Category: open source


  • Kuali Days 2016? Why Bother

    Solitary woman in a theatre
    Kuali’s formula after their for-profit direction is more problematic than that of a commercial vendor such as Ellucian, because Ellucian never asked for membership or “project contribution”  money to develop software with the intention of selling the result back to you as SaaS products.

    In my last Kuali related blog; “The Numbers Don’t Lie”, I wrote about how the Kuali’s net assets dropped by an alarming 61%; or in non-profit terms….they lost $15 million of the members’ money. I also wrote that through mid-2015 the write-offs increased almost 500%!  Basically member departures, non-renewals and no new members led to this and sent a clear message about how the for-profit direction changed everything for many institutions.  
    When you look back a few years, the number of Kuali members before the for-profit Kualico/Kuali Inc. was 86.  Now it is just a little over 20!  If you exclude the institutions whose members are the Kuali foundation directors, there are 10.   Those institutions represented by the foundation board members seem stuck as they try show that there are still some members sticking around; some of them probably reluctantly.  Of course many of the biggest cash sources and important members have departed and yet they are still listed as partners on kuali.org.  
    What about the upcoming Kuali Days 2016? The homepage for the conference features a prominent countdown clock, but what is really going to happen when it reaches zero? Does it look similar to the picture below?

    Solitary woman in a theatre
    Single woman sitting lonely in an empty cinema or theatre

    What I would like to touch on first is that the power of events like these lies not in the speeches, or the workshops, but in the mere achievement of bringing people together.  Like a positive feedback loop, the more people that attend, the better the event becomes, just by the nature of each attendee offering something new and unique. Kuali recognizes this, but their feedback loop has moved in the wrong direction, and that is likely why their slogan for this year is “Be different. Together.”  A very compelling theme, or at least it would be if it weren’t so similar to  Android’s recent ad campaign.  Even as moving as it sounds, it appears to go completely against what the Kuali community has been doing for the past two years.  They state on their website:
    “Celebrate the power and potential of the extraordinarily innovative Kuali community – the foundation, company, members, customers, and interested newcomers at Kuali Days 2016. The conference reinforces the Kuali attitude of daring to be different, encouraging and depending on the ideas, opinions, and shared experiences of the greater community. Be different. Together.”
    First of all they confirm what I have been blogging about Kuali and how the for-profit direction changed everything.  Notice that in the order of the words, “company” meaning Kuali, Inc.; the for-profit software company, appears upfront.  If you say their slogan out loud, you can even hear a faint cry for reconciliation in those words, hoping that things could go back to the way it used to be before everything went so awry.  I also find it rather ironic that Kuali decided back in 2014 that the community itself wasn’t sufficient and that KualiCo would take them to the next level; however it certainly appears they are clearly struggling in their ability to perform and they now want to “Celebrate the power and potential of the extraordinarily innovative Kuali community” once again.  This new ‘daring to be different’ mentality is practically laughable when you consider the unwritten disclaimer that accompanies it: “*As long as it fits within the plans and is profitable for KualiCo.”  I simply don’t like the mixing of the community and the for-profit company.  Apparently, many institutions feel this way, as the number of members went from 86 to little over 20.
    Charging membership and project fees and then turning around and giving that money to a for-profit company has always been my beef in this change.  This happening while Kuali tells their members that they can take the software and run it themselves; this is disingenuous.    Nobody does that nowadays since almost everything is going to the cloud.  
    Back in the days of on-premise, licensed software, a conversation about a value proposition with an institution went something like this:
    Commercial Vendor: We can give you the software with an initial license of $X and charge you 20-30% of $X per year maintenance. You will run our software on your own servers.
    Kuali:   You can download the open source software, free of licensing fees (you will save $X) and we will not charge you any maintenance fees (you will save 20-30% of X).  You can leverage your internal IT team and install the software and run it on your servers.  If you like this concept, optionally you can become a member of the Kuali consortium and pay membership fees which are substantially less than the licensing cost.  If you want to influence the direction of the software, you can pay more in the form of project participation fees.
    Fast forward to today’s profit motivated Kuali in the age of cloud-hosted software:
    Commercial Vendor – We can give you the software in the cloud and charge you implementation fees of $X, then yearly subscription fees of $Y per year.
    Kuali  We can give you the limited version of the software for free and you can run it in house (good luck!).  Or, we can give you the software in the cloud and charge you implementation fees of $X, then yearly subscription fees of $Y per year – an approach identical to commercial vendors.   Oh BTW, this is different than the vendor lock-in we talked about in anger for many years.
    I have begun calling Kuali’s above tactic “crippleware”.   Yes, there is a free version sometimes called freemium, it has some features, but for an organization it is basically useless.  However, because they give away the free crippled version they still try to hang on to the open source mantra.  If you want something that is really usable for your organization you have to pay.  I think I would rather call it what it is…commercial software.  
    Ellucian a few years ago created a community source effort (I believe at the time, it was caused by the enthusiasm for the old Kuali Community) in which you could write code and donate it back to the community and then Ellucian would provide resources to maintain that code. I thought at the time…Hmmmm great we get to do R&D for a publicly traded company and then in some cases get the privilege of paying them for innovative work that we did.  Then came Kuali’s commercialization.   

    Kuali’s formula after their for-profit direction is more problematic than that of a commercial vendor such as Ellucian, because Ellucian never asked for membership or “project contribution”  money to develop software with the intention of selling the result back to you as SaaS products.

    So back to the question “Why would anyone want to be a member of Kuali and go to Kuali Days?  By now, they are practically a closed-source solution and act like any other commercial vendor that is just looking to lock in their client base.  Once again, numbers don’t lie and losing $15 million of member institutions’ money and going from 86 members to little over 20 without some of the most important members is a very ominous sign. My sources tell me that the Foundation staff and board members have been calling H.E. institutions and asking them if they would attend Kuali Days 2016.   I understand they are even calling institutions that are no longer members. I was also told that when they call, they are claiming that there will be over 300 people attending. Let’s do the math: discount the claims a little and say that 300 people attend; a far cry from almost 900 a few years ago; prior to the for-profit direction.  Looking at the attendee lists from the past, Indiana University has always sent over 100 people to these events.  They may send even more to this event to give the illusion that there are actually some people attending.  There are nine other institutions represented by directors on the Kuali foundation board.  Those directors are stuck on a sinking ship and will try to send as many attendees to Kuali Days as possible.  That is another 150 people collectively I would suspect.  We are up to 250.  On the commercial side, Kuali Inc./Kualico will undoubtedly will send as many people as possible, perhaps 20.  After the foundation staff, etc., we are really left with 20 people that are curious; if Kuali is lucky.  Again, this is what happens when you go from a truly open, community software to commercial software essentially funded by the public sector dollars.  
    Kuali’s formula, even though they are commercial now, is asking for membership money to develop software with the intention of selling the result back to you as SaaS products. No responsible institution would do this.
    Anyone who is curious about attending Kuali Days ought to think again.
    Why bother?


  • The Numbers Don’t Lie

    The transition from Kuali to Kualico has been a rough ride for all involved. Out of control and utter failure some might say. The process has eroded the reputation of open source in education and declining memberships and revenues have pushed the once passionate Kuali community to the edge of being just another failed IT venture. Not too long ago we were consistently hearing:

    Not so much anymore. Basically, the software was taken away from the community and the licensing rights were given to KualiCo which imposed the new licensing; AGPL to ensure vendor lock-in. Product destiny is now in the hands of the for-profit KualiCo, rather than the institutions that formerly comprised the Kuali community. Community collaboration took a back seat to efforts to do rent seeking. Also, one of the original products; Kuali Student, was discontinued after the community spent $40 million on it.
    Changing Leadership
    Press releases are normally pretty boring.   However, one recent press release is particularly interesting because it chronicles a certain individual’s change in positions within their organization. In this press release there is no mention of Sakai or Kuali. For most people that would be no big deal. However, it is fascinating this is omitted for this person because as recently as the 2012 NACUBO Annual meeting it seemed pretty important as seen below:

    How can this erasure be considered anything other than a vote of no confidence for a set of tools which consumed over a decade of this person’s professional life?   A 2007 University Business article quotes a line that was used in one form or another for the entire Community Source era of Kuali:

    There is no worry that a parent company is going to abandon the higher education client base for a more lucrative market.

