Everyone Hates Their ERP except the Kuali Community…at least for now

A question begets a question, which begets a question, thus I will  follow up from my last post with a few thoughts and a few more questions I have seen via various channels such as Twitter and blogs.  

I have observed the Kuali Community for years now, using both Jenzabar and Ellucian’s Colleague, while at the same time thinking:

‘there has to be a better way.’  

I don’t think I have ever been to one of the commercial ERP vendors meetings, executive briefings, or other gatherings where many people were happy.  Sure there are always few happy campers, but for the most part my observations are that people’s feelings about their core administrative system range from simple frustration to cursing, snarling, spitting, and having to leave the room for a smoke break.  Both observations are true and recent.  Watching commentary on Twitter I would say that the ‘buzz’ about “Kuali Inc.” is a good sign of a passionate concerned community.  Jason Hibbets writes on Opensource.com about open source that it is not a

“special tool or the way we have conversations on IRC or mailing lists.”

Rather it’s something that each and every individual brings to their open source community every day.  

“The secret ingredient that really makes open source work is passion.”

In spite of the handicap of not having the Kuali Student module nor in the HR / Payroll pieces, what has been accomplished has been quite remarkable. The Kuali Community is certainly passionate about software which has been built by “higher ed for higher ed”.  Hibbets article also confirms an observation that the most common thread between highly successful communities such as Drupal and  Apache is that they are also very passionate about their respective project. Although, I would also acknowledge that there have been many passionate failures, so passion is not the only factor. Passion joined with a common goal is a powerful combination. With the Foundation’s addition of a for-profit arm, retaining that passion may become the real challenge.

Let’s first start with some things most people who read this post can agree on:

1) The overall ERP marketplace for higher ed is BROKEN

2) Everyone hates their ERP except the Kuali people…at least for now

3) Kuali is the only interesting thing to happen in higher ed ERP in years.

4) Licensing costs are out of control.  

5) IT is in a better position to save money for institutions of Higher Ed than any other organizational area in higher ed (This post shows where I stole this thought:  http://bit.ly/1hGmCdY)

6) Everyone knows Kuali is going to still be open source.  There will be some debate whether AGPL is the correct path but there are pros and cons no matter the path.

Here are some additional thoughts related to my little part of the world:

1) Some institutions will fail even if they do everything right. I have seen what is happening in rural communities. Outmigration, aging demographics, etc  I don’t think this is just blowing smoke.

2) Ellucian’s effort to merge Datatel and Sungard is noble, but they can’t continue to support 3 product lines (Banner, Colleague & Power Campus). What is occurring in this part of the commercial ERP space is simply not sustainable.  I really hope Kuali succeeds and that there will there will be reasonable alternatives in the future. The survival of some institutions will depend on it.

3) Extensibility, as in Ellucian XE, is not quite “All Hat No Cattle” (Thought I would use that one since I am from a rural agricultural state)  but is certainly not as easy and open as they say. The for profit nature will ultimately force some decisions in favor of profitability rather than what is best for the community.  I think this will be better in the Kuali world no matter the path, but the availability of great middleware such as Kuali Rice which allows you to ultimately choose and attach the best available tool will be very important.

4) The cloud is the future but is not really quite there in terms of value. The market has some work to do to bring this to reality.

Here are some things I have observed people wanting to know about related to the ‘buzz’ about the change to Kuali Inc.  

Chris Coppola from rSmart offered the following as fact in his post yesterday:  

Kuali will continue to engage colleges and universities in a way that it always has

Kuali will continue to be driven by higher education

How will Kuali Continue to engage college and universities in a way that it always has?  If a fact is something that has really occurred or is actually the case, and the usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, then this is off the mark. Maybe speculation or hope but fact?

Kuali will continue to be driven by higher education….but so will Ellucian, Peoplesoft etc.  There seems to be some denial that a profit motive will fundamentally change how the community interacts.

Examples of how the outside world sees this fundamental change are similar to the one expressed by Matt Reed on Inside Higher Ed,

I had great hopes for Kuali, the open-source embryonic ERP, which was why the story that it’s becoming a for-profit vendor itself was so disappointing. Rather than developing as the badly needed alternative that it could, it’s likely now to become another variation on Banner.

Isn’t the timing weird?   

Phil Hill says on his e-Literate post earlier this week,

The changes announced on Friday come less than two months after the first community strategy meeting, so I have trouble seeing the meetings as the cause and the Friday changes as the effect. There is reason to believe that the changes have been in the works prior to June of this year.

If Kuali’s biggest selling point over the past few years is that they are not a commercial company then what now is Kuali’s biggest selling point?

In  Brad Wheeler’s summary of the August 1, 2014 strategy meetings he says:

We need to accelerate completion of our full suite of Kuali software applications, and to do so we need access to substantially more capital than we have secured to date to meet this need of colleges and universities.

If the need is more capital and if you won’t go to VCs or Private Equity firms but would rather rely on university foundations so you won’t have to be beholden to shareholders, then you could have remained a non-profit but organize and operate like a software company. You could have started charging for the premium version of the software with value-added options and create other revenue streams.  You could do all that without losing your biggest selling points as a anti-commercial, non-profit entity for universities by universities.  Instead, now, you are essentially stating: we are just another for-profit with a severely handicapped, incomplete product suite.

The Kuali Community can thank their lucky stars and a deeply involved passionate community for the success thus far. The establishment of the Foundation, creating an eco system of Commercial Affiliates and utilizing the skills and passion of those whose tails are on the front line, aka the community at large, has allowed Kuali to create the great software products they have thus far.  Many stories document that even though the availability of open source software has greatly increased, success stories such as Linux, Apache and hopefully Kuali, are the exception rather than the rule.

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