The Evolving Kuali Narrative

In terms of processing all that is occurring in the Kuali Software world right now, I have had to sit down and look at many different perspectives. As a fan of this community, it is somewhat difficult to reconcile that the Kuali foundation, which has touted the advantages of not being a commercial entity, is now creating a commercial entity. Lately, I have written a couple of posts on this topic, have entertained several social media conversations about this new development in the Kuali world, and have been scouring the web for new insight and commentary. Moodle Founder Martin Dougiamas Tweeted the following to me the other night in response to one of my Tweets asking questions about this change.

Martin Dougiamas Tweet about openness I even stumbled onto a recent blog of GSA (the agency of the US government that provides good and services to federal agencies and develops government-wide cost-minimizing policies). GSA uses open source software whenever possible.  The CIO of GSA expresses: “Simply put, any solution developed using taxpayer dollars should be in the taxpayer’s domain…”.

As soon as I saw this I thought of my beehives and how the overall bee community supports that community/ hive.  The community needs to be protected, prioritized, supported and nourished any way possible. Each entity, the queen, the workers and the drones all know their jobs, which revolve around protecting supporting and nourishing the community.   

My Beehives

Even if something disrupts the community, everyone knows their role and they get back to work in spite of the disruption. The real problem within the Kuali Community, with the establishment of the Kuali Commercial Entity now is that various articles, social media outlets, and even the communication from the senior Kuali leadership to the community members, have created a situation in which many do not have a good feel for their role in protecting, prioritizing, supporting and nourishing the community.  

This uncertainty is reinforced in a recent Kenneth Green blog post.  Kenneth Green, founder of the highly respected Campus Computing Project describes the Kuali Commercial Entity (KCE) development as an:

Evolving Narrative

Specifically, he poses some interesting questions in his latest blog post.

1)      Does that mean the universities who have contributed money and talent will get a cut if the for-profit entity actually makes? I would bet this one is on the minds of more than one institution. This one is interesting to me as just last week I discussed this addition of a Kuali commercial wing with a community college president I respect and have known for quite awhile. His first question was, “Can you get an equity interest if you buy a Kuali membership?”

2)      Raiding of Talent. It is an observation of mine that organizational talent has been put into this thing by various institutions because they wanted to build their internal talent to better support Kuali. The Kuali member institutions’ motivation has always been to loan talent to Kuali software development projects so that those resources can maintain and support applications at their respective institutions; therefore lowering the institutions’ TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).

Green says,

I would carefully guard my “Kuali coders” to be sure that they don’t jump from my campus for better, higher paying jobs at the new, for-profit KCE

Green’s ‘raiding’ question must be making many institutions and their Kuali talent nervous.  Does this mean the for-profit entity will raid the talent of the Kuali community, the very people who believed in Kuali and made it successful in the first place?

3)      Where is the market for this?   Using data from his 2013 Campus Computing Survey, he questions the viability of Kuali’s excursion into the sordid world of commercial ERP software as follows:

Yet lingering in the background of this conversation about Kuali going for-profit (and for profits) is a larger question about the actual market for Kuali administrative applications.  In theory, the 4,500-plus degree-granting public, private, and for-profit two-and-four-year colleges in the United States are potential Kuali clients.  But in practice, the number is far smaller, perhaps just 1,000 or 1,000 institutions – the roughly 600 US colleges and universities that enroll more than 10,000 students (and account for approximately 55 percent of the total headcount enrollment in US colleges and universities), plus perhaps another 400-500 colleges that enroll 5,000-10,000 students.  Certainly the nation’s truly small colleges – some 1350 institutions that enroll less than 500 students but which account for more than one fourth of the number of degree-granting colleges but account for just 2 percent of the total postsecondary headcount – are not likely Kuali clients.

Although he offers some very good points, he totally misses the boat when he says Kuali has a Software Suite, which in my view is still one of Kuali’s greatest liabilities in terms of attracting small and mid-sized institutions. The lack of a suite which includes the HR and complete student modules is the real deal killer for small and mid-size institutions considering adopting Kuali. I personally have had numerous interactions with other small college CIO’s on this issue and having a Kuali suite would totally change the interest in adopting an open source solution such as Kuali and would likely adjust Green’s survey results.   

The commercial open source ecosystems in projects such as Moodle, Asterisk, and Kuali have been around for some time. Even other ERP software vendors entering the higher ed market such as Workday, have robust ecosystems supporting their offerings. I believe Green misses the point with his discussion of rSmart as the sole competitor of the KCE. He frames the discussion as competition between rSmart and the newly formed KCE.  In reality there is currently an ecosystem of 11 KCAs as shown on the Kuali’s KCAs list. Now maybe his omission of the existing healthy ecosystem is because he is sponsored by rSmart as shown in the disclosure at the bottom of his blog, but that is pure speculation on my part. Granted, some of those companies offer products that compliment Kuali such as Ebsco and eThority.  However, there is a group of established KCAs that has been providing Kuali ERP implementation and support services to institutions for years.

Just for conversation, I am going to adjust Green’s narrative to provide essentially the same conversation involving the KCA ecosystem rather than just a single KCA.  Maybe Green should have framed that section of his blog as follows:  

...The new KCE will now compete with existing KCAs, starting with SaaS offerings, which have years of (presumably successful) experience and expertise with Kuali code, Kuali clients, Kuali deployments, and serving the higher ed market.  The competition between these firms can only add to the operating costs of each as they compete for talent and clients.

Moreover, given the obvious ties between the non-profit Kuali Foundation and the new for-profit KCE, the question emerges about a level playing field between the existing KCAs: will the KCE be advantaged because of its close ties to the Kuali Foundation, or will the Foundation steer a neutral course, favoring no single company with early information about Kuali code, strategy, and related issues?

In spite of a couple of missteps, I can agree the conversation is evolving and wherever Kuali ends up is going to be interesting.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 + 1 =