    As we fast forward to the present that is precisely what has occurred with a product called Kuali, then Kualico and now Kuali. Since the August 2014 announcement of a move to a commercial structure called KualiCo or Kuali, Inc. (yes I know it is confusing but this is all by design in desperation) it appears a significant erosion of open source activity in higher education has taken place. Since that time the former longtime chair of the Kuali Foundation has also stepped down from that role and as discussed in the previous text has washed from their past perhaps what as recently as 2014 would have been two major career cornerstones. Brad Wheeler washing Kuali from his past is a big warning sign.
    The Numbers Don’t Lie
    Several weeks ago word on the street was that the Kuali Foundation has cut KualiCo’s research admin. software (called Kuali Research) funding by $60K per month since the KC project is out of money. I am guessing this will mean…something has to go.
    Let’s take a look at some published facts; that is the audited 2015 publicly available financial statements for the Kuali Foundation. I’ve learned that the FDP Conference in DC earlier this year was buzzing with the talk about the Kuali financials.
    The latest Kuali financial statements do provide information on how Kuali Inc. was financed and the flow-through funds that continue. It also shows some of the financial impacts on the foundation itself. For example, all of their investments in CDs were liquidated.
    The notes, as expected, described the Kuali Inc. financing. It was funded by a convertible interest-bearing loan of $1,000,000 from the foundation rather than as equity as we were told. The terms and conditions of the conversion to equity were not provided. The “veto” that the Kuali representative on the Kuali, Inc. board has over the sale or merger appears to be a condition in the convertible note as the auditors describe it. However, the veto right would not be there if the note were to be paid off. If the note converts and the equity percentage it represents is small compared to the majority vote, the veto right would be meaningless as well. I am speculating that the “veto” right is something that was announced to appease the unhappy schools at the time of the commercialization announcement in an effort to use their funds to fund KualiCo and “encourage” the community members to become “customers” of KualiCo.
    In general, the financial statement appears more positive than it should be, due to the way receivables are reported. In both 2014 and 2015 the assets included in-kind contributions projected for the ensuing 3 years. In 2014 project partner dues for the ensuing 3 years was included in the assets, but in 2015 this was increased to 5 years. So the KF is including projected revenue 5 years out and reporting it as current assets. I suppose that’s one way to do things, but it certainly does not give an accurate picture. If anything it makes the picture look better than it actually is.
    Jim Farmer recently updated his previous Kuali financial analysis to include the 2014 – 2015 fiscal year.   There are many interesting items in this report, but the two most striking are shown below:

    Jim rightfully points out that the term “Change in Assets” for a non-profit organization is equivalent to “profit” (or in this case loss) for for-profit organizations.
    Now, about that drop in net assets between 2014 and 2015: in 2014 net assets were $24.4M, and by 2015 they had dropped by an alarming 61% to $9.4M; or in non profit terms….they lost $15 million of the members’ money.
    Here is another fascinating slide from Jim’s analysis:
    kuali trends
    The following account for this:
    The Kuali Foundation took a write-off of $11.7M in 2015 (as a comparison, it took a write-off of $0.6M in 2014). What this is telling us is that during the 12 months of the reporting year $11.7M of the projected receivables became delinquent, and therefore uncollectable, and thus were written off. Partners simply didn’t make their in-kind contributions or pay their dues. The net difference in this category between 2014 and 2015 was $11.1M. Year over year, the write-offs increased almost 500%!
    The audited financials also show a decrease in the fair value of contributions receivable of $3.1M in 2015. In 2014 the change was $2K. Among other unobservable factors the probability of MOU default accounts for the drop in fair value. So, in addition to the write-offs in the paragraph above, the KF is projecting that there will be more receivables that become delinquent in the future due to more partners not making in-kind contributions or paying dues. For 2015 the fair value decreased by $3.1M.
    Taken together these factors account for a decrease in net assets of $14.2M, and account for most of the decrease from $24.4M to $9.4M, a whopping 61%.
    In a couple of recent conversations it was pointed out to me that another slap in the face to those who contributed to the project over the years is the non-acknowledgement in the financials or any other place to in-kind contribution of intellectual property (IP) to Kuali, Inc. Kuali acted as if the IP contribution wasn’t to them, but rather to the community (i.e., all of the Kuali member institutions). So they weren’t getting any sort of asset that had tangible valuable; rather the members were the beneficiaries. Were the project boards tricked into thinking that their codebases were worthless when they voted to transfer them to Kuali, Inc.?
    In previous blogs, I pointed out many red flags about Kuali the non-profit and Kuali the for-profit. I also pointed out that funding and creating the for-profit Kuali, Inc. was a misappropriation of public funds and a violation of the fiduciary duty of the Kuali Foundation’s board of directors. From the very beginning, like many other people, I felt that the move to commercialization was a huge mistake and could not possibly succeed. There have been many attempts to spin things in a positive light by Kuali the non-profit and Kuali the for-profit. However, as one can see that with the latest audited financials posted, the numbers don’t lie.

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  • Austin we have a problem: University of Maryland drops financial support for Kuali Student project

    Austin we have a problem: University of Maryland drops financial support for Kuali Student project

    Some things are too coincidental to be a coincidence.

                                                                               -Yogi Berra

    I received an message the other day which read as follows:

    Given I’m getting blitzed with Kuali Days specials, as I’m sure you are, I’m wondering – Is there any way to get an honest number of attendees?

    I don’t really know much about the attendance (or lack thereof) at Kuali Days 2015  but I thought it a coincidence that shortly after getting that question I also received a message (see below)  and subsequent confirmations which may be the most significant news in the 14ish month transition of the non profit Kuali to the commercial firm KualiCo (which now seems to be calling itself Kuali again).

    The University of Maryland dropped off the Kuali Student project.

    This is in sharp contrast to last years announcement about their $500,000 Kuali Student  investment (see above) and is essentially a “No confidence vote” by the biggest supporter of KualiCo, UMD College Park.  That also means there are no U.S. institutions left as Kuali Student partners (U of Hawaii is listed but is not a full partner in the project).  Although other institutions are listed on the Kuali Student project page, there has been no announcement of those higher education institutions making commitments or writing checks.   Kuali Student Project was the centerpiece of the Kuali to KauliCo transition.
    Given their Kuali Days 2014 commitment to a concept called patient capital in which they would rely on “other people’s money” to finance their start up this has to be a huge blow. I don’t really have time to look at this in depth right now, but I have been communicating with others and expect to have an analysis posted as my academic duties permit, hopefully in the next week.
    In terms of the original question at the beginning … Kuali Days 2015 attendance in Austin Texas?  in 2013 they had 900 attendees.  Last year there were 730 attendees.  Not counting the 30ish KualiCo the large contingent from Indiana University they will be lucky to get less than half of that total.
    If their largest financial contributor, the University of Maryland, for their centerpiece student project is gone and I am right on the conference numbers, the real theme and conversation for the Kuali Days 2015 attendees will likely be:

    Austin we have a problem  

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    October 13, 2015 | Filed under: ERP, Kuali, open source, Software and tagged with: , , , , ,


  • Kuali/ KualiCo Update: One Year and a Cloud of Dust

    The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930s depression-ridden America. When drought struck in the 1930s the arid grasslands which had been broken out for farming no longer had a strong root system as an anchor. The winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called “dusters”, “rollers” or “black blizzards.” Recurring dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands and driving 60 percent of the population from the region.  Dust during the storms cause eyes to burn, housewives hung wet bedsheets over windows and doors to try and keep the dust out, and many people actually died of dust pneumonia. There came a time when people knew another storm, like the one below, was coming and it was just time to pack up and leave.

    I ended my first blog about the Kuali change to a commercial entity a year ago by stating “Buyer Beware” in reference to the change. Not because I don’t think the higher ed market needs more choices in the ERP space, but rather because the process which occured to get from Kuali.org to KualiCo was just sleazy.    A happy community contributing toward a common goal of creating “higher ed software by higher ed” transformed quickly into extreme paralysis.
    With that and my feeling that “Buyer Beware” is still the appropriate approach to the Kualico effort, let’s review some of the things that have happened with the new KualiCo as described by their blog, news page and the Kuali Foundation web site.
    November 2014 – April 2015 …. not much
    April 20, 2015 … new Kuali.Co offices!  HP started in a garage, Apple started in a garage, Google started in a garage. KualiCo started in brand new offices funded with other people’s money. When a startups highlight news is about their grand new offices instead of focusing on product, clients and results, you have to worry.
    April 2015 – June 2015 … Conversations about culture and cloud.
    A June 11, 2015 blog provided an overview of progress on various issues.  One that was interesting to me is the discussion of Rice.  As I recall from various discussions I thought Rice was dead. The October 16, 2104 Kuali 2.0 update states,

    Project dependence on Rice should and likely will start to decrease over time.

