs in higher education. They have account executives who are focused only on higher education. Apple also has pricing models that are beneficial to the higher education sector. These are some of the things they do, and our Apple user base in higher education in general qualifies them as a vendor. This is a pretty significant shift to the Apple platform across higher education that has created an interesting and creative dynamic. This is an interesting dialogue happening among colleges and universities.
SM: A question that is often asked in the context of Apple is, what is the impact of the iPad on the textbook part of your workflow in higher education? What is the response of students in adopting textbooks on the iPad, Kindle, and these kinds of devices?
RS: Well, I will give you a couple of statistics. There are 1,200 students at Westmont; we have 1,000 on campus who live here and 200 in Santa Barbara who drive in daily. When we started out with the Google project in November, a year ago, we had about 42 iPhones. When we got to graduation in May 2010, we had about 700 on the network. We did a look at these statistics about a week ago. If you look at all the iOS devices now, including the iPod Touch, the pad, and the phone, we have over 900 devices on the network. We have 70 iPads on the network right now, up from obviously zero a year ago. We are going to put the college magazine, it’s called Westmont, on those devices as well. We are working to move that to a native iPad application and see how it goes. Initially, is going to be focused more on alumni, friends, and parents of students. We will wait a little to see what the book vendors will do in terms of all of the copyright issues, to see how that develops, and then figure out textbooks on the iPad and things like that. There is interesting dialogue going on but not a ton of movement in that space yet.
SM: The higher education salesforce from Apple that you mentioned earlier, are those people not talking to you about the iPad as a textbook reader yet?
RS: One time we had a conversation about it, so we got a bunch of iPads for the team and had a conversation with our bookstore manager. I read quite a bit just to stay on top of it, to see how those negotiations are going, and I watch Google as they try to index source material against an educational institution. The index is all about what people say about things, but there is not a lot of original source material source indexed yet as books. The goal is to have 29 million books that have never been published, that sort of a thing. As increasing numbers of people go online, that will be the iPad’s and Google’s effort in that area, and it is a very interesting category to watch. On the textbook side, that is an interesting category to watch as well. I think if either of those could have significant movement, the iPad and tablets in general, and other viable competitors emerge, it is going to be absolutely huge in higher education.
SM: That is my impression as well. And is Amazon keeping itself in the middle of this conversation or not?
RS: I haven’t seen a lot there because I don’t know how much textbook work Amazon does.
SM: Amazon is also very interested in positioning the Kindle as a textbook reading device.
RS: Well, again we are on an 802.11n network, and the new Kindle does WiFi well. We don’t have a single Kindle on our network as of two weeks ago.
SM: Interesting! This has been a very good discussion so far. Do you have any other thoughts on blue-sky opportunities or entrepreneur opportunities in higher education and cloud computing? I think you have given us some good pointers here as entrepreneurs to explore further.
RS: I would just close by saying that the cloud is not a panacea. But it has matured enough that I would classify it as an enterprise-quality resource. That is because the functionality of it is so very specific; you can in a sense dip your toe into the water without having to commit, and much like we went from nothing to 64 deployments in six months, we were able to get into this at a pace that we tried one and saw how it went, and tried a second one and built on it. Because with the cloud everything is so linked together since it is Web-based, I would encourage CIOs in general to pick a small project, experiment with it, and see if it can work and how it works for that particular institution.
SM: Very good. Thank you for your time, Dr. Sheard. It was a pleasure talking to you.
RS: Thank you.