    However in the KualiCo post it states,

    Great things are happening with Rice!
    Kuali rice

    Interestingly, I recently was informed that Rice project board stalwarts Cornell, UC Davis and Colorado State University had departed.  This is a far different story than what is listed in the blog above.
    Another portion of that June 2015 blog briefly discusses the student project, which brings us to July 2015. More than once, July 1, 2015 was referenced by Joel Dehlin, the foundation board and other observers as the target date for delivering the first module of the new student system: Curriculum Management.
    Curriculum Management missed its July 1 advertised availability and continues to use the original Kuali Java code with only an improved presentation layer (based on their AACRAO roundtable as reported by anonymous attendees). There were no slides or other published materials available from the roundtable.
    Many people who pushed the pause button indicated that if KualiCo had not delivered Curriculum Management by that date, then KualiCo is “dead”.  As of this post, 24th of August, 2015, there has been no new Curriculum Management module or any other news about it for that matter.  Kualico failed the most important test.  I wonder what University of Maryland executives are thinking now since UMD took a leap of faith and wrote a $500,000 check to KualiCo for the “new” student system.
    Meanwhile, Boston College is moving full speed ahead as they leveraged all the previous work that was done on the $40 million student project that was abandoned by the Kuali Foundation. Boston College is making great progress, as can be seen in this blog by Norm Wright, the software architect on that project.  In that blog, Norm writes:

    First of all Kuali Student has been branded on campus as “EagleApps.” The primary goal is to create a system that will work for BC now and for a long time to come. A secondary goal is to provide a stable platform that other like minded institutions will be able use to implement their own solutions if appropriate.  As such the BC effort continues to identify likely configuration points and when done they will release the source code under an appropriate open source license.

    The comments section of Norm’s  blog indicate that the University of Washington made a similar decision to continue leveraging the original Kuali Student software and not pay attention to KualiCo.  The university announcement indicates:

    This shift, combined with other changes in the SIS vendor marketplace, prompted the UW to defer a decision about entering into a new MoU with KualiCo for Kuali Student development.

    Recycled News
    KualiCo’s most interesting recent news in the continuing Kuali saga is a July 8th press release that was publicized via LinkedIn with the title: “Coastal Carolina University selects Kuali Research as their SaaS grant & research management solution”
    This is the first press release on the Kuali.Co pages of an institution “moving to” KualiCo’s SaaS offering since their formation last year; about eight months ago.  Or so it seems.

    That must mean things are really starting to take off.  The doubters such as myself are finally proven wrong… or are we?   Let’s take a few minutes to compare this press release to some of the language in a June 5, 2014 press release by the Kuali Foundation.

    KualiCo
    Date: July 8,  2015
    https://www.kuali.co/coastal-carolina-university-moves-to-continuous-delivery-with-kuali-research/

    As a primarily undergraduate institution, our research administration staff and resources are limited, but we have worked hard to successfully increase our research volume. Kuali Research provides a single reliable source for proposal, award, and compliance information along with enhanced oversight and visibility. The built-in reports and user-friendly functionality provide our staff more time to spend with faculty. We are pleased with the service, reliability, continuous improvements, and seamless upgrades which allow us to administer our research and compliance duties without downtime or delay,” said Bruxanne E. Hein, Director of Office of Research Services at Coastal Carolina University.

    They also state: “Kuali is the only company that delivers Kuali Research as a SaaS solution”
    Kuali Foundation
    Date:  June 5, 2014
    https://www.kuali.org/news/2014/06/05/coastal-carolina-university-selects-rsmart-cloud-express-grow-research-volume

    As a primarily undergraduate institution, Coastal Carolina has a limited research administration staff and resources but is working hard to increase our research volume. Cloud Express will provide a single reliable source for proposal, award, and compliance information along with enhanced oversight and visibility with built-in reports,” said Bruxanne Hein, Office of Research Services Director.

    If you think they are basically identical, you would be right.  Coastal Carolina University is a customer KualiCo inherited from rSmart over a year ago.  KualiCo seems to be having trouble with their business model. I think KualiCo felt the need to look resilient, so they have resorted to publishing puffery, and recycling old news.
    That’s not all.  Even though the recent announcement made it sound like KualiCo held onto this client and has a long term relationship, the KualiCo press release on their blog about the win came out July 8, 2015 and an RFP was announced August 3, 2015.
    ( “Coastal Carolina University selects…), CCU publicly issued an RFP, seeking a long term contract for Kuali Coeus hosting and support.  Here is the header of the public Request for Proposal issued with vendors’ responses due on 9/8/2015:

    To announce a win while there is an RFP issued by the institution for vendor bids is an effort to mislead in my opinion and raises the question of trustworthiness.  Buyer beware?
    More trickery, smoke and mirrors:
    KualiCo also says in their release that they are the only one to deliver Kuali Research as a SaaS solution.  I bet that is true since they are the only one with a product named “Kuali Research”  Frankly the press release of a win for an RFP that is about to be issued is very peculiar and the verbal gymnastics used to state that they are the only one with a product called Kuali Research as a SaaS solution is pretty funny as well.   Any time you see “We’re the only… “ you can pretty much assume there is some marketing trickery afoot.
    We were told at Kuali Days 2014 that adding clients was absolutely necessary to make the creation of a commercial company successful.  It seems they are recycling news to make it appear something is happening.  All these signs put an even greater amount of doubt over the viability of KualiCo in the long term.
    What about the Kuali Commercial Affiliate KCA support ecosystem?  The List of KCA’s has gone from 10 to 2 (Not counting EBSCO) Polus and Open Collab per my sources indicate did not renew but they are still listed as KCA’s.   It is again disingenuous for the Foundation to leave their name up to make it appear to the casual observer that Kuali Commercial Affiliates did not sever their affiliation with the Kuali Foundation. Although some might say this is just an oversight, but based on other factors we have seen this past year it appears to be a pattern.  It also appears from adoption announcements onlinkedIn and other sources that colleges and universities are getting quality Kuali support without the affiliation with the the Kuali Foundation.
    Need (in)Patient Capital?
    Here is the highlight of the “patient capital” strategy from the Kuali foundation:

    The commercial entity is being structured in a way that enables some of the very good things that commercial entities can empower when financed by patient capital rather than beholden to quarterly returns of unaffiliated owners.

    KualiCo recently announced a new board member, Darren Wesseman and highlighted his fundraising experience.   First of all, so much for “patient capital” if fundraising experience is now important.  Since universities have been reluctant to provide funding to KualiCo, it seems that they may now be willing to go a different direction to finance development.  But, let’s examine the pattern here.  rSmart now makes up a good part of KualiCo and Chris Coppola, the COO of KualiCo and the ex-CEO of rSmart proudly posted the news about Wesseman on LinkedIn and other venues.  Let’s examine how rSmart previously convinced investors to provide funds and what happened:
    Private Investment of $2 million in Aug 2006
    Private Investment of $3 million in Dec 2008
    Private Investment of $8.5 million in Sept 2011
    Last Round $10.75 million in August, 2012
    Basically, rSmart burned through more than $24 million of investors’ money prior to selling assets to two companies in October 2014.  Once again, let the buyer beware!
    Where are the disclosures, resolutions, and explanations?

    • There are indications Kuali and KualiCo have not provided (and actually refused to provide) any evidence that there is not a special arrangement with the designated Kuali Foundation director. Also, what would prevent KualiCo–after giving stock to Joel and other employees–from “out voting” any Kuali Foundation input and cancelling their agreement with the Kuali Foundation?
    • I do not recall any Kuali Foundation Board resolution providing the name of the permanent Kuali Foundation Director on KualiCo’s board (where is that KualiCo Press Release?)
    • The Kuali Foundation’s director on the KualiCo board should have reported back on the Foundation’s investment and KualiCo stock grants. The disclosures should have been made by the Foundation’s Director on the KualiCo board to the Kuali foundation board and the community.
    • How did the nonprofit Kuali transfer the licensing rights to the for profit KualiCo? KualiCo is not a wholly owned subsidiary of Kuali.  The foundation was supposed to be the steward of the community and public money and respect its fiduciary responsibilities. KualiCo now imposes AGPL licensing on previously ECL licensed software to achieve vendor lock-in.  This is a big one.

    Just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s more!
    KualiCo apparently has now changed its name to “Kuali,”   a move that will only further demand an answer to the question of whether the historic non-profit Kuali is playing clandestine corporate gymnastics to benefit from commercial profit while continuing to enjoy its tax-free status under the IRS Code.  It’s no secret that the result of the for-profit designation “Co,” appended to “Kuali,” resulted in a significant amount of anger on the part of the Kuali members, who were not thrilled that their dues were used to fund a for-profit start-up and purchase part of the for-profit rSmart – all this with little input or approval, and without any resultant equity interest in KualiCo.
    I think colleges and universities are smarter than that and are starting to lose faith in the Kuali foundation and the way it forced commercialization with KualiCo.   So where do we stand one year later?  In the middle of a dust storm.  We should know and see more, but we really don’t know. What you can see is KualiCo’s attempt to monetize Kuali software and community as well as their utter failure at so many levels all the while moving away from community and the spirit of openness.
    When the dirt is blowing in the middle of a dust storm and you can’t see clearly you really need to wait until the storm is over before beginning to clean up the mess the storm brought upon you.  This storm is still picking up speed. Just like the “Okies” packed and headed for California during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s  it may be time to pack up, leave and re-group in a better place.
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    August 31, 2015 | Filed under: ERP, Kuali, open source, Uncategorized and tagged with: , , , , ,
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  • The Little Moodle Moot that Could: Mountain Moot 2015

    I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think can

    – The Little Engine

    NOTE:  Wow I am slow getting this out.  Too many projects.  Hope it is still useful.  Here it goes…
    As best as I can tell, a Mootineer is one who helps run the Mountain Moodle Moot. Our good friend Dan Case, the organizer and Lead Mootineer, has done an amazingly creative job of turning $650 in seed money into a destination Moot event for Moodlers.  I don’t think Dan was quite sure he could pull off a Moodle Moot when that $650 showed up at his door, (see image below)  but as in many other cases when a passionate individual and a plan come together, you often get amazing results in spite of circumstance.  Dan and the Carroll College crew have truly created a community based event that allows Moodlers in attendance to refill their Moodle buckets and enjoy the heart and character of Montana in just a few fun filled days.
    650 dollars to do a conference seriously
    I believe this was a destination Moodle event even before Chief Moodler Martin Dougiamas, decided to show up for the 2015 Mountain Moot.  That is a key point for this post and probably the main reason I decided to show up for this year’s moot.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the Mountain Moot each year I have attended and I have always learned a lot.  Although I have been deeply engaged in Moodle deployments since 2004 I am not as engaged at my current institution as deeply I have been in the past. I do have other open projects in the Asterisk/ Digium phone world going, but Moodle is no longer my institutional baby.
    Because of this, I really considered staying home and focusing on other issues.  The second issue in my consideration of not showing up was related to a conversation I overheard in which one person said this has been…

    The Year of Fake Open Source in Higher Education

    I do agree that  this past year has not been good for open software in education.
    I have written a series of blogs about a drastic change in higher education which occurred last August which stresses the very fiber of openness and transparency in educational software.  Much of the argument about this change relates to the shift in licensing from a GPL to a AGPL model in a higher ed ERP software called Kuali, but the reality is the arguments often revolve around the details of the change, not the spirit of open source.  The spirit of open source is the underlying issue. Dr Chuck Severances’ work explains the the GPL vs AGPL issue better than any other and he states,
    Instead of hating corporations for being clever and maximizing revenue – we members of open source communities must simply be mindful of being led down the wrong path when it comes to software licensing.
    Although it is imperative we continue to attend events such as the Mountain Moodlemoot to learn how to teach and serve students better, but I would suggest that we ALL dive a little deeper to understand how deeply a change in licensing of a particular software or the choice of licensing up front impacts true openness, transparency, and sharing. The conversation should also cover the establishment and enormous success of Instructure and their constant reminder that they too are open source.    I feel compelled to comment on this further because I believe Moodle’s new path is directly influenced by this enormous success Instructure has had with the Canvas LMS.   Moodle uses a truly open GPL license while Canvas uses the AGPL3 license.  People not familiar with various forms of open source often fall prey to the marketing machine that is Instructure.  It’s not that they offer a terrible product.  Quite the opposite.
    My series of blogs mentioned above references a situation where there was  a change licensing, terrible communication, as well as what is perceived by many as apparent deception.  Even more documentation chronicling these issues is found here.  Frankly, the whole thing has gotten me a little down on open software in education.  
    The beginning of the conference didn’t help my mood.  It was a bit frightening to me as I learned about the new Moodle Association and its tiered membership model.  Although I now have high hopes for this new path, when I first heard this concept, visions of Sakai,  Kauli, and Unizin danced in my head while the motto “He who Provides the gold makes the Rules”  flashed before my eyes.  Was this another strike against the little guy?  Had the open world and transparent world of Moodle been pulled to the dark side?  Is it time to go buy that shiny pizza truck I have had my eye on?  I wasn’t sure what to think.  (NOTE: Sakai & Kauli are higher education projects started with open source ideals that failed their initial promise.  Unizin is a higher education project the charges a significant entry fee in exchange for…. essentially nothing.)  
    I have used this content previously but I think it important to occasionally offer a reminder of the importance of community in a project such as Moodle.  Years ago, I watched a talk that Dr. Jason Cole did at the  Alaska Society for Technology in Education ASTE 2009.  He described a community which brought a variety of skills together to achieve a common purpose as described by Yochai Benkler’s Commons Based Peer Production model.  He said, “With a big enough network of people, we can self Identify and allocate ourselves to the areas where we can add value to a given project.” Benkler says the Peer Production advantage over the Industrial Model is in identifying the best available human capital and using it collaboratively to highly refine and increase production.  With Chief Moodler, Martin Dougiamas steering the ship, Moodle has done this pretty well.  I was working for a broke little college which didn’t have two nickels to rub together when Moodle came along as a viable option for an LMS.   
    However, as the LMS market has changed it appears only Instructure Canvas has grown widely in past couple of years.  Phil Hill tells us that Moodle gained no schools with an enrollment  >2000 in 2013 and 2014.   Although other sources tell me this is not quite true as they have personally been involved in site adoptions during this timeframe the point that Canvas has drastically changed the LMS landscape is spot on.  With innovation being critical as projects such as Moodle move forward, we have begun to hear cries that we must speed up development.  I suspect this is at least in part a direct result of the Canvas influence on the marketplace.  Moodle’s answer to speeding up development is the the Moodle Association.  I voiced my concerns to Martin about the path Kuali chose in moving from a community based model to a commercial-source entity and he assured me that core was safe.
    martin tweet for twitter gameThis conference had Moodle Founder Martin Dougiamas giving a little different keynote than the other times I have heard him speak.  During the keynote this was re-emphasized.  One of his first statements in the opening keynote,

    We are not selling out, going commercial, or accepting venture capital

    martin dougiamas keynote
    As he continued he described the plan which essentially is:

    • The Moodle Association will focus on and speed up additional development. Memberships will fund new developers to create this new development based on the priorities set by the Moodle Association Committee (NOTE: Since this post is a little too long I will have more commentary on the Moodle Association tomorrow)
    • Moodle Core development will remain the same as proceeds from the worldwide network of Moodle Partners will continue to fund development and oversight.  

    Getting Moodle Out of the Way
    I was talking with one of my Casper College colleagues, Michael Deal, this morning and he mentioned the power of  Martin’s comment about getting Moodle out of the way of learning.  We all have projects which are particularly special to each of us.  Moodle is Martin’s baby, so when he starts talking about getting his own baby out of the way of learning I think you should pay attention.  In the slide prior to the one shown below  there was a similar slide except it had Moodle in the middle of all these components (No I didn’t get a shot of that one).  Essentially he stated we have to get to the point where even though Moodle is in the middle of all the parts, it is not in the way.

    Other Conference Stuff
    My favorite Martin quotes from the Keynote

      1. Open brings privacy
      1. We won’t want to get to a situation where we can’t change our mind
    1. We always need the open option

    TwitterPalooza
    One of the key things Casper College has been able to bring to the Mountain Moodle Moot is support for the conference social media game.  Each of the last 3 years we have brought our Social Media Specialist, Justin Pehrson, to help get people up and going with social media, specifically Twitter.  The key role of the games the past 3 years has been to provide another tool for conference participants to connect with other Moodlers.  The feedback I have gotten is that it has worked.  Here is a comparison of Twitter Activity 2013 -2015.   
    mountain moodle moot twitter activity
    Why the significant decrease 2014 to 2015?  I think there was more purposeful tweeting.  Last year several participants were simply retweeting everything in sight to increase their ranking for some of the games.  I think overall numbers have retweeted….I mean retreated because people are tweeting closer to my core recommendations in my post “10 Reasons to Tweet at a Conference”  People were sharing and networking like crazy via Twitter. We have tweak the game each year, but the core of the original game was my creation so I am pleased
    Other looks at the Mountain Moot Twitter Activity:
    mountain moodle moot twitter activity update
    Top Retweets
    most retweets 1
    July 14, 2015
    most retweets 2
    July 15, 2015
    Here are the Rules of Engagement for the 2015 Mountain MoodleMoot  if you have not seen them.


    Live Streaming Video
    Justin Pehrson also provided video streaming of many of the sessions from the moot, including Martin’s incognito presentation.  They are archived and available for viewing at  http://www.ustream.tv/channel/mountain-moodle-moot
    martins keynote on video
    Moodle Cloud
    If you haven’t heard of the MoodleCloud, it is a new service which provides teachers a free hosted Moodle instance to help them not have to worry about the logistics of setting up servers and installing Learning Management System software.  It will provide:

      • A full (always current) Moodle version
      • Unlimited database size
      • 50 users
      • 200 Mb Disk Space

    announcement of the moodle cloud
    The Closing Panel
    What a privilege to sit on a panel at the 2015 Moodle Moot in Helena, Montana with Jonathan and Michelle Moore, Gavin Hendrick and Moodle Founder and Lead Developer Martin Dougiamas. (Notice the “wee acorn” amongst the giant Moodle Oaks getting a pic from his position in the panel cheap seats of the educational rock stars on the panel)   

    moodle panel view 1 moodle panel view 2
    moodle panel view 3


    Other Bits and Pieces

    My presentation “Looking Back at the Future of Moodle”  was a lot of fun.  Looking back at the Future of Moodle,  shows us what Moodlers such as Michael Penney, Jason Cole, Michelle Moore,  and D.I. Von Briesen were thinking in 2006. This was filmed at the first Oklahoma Moodle Moot held at Quartz Mountain Lodge near Altus Oklahoma.  My old Moodling buddy Scott Charlson shot the video and provided the footage for the presentation.  
    The family got to meet the Moodle Guy I have been talking about all these years.   Some of my former Western Oklahoma State compadres such as Melissa Smith , Lynn Null and Susan Childs will appreciate this more than others.
    Last but not least was my Petcha Kutcha 20×20 presentation (See image below)  6min40second Broomcorn Strong presentation which was a 1st run of the presentation “Dirt & Brooms” I am moderating at my hometown County Fair in a couple weeks.  By the way, I didn’t make the time limit.  I came in at 6min 43 seconds.
    Kent Brooks Petcha Kutcha
    Summary
    From its humble beginnings nearly 15 years ago there are now over 46,000 registered Moodle sites, over 119 million enrollments, and 56 million users in 214 countries.  Martin is still the nicest most humble man who is truly dedicated to helping teachers have access to open and free resources to do their job better. If there is a true reason the new format might work…it is probably the preceding sentence more than the other gibberish I wrote above.  Great little moot and a great Mountain Moodle Moot Community. This is definitely a small but mighty Moodle Moot … sounds alot like the little train that could.  Kudos to Dan, Ryan and the Mootineers for another great learning experience.


  • Rent Seeking and the Demise of a Sharing Culture

    The classic example of rent-seeking is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee (or rent of the section of the river for a few minutes) to lower the chain. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is helping nobody in any way, directly or indirectly, except himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free.


    Robert Shiller


    A recent post on the OSS Watch Team Blog by Jim Farmer, “Open Source Software Licensing Trends”, points out that AGPL makes up less than 1% of the open source licenses out there and the trend is to become more open, not less.   This got me to thinking more about this progression over the past 35 years, my recent posts about Kuali, and how higher education’s knowledge sharing culture is adapting and changing.  Farmer writes,

    Higher education has traditionally been a knowledge “sharing” environment. Early software was exchanged without license and, in practice, without restrictions. As the monetization of intellectual property, including software, becomes pervasive more restrictive software licenses have been introduced and enforced. These licenses impose legal duties of the user of “open source software” that could be unexpected and have undesirable consequences.

    In the Kuali situation, the Kuali foundation board basically shifted the projects’ development activity to the for-profit KualiCo and imposed the AGPL license.  However, it is the same goods, just different packaging.   So the question with the change from Kuali to KualiCo is…Does it add value or rather is it designed to seek a way to charge for something that was previously free.
    While reading and wrestling with the sharing and productivity question, I  stumbled upon the term “rent-seeking”.  What a revelation this was in my personal conflict about what is productive and what is not!    I never really had a word or phrase to describe this increasing reliance in our society on required unproductive activities, but my discovery of  Joseph Stiglitz’s  “The Price of Inequality”  provides a great discussion of this topic. Thank goodness for Nobel laureate authors.
    The “Price of Inequality”  is essentially an attempt to change the debate about an unequal  two-tiered society.  He suggests that inequality violates moral values, and in a money-driven political system the most influential are granted excessive power.  Those with the power use it to protect themselves from competitive forces by winning favorable tax treatment, ­protected market share and other forms of what economists call “rent-seeking.”
    At Educause 2014, “the father of Kuali” Barry Walsh stated for Inside Higher Ed, in reference to the change from GPL to AGPL licensing,

    I’ll be blunt here, it’s a commercial protection  —  that’s all it is.

    Seems this statement could almost be part of the rent-seeking definition. For whom is commercial protection provided?….that would be KualiCo.
    To make matters worse, just like in a typical rent seeking scenario, it became obvious early on to many that KualiCo was really formed way before the community meetings took place and “friends” secured their places in the new rent-seeking, river chain collector positions either directly or via “acquisitions” with no RFPs, community involvement, due diligence, or disclosures whatsoever.
    With the ownership of the licensing transferred into the hands of KualiCo,  Shiller’s example of the feudal lord at the beginning of this blog post is personified with the change from Kuali to KualiCo. It is is very discouraging for those who need a way to make administrative computing software affordable without vendor lock-in.
    ”Is this change to KualiCo productive and will Kuali be better than it was before?”  Will institutions like mine benefit from this change?
    There are many signs of intense desire to do rent-seeking in the Kuali to Kualico situation.  My blog readers have pointed out several examples that have rent-seeking characteristics, including the new contribution model for the member institutions:
    Every institution that is submitting a contribution has to now provide specs, documentation, technical resources, and fix bugs caused by their contribution during testing. Additionally, functional resources will provide said specs, and also provide help testing.
    This is quite a lot of work for an institution that still pays fees, and now also must donate code and functional/technical resources to contribute to a product such as KFS.
    What a great way for KualiCo to get a free staff of workers to help better their KualiCo cloud offerings. Big institutions may be too slow to change and adopt a whole new version with the contribution. If another school wants that one contribution, they’ll incorporate it in their next upgrade (long term) or get it from the institution directly (short term). So in my opinion it seems it really mainly benefits the KualiCo cloud initiative since they probably are pushing for vanilla hosted products. In either event, they’re asking a lot of institutions who pay their dues and do all that extra work … and for what benefit?
    Another example of which I have been told is a shift from Kuali’s open JIRA system to KualiCo’s private JIRA system.  They essentially created a new system and have been using it to manage the important work there without oversight by the community. As a result, JIRA references in the Kuali Foundation’s KC release notes now point to the private JIRA tasks maintained by KualiCo, making them inaccessible to regular community members.  Individual institutions have been relying on the information in JIRA to support themselves. With that resource no longer available, they have become less self-sufficient and more likely to have to rely on paid support from KualiCo.
    I have stated my dislike for the gated community of Kuali and the change to KualliCo does nothing but reinforce the gate. A stated need to speed up development time to create a complete open source administrative software suite and a reliance on rent-seeking in the form of vendor lock-in by KualiCo  are very conflicted objectives.
    The Kuali Foundation board installed a chain across a river that flows through their land and then created a collector, KualiCo, to charge passing boats a fee.
    It is my observation that universities challenged by KualiCo have savvy river boat captains navigating the best course for their institutions. Many institutions together will likely dig a canal to divert the river so that they can bypass the rent seeking Kuali foundation free of tolls and have the river benefit the downstream universities in an open and fair way.

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  • Kuali Questions Continue at Educause

    It’s been a little over a month since the Kuali Foundation announced the formation of a for-profit Kuali entity. My reflection upon all the conversation flying about regarding the new Kuali commercial company was renewed this past week during Educause 2014.   Educause is the premier higher education technology conference held every fall and conversations during this event have just got me to thinking.
    Prior to living and working in Wyoming I lived in Oklahoma for more than a decade.  Living in Oklahoma for such a long time gives you a chance on occasion to encounter a tornado.  People were always commenting on how they couldn’t live there as tornados would terrify them.  My response was always,  

    When it’s storming you just sleep with your shoes by the bed.  

    The general meaning is that one should be ready no matter what happens.  Because we have made a small deployment of Kuali Coeus for our grants office we were set to participate further with the community and write a check to allow my institution to become a member of the foundation. With recent changes I am not sure which path we will take, but I want to be ready…no matter what happens.  Let’s start today’s conversation with an oft-stated tenet of community source and thus the Kauli World

    If you bring the gold then you make the rules.

    I guess I had drunk the Kool-Aid about “those who bring the gold make the rules” in spite of the fact that I never really believed that this community could call itself open source.  Inviting, cordial, brilliant and dedicated….but I mean who ever heard of an open source community you had to pay to be a part of.
    At any rate, I lived happily in Tornado Alley literally and in a professional sense for a small rural broke institution for the better part of my professional life.  Professionally as budgetary storms came and went I stuck my toe in open source waters almost a decade ago. My observation in general about open source is that works and it is a game changer if an institution is willing to commit to that path when it makes sense.
    After some real success with open technology I essentially jumped all in, Moodle for LMS, The Digium distribution of Asterisk for phones, Linux here and there.  I even had the privilege of building and piloting an introductory computer course in which we used Open Office as the primary software tool and gave away a free open textbook. What a glorious delight it was to give the book away.  I am so pleased to see many OER projects working to keep student costs down.  I don’t recall regretting any of those decisions. Planning, communication, hard work, professional networking and a little luck have all been key in making sure those decisions worked out.
    After years of observation, I recently stuck my toe in the Kuali water and had begun to think about ways to jump all the way to improve on the nightmare that is commercial ERP software.  A conversion of administrative software in my estimation is the most difficult conversion of all if you can even get past institutional or consortial politics if you are dealing with multiple institutions.
    I have stated reasons for this line of thinking before but will enumerate those again below:

    1.    The overall ERP marketplace for higher education 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)

    With all that said, back to Kuali.  The plethora of blogs, articles, social media comments and most recently reported interaction at the 2014 Educause conference show a gap between what the Kuali Board and Foundation have communicated and what people perceive to be happening.  Yes ladies and gentlemen  I believe we have a Kuali Communications Chasm.
    Kuali has spent its entire existence denouncing the methods and motives of commercial administrative software and there is much discussion about the community meetings this summer.    Even if the summer meetings were the birthplace of all these changes  it is hard to believe that more communication was not done in preparation for such a drastic departure from the community mantra which essentially has been “commercial software is evil” This has been touted from day one of the announcement of the Kuali Commercial Software in 2004  If you go back and review the various versions of Kuali 101 available on Youtube this is obvious.
    As so aptly pointed out by Phil Hill in his post of August 25, 2014, it is hard to accept Kuali’s position that formation of Kuali.co was based upon the two Kuali community meetings in June and July.   So why is the broader community and those wishing to become part of the broader community so inquisitive?   I would tend to suggest it has a lot to do with the direction the funding many of Kuali community partners have provided,  the radical and rushed departure from what has been meandering communication from the board.   
    Pat Burns who is CIO at Colorado State is a wonderfully likable fellow who has more than once generously offered to host a Wyoming contingent to demonstrate their amazing success in deploying Kuali tools.  He wrote a post kuali.org last week: “The Fifth ‘S’ – Strategy” where he states
    “Now is the time to form the best KualiCo we can, hire the best person to lead that company that we can, trust them to work out the details, and GO!”
    A total transformation of a community effort without an extensive communication plan and business plan is not a strategy.  As thorough as the planning, documentation and record keeping were for the .org  it seems out of character to jump into this other venture without some significant planning and at least the appearance of a business plan.
    Listening to various conversations it seems the plan is in the works but the multitude of conversations it certainly not settled.  As the new Kauli.co CEO Joel Dehlin indicated during the Educasue CIO session.  The commercial entity is not even a legal entity yet because of a few technical details.
    As big a fan as I have been of Kuali  I am not surprised that many are skeptical about such an intelligent and inventive group not understanding that a comprehensive business plan and “patient communication” would be required to keep the community intact during such an extraordinary about-face in the overall philosophy of the project.   
    The question of the initial source of reserves to be used as funding for Kualico is addressed as Brad clearly states that “The Foundation will provide initial capital investment for the company out of its reserves.”  Clear enough.  That is, until you ask what is the revenue source for the Foundation’s reserves?  Is it not the financial contributions of the Kuali members, namely the partner colleges and universities?  Current reserves come from the membership dues paid.  Such financial contributions entitle the universities to exercise influence over the Kuali’s organization and products. If those who paid the gold to make the rules didn’t really get to make the rules then why would anyone in the future trust that their investment would really buy input into the project.  I don’t think my other institution would be opposed to investing if truly we would get input equity.  However, the events of the last month or so create a chasm the reality of what is happening and the perception of what is happening. If it is true perception is reality then Kuali as a community has a problem.
    A statement in the exchange of comments from an October 2, 2014 Inside Higher Education article sums up the feeling of many.
    “I certainly understand the need to adjust models as the market progresses. But the Kuali Foundation raised funds as a non-profit with a stated goal of building a community. Now those funds are being used to (a) fund a KualiCo and (b) “encourage” the community members to become “customers” of KualiCo. If Kuali Foundation refunded membership dues, had no equity in KualiCo and allowed KuaiCo to do all of the talking https://blog.kuali.org/week-5-… about the new enterprise then I would be completely unconcerned and very supportive. But as structured, it seems like a hasty misappropriation of non-profit funds and fiduciary conflict-of-interest for those board members who are voting to spend non-profit funds to invest in a for-profit company and then marketing that company to its own members.”
    As I reviewed again Brad Wheeler’s blog post of August 22, 2014 in which he answered FAQs about the new for-profit company, there are a number of statements I still wonder about.
    The term patient capital is a curious one light of the stated desire to accelerate development.  The memberships and project contributions of this community over the first 10 years of the project have always been the real patient capital.    The Kuali Community has always been all about patient capital and has been supported by patient capital.  So to say there is going to be a reliance on patient capital to support accelerated development in the commercial wing creates a bit of disjoint at best.   It might even be possible that erosion of the goodwill of the existing community and skepticism of the advantages of future memberships actually defeats the intended goal of accelerating development.  
    Since Kuali.com is being established by using monies contributed by the partners, it seems reasonable the investing partners will exercise influence over the evolving organization and functional/technical priories of the .com.  I worry about this from my observation of the Ellucian Community Source Initiative. In my experience community and for-profit don’t march smoothly hand in hand Essentially what happens with the Ellucian Community Source initiative is that some Ellucian clients do work, contributed it back to the “community” for Ellucian to maintain and Ellucian then has one more tool which they can turn into billable hours for their clients…er I mean their community.  
    So if I approve the writing of the check to become a member and contribute something significant is my reward ultimately having to pay to access that significant contribution from Kualico.   I do not want to write a check and not have the fundamental right influence the project.  The bigger issue here for me isn’t the money and my little pittance of a membership due would be insignificant in the whole picture.   The issue is that what I would have written a check for on July 1 is fundamentally different than what I would have gotten for that investment following the August announcement.  For more than a few of the long term big dollar investors I would think this would be a scalable problem.    


  • Do you want to party with your ERP like it’s 1998?

    I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if I go astray

    -Prince

    On January 20, 1998 I was sitting in an auditorium at Oklahoma City Community College (OKCCC) mulling over a brand new ERP system for higher education.
    oklahoma regents present buzzeo
    I’ve thought about that meeting several times over the years and thought it might be helpful to share the story surrounding that experience from many years ago. It greatly influences some of my thinking on the overall issue of ERP products in higher education. Much like when we were worried about Y2K, I think we will be facing major challenges with our higher education administrative systems in 2-5 years if we don’t find better alternatives to our current options. Kuali had been my hope for an overall affordable solution within this 2-5 year time frame, but now I have very serious reservations about its potential to deliver anything viable, much less competitive with other commercial products.
    It is stated in the Kuali Information Update that the Kuali Foundation does not plan to expend any resources on KFS and KC for 3-5 years, and their goal is to get enough funding so that they can undertake a complete re-write of Kuali Student with an initial target of completing the curriculum management module of the next generation SIS by July 2015 (Sounds like an ambitious goal to me.)
    My prediction (might as well go out on a limb) about this stated goal is that they will get a prototype out by that July 2015 date with an even greater need to finance continued development.  This will be reminiscent of what the old Kuali Student project termed the “thin slice,” a module that had very minimal functionality but allowed the project to claim that they had delivered a product.  I do understand that newer technology and development tools accelerate development, but in spite of that unforeseen complexities always seem to challenge rollout deadlines. At that point, the marketing of an incomplete product will rise to a fever pitch. If this is what happens it will not be dissimilar to an experience I had in 1998, which is…the rest of the story (Cool, I finally got to use a Paul Harvey line).  
    In the 1990’s a company called Buzzeo attempted to change the college and university ERP landscape with a next generation Java-Enabled web-based administrative computing system called Buzzeo.  
    Buzzeo is futureproof technology
    Buzzeo’s proposed software included all the standard tools.  It may be interesting for some to review the entire proposed offering, but I have included for reference their proposed student system which they called the SISLogix Student Information System.  It offered:

    • The first client/server, rules-based student system
    • Combined traditional student information functions with a set of Student Involvement Tools to help institutions measure and improve their effectiveness.
    • Student access to SISLogix to check their grades,
    • The ability to review course syllabi,
    • The ability to receive assignments,
    • The ability to schedule meetings
    • The ability to perform a host of other activities from a variety of access points, including the World Wide Web (Sounds like pre-SaaS to me)

    Pretty cool stuff given it was 1998. We were emphasizing the term web-based at that time rather than using the trendy term of today: “cloud”. You will see “web” terminology all through the links and resource documents provided in this post.  
    Conceptually the product was very appealing, as it offered the potential of making an institution’s critical administrative functions accessible to students through the web.  Oklahoma City Community College (OKCCC) began the process of moving to a new administrative computing system and committed around a million bucks to deploying this exciting new technology. I was working in the Oklahoma system at the time and our state regents for higher education looked pretty hard at this potential product based on initial evaluations done by OKCCC.  The 1998 presentation of the proposed Buzzeo solution, mentioned in the beginning of this post, was conceptually the coolest thing I had ever seen. They were the first ERP vendor to propose utilizing the browser to access the system. This could be considered a precursor to a modern SaaS/Cloud solution.
    I ended up being thankful my president didn’t sign up in spite of significant pressure from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.  As documented here 8 of 26 Oklahoma institutions as well as many others nationwide signed contracts with Buzzeo. OKCCC’s million dollar expenditure and the smaller institutions which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Buzzeo dream were impacted by litigation for several years. I remember the human toll of colleagues who lost their jobs because they believed they were buying software rather than just financing development.
    Yes, Buzzeo…as it turned out it was what we called at the time “Vaporware”.  They were aggressively attempting to get more schools to sign up to fund development (For those of you who have been involved with Kuali, sound familiar?)  We didn’t really know it at the time with Buzzeo, but it was imperative that more schools sign up to continue funding the development of a product that was far from complete. Several articles are available at the end of this post which document the buzz and the problems surrounding Buzzeo.
    A July 2001 Honolulu Star article, Chasing Buzzeo further documents how the Oklahoma institutions and the University of Hawaii wasted millions of dollars in the quest for this next generation ERP software.
    Interestingly, University of Hawaii President David Lassner, who was CIO in charge of pursuing the Buzzeo initiative, is still being chased by Buzzeo as documented here and here. The Hawaii Free Press article offers other food for thought for those considering a move to a KualiCo platform. In the 1990’s U of H, under the leadership of Lassner, committed millions of U of Hawaii dollars on a product that was under development. The decisions made in the 1990’s were called into question then and more recently as he moved into the presidency[k1] .  I have never met David Lassner but when I started digging into this story, I also found out that he has had long term connections to Kuali and has been serving on the Kuali foundation board for many years.
    Just like Buzzeo needed to keep signing up schools to keep funding their product, Kuali/KualiCo needs large institutions such as the University of Maryland to commit $500,000 chunks of patient public capital in addition to human resources which will essentially help fund this startup and underwrite the development of the all new KualiCo Student.  You may be thinking “How can a public institution do this?”.  I discovered at the Kuali Days 2014 conference that the funds are committed to the Kuali Foundation and the foundation turns around and gives the money to KualiCo.  This little act of financial gymnastics apparently legitimizes this approach to using public money to fund a private, for-profit startup company – at least in the minds of those involved.
    Although we were duped into thinking Buzzeo actually had a product I can’t help but think how similar the pitch is for adding partners for the development of KualiCo.  KualiCo does not claim to have a product, not even a prototype. They only offer a promise.
    Maybe the most interesting thing we are seeing with KualiCo is they don’t deny that you are buying a membership and that you are not buying software; rather you are investing in an idea for development of projects such as the complete re-write of Kuali Student. Back in the old days we would have called that “Vaporware”.
    Buzzeo described their software as “futureproof” technologies. In those days the buzz word was “future proof” while at Kuali Days we heard over and over about modern software stacks to build “awesome software”. I hope KualiCo doesn’t end up being Buzzeo 2.0, but it certainly looks as if it is going down in the Buzzeo path. I believe many colleges and universities, even if they are not familiar with what happened with Buzzeo back in 2001, may be very hesitant to fund a Buzzeo-like company with so many red flags, not to mention that the competitive ERP software landscape is even more fierce nowadays.   When I look at the undercapitalized KualiCo development model I cannot help having flashbacks to what I saw with Buzzeo circa 1998.
    I don’t want to party like it’s 1998.
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  • KualiCo, The Kuali Community, and Other People’s Money


    After posting recent blogs on the formation of KualiCo, I have been contacted by many people on both sides of the KualiCo/ Kuali.org discussion.  I think I would rather be in a pair of waders in the North Platte River than wading back into the Kuali conversation of the last couple months, however as mentioned in previous posts I have a small financial stake in a deployment of Kuali KC for the fine folks in our grant department and I have always had great hope for this software community…so here I go again.  
    I spent a good portion of last week at the annual Asterisk Community Conference and had a chance to sit on a panel discussing a deployment of 700ish VoIP phones and the possibilities surrounding deployment of open source Asterisk and/or Digium,the commercially supported open source version of Asterisk in an educational environment.
    In case you’re not familiar with Asterisk it is a software implementation of a telephone private branch exchange (PBX). It was created in 1999 by Mark Spencer of Digium. Like any PBX, it allows attached telephones to make calls to one another, and to connect to other telephone services, such as the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. Its name comes from the asterisk symbol, *.
    Asterisk is released under a dual license model, using the GNU General Public License (GPL) as a free software license and a proprietary software license to permit licensees to distribute proprietary, unpublished system components.  Today, Asterisk is maintained by the combined efforts of Digium and the Asterisk community.  
    I spent some time conversing with several people at Astricon including David Hardy, Digium, Inc. · Director of Business Development,  David Duffet, Asterisk Community Director  and others from the Asterisk community.  Included among the numerous questions I asked during one of the conference luncheons was,

    What would be the impact of a licensing change from GPL to AGPL for Asterisk?  

    Without a pause the first answer tossed on the the table was…

    It would kill the community

    Hmmm…I hadn’t specifically mentioned the Kuali situation up to that point.  I did at that point fill them in on the Kuali transition and why I was asking.
    In previous posts I have voiced mine and others concern over using public money intended to support a community to create a for-profit company.  I actually  have no problem with a for profit company…if that company were created with money from a venture capitalist, a philanthropic foundation, a loan from a friendly banker or even from grandma.  
    I also have no problem with the KualiCo discussion of keeping plans, strategy, etc unavailable (see page 3 of the latest version of the Kuali 2.0 information document) for the same reasons that other for profit companies do….if….if it weren’t my money potentially propelling the formation of that for-profit company.   
    Again, all this is fine if you’re using your grandma’s money to get this thing going but that simply is not the case.  This is about using other people’s money provided in good faith to create a community which is now being used to create a for-profit company.
    Previously a paid membership would provide the benefits shown in the image below retrieved from Kuali.org.
    Kuali Member Benefits
    So let’s continue the conversation about other people’s money.  It should now be fairly obvious to anyone familiar with how membership in the Kuali Foundation works that partner institutions’ membership dues are the primary source of funds the for profit KualiCo, and that specifics related to KualiCo strategy and business plans are not available to those funding institutions.  I guess the new mantra is:

    Those who provide the gold WON’T make the rules

    This alone should have generated a broad, passionate and maybe animated response…..such as the one Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gave us last year immediately following the action packed playoff game with the San Francisco 49er’s.  That response was so animated that in American Culture “Richard Sherman” has become a verb as shown below:

    Richard Sherman (shûrmn), v. To utter or express with extravagance (typically on global television)  extreme displeasure that inspires public discourse on sportsmanship, race, culture, education, psychology and the end, or start, of civilization.

    (NOTE: If you don’t watch professional American football you must watch the video below to have any chance of understanding the info above and this blog post)
     Richard Sherman  video   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjOkTib5eVQ
    So much for the obvious.  What is less obvious, and something I believe no one has yet commented on in a public forum, is another set of funds comes from the support ecosystem, the membership dues of the KCA’s.  This leads me to one of the trickier questions:

    KCA’s pay membership dues, correct? (see below)  

    Kuali Membership Costs
    Since that is the case, the purchase of former Kuali KCA rSmart (as a means to jump-start KualiCo) was done with reserves which at least partially came from membership dues paid by rSmart competitors (aka the other KCAs). Isn’t it the case then, that the KCAs essentially paid membership dues that were used to help fund unfair competition for themselves? That makes no sense.
    If I paid membership dues intended to help fund a non-profit community to be of mutual benefit to all of the members, and then those funds were used to buy the services of a competitor…well, I might go all Richard Sherman on you.  
    I think most of the KCAs have been quiet primarily because they are worried about the amount of uncertainty created by the commercialization path being pursued. Institutions, individuals, and most of the KCAs may also have been mostly quiet because they are worried about preserving the community, the key historical selling point of Kuali
    We recently heard how Kuali KCA Moderas responded….and guess what, they quit Kuali.  Unless the remaining KCAs drop their status of being a KCA as Moderas did, I guess they will be competing directly in the marketplace with KualiCo and will continue helping finance their competition.  Again this makes no sense. 

    It was pointed out to me by a professional colleague that at this juncture KualiCo is simply rSmart with a new name.   The annual meeting of the Society of Research Administration International provided the following:   

    I was also pointed to the exhibitor list for the event which took place last week as reinforcement for this thought.  Click here and you’ll see the following among the list of exhibitors:
    Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of KCA conversation but it is certainly interesting to note as they have always been touted as an integral part of the community.
    The GPL to AGPL change
    There also those who question the benefit of the AGPL licensing.  The Kuali Foundation and KualiCo want projects to switch to AGPL licensing which Dr. Chuck Severance says discourages competition and thus innovation, which can’t possibly be in the best interest of the users. The more options to choose from, the better for the users. If Dr. Severance is correct,  it is interesting that the foundation that criticized vendor lock-in for a decade is trying to do vendor lock-in itself now with the AGPL recommendation. 

    Chuck Severance

    I have written many times about the importance of support ecosystems for Moodle, Digium and Kuali or any other true open source community.   With the recent changes, no matter how you slice it, the KCAs – the core of Kuali’s support ecosystem – will be competing directly with the Kuali.Co offerings, which will exist only because of the use of member dues.  Some of that comes from KCAs, but much of the rest is public money.  Many, such as Dr. Charles Severance have questioned  the use of public funds for starting such a venture as he did in commenting on another of Carl Straumsheim  articles  below:
    This takes me back to my current world.  What about the entities that Kuali software is about to go head to head with?  Since the announcement of the path toward KualiCo by the Kuali Foundation in August I have been wondering about what Ellucian, PeopleSoft & Jenzabar must be thinking and saying…and I don’t think they are thinking and saying much of anything at this point. They are certainly chuckling at the sudden about-face.
    Actually, a colleague relayed this exact reaction from their account rep (which is one of the three commercial companies listed above).  When the vendor was asked what they thought about the Kuali situation they simply got a laugh as a reaction.  I imagine some of these existing commercial entities are pretty happy now that Kuali.org established the for-profit KualiCo.  The tweet below came out right after the original announcement and although admittedly it is not quite accurate since the foundation is still in place alongside KualiCo it certainly has credence.

    It is not that I think the traditional ERP vendors listed above with their pathetically bloated and overpriced software have any functional advantage on the administrative software front, but it certainly gives companies with deep pockets trying to get into this space such as Workday a greater window of opportunity with their recently announced Student Information System.  
    I have been very vocal in my blogs and in person about the potential, even in a small school environment, of Kuali for a long time. My VP of Finance was at NACUBO a couple years ago and stopped by the Ellucian booth. They struck up a conversation which included the Ellucian person saying:  

    Oh yeah your IT guy is the open source guy

    ….what can I say now?   Not much I suppose.  I have legitimately been pursuing a path to get small schools such as mine into the Kuali world and have admittedly used some of this banter about Kuali as leverage in negotiations for other things.  Now I am not sure what leverage I still have.
    So Back to the Community…
    Since these posts started I have been asked one common question by people who are in favor of the change and those who are against it:
    What about the community?
    In the Kuali community, a foundation board of directors, institutional members, commercial affiliates and individuals have been the key pieces of the overall community.  If you read the list of articles I posted last week as well as social media responses I posted earlier, it seems to me that there are missing pieces to the discussion.   Certainly, there has been lots of commentary on the Kuali situation by news outlets such as Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle; consultant/ bloggers such as Phill Hill/ Michael Feldstein and even me.  The board has issued a few statements attempting to clarify what is happening. There are also a couple posts by the old rSmart, which benefits most from this change, if it works, discussing how great this KualiCo situation is. Other than this and a dissenting view by Moderas, a KCA which has chosen to discontinue its formal association with Kuali, the KCAs have been quiet. Institutions, KCAs and individuals really haven’t weighed in too much…and when it comes down to it, they are the real community. The groups that will ultimately speak the loudest may be the ones who are the quietest. The community is what has been attractive about Kuali to me all along. I think Phil Hill summed up all that was right about Kuali in the following blog post  reporting on the 2012 Kuali Days.  
    “Although this was my first Kuali Days, I was struck by the consistently eager and energetic attitude of attendees, especially by institutions in production, mid-implementation, or just kicking the tires.”
    Here are some things to think about as Kuali Days 2014 approaches:

      • Will the community feel of previous Kuali Days events have the same feel as previous events?
      • The change to AGPL certainly won’t build community goodwill if the Asterisk people and Dr. Severance are right.
      • The for-profit Kuali.co doesn’t necessarily bother some people… the process of getting there does.
    • Using other people’s money to fund a competitor won’t build community goodwill.  

    The real question as this moves forward is, can the heart and soul of the community reconcile the changes and work toward maintaining that community or will the community be lost?
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  • 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.
    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.   

    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.