Workday Podcast: Using the Cloud Wisely in Higher Ed

Ben Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” But that investment is beyond reach for many students. That’s where community colleges play a vital role, giving people in a variety of situations affordable and accessible educational opportunities. Bret Ingerman, vice president of information technology at Tallahassee Community College (TCC), was kind enough to talk with me about how cloud technology, when used wisely, can improve the educational experience for students.

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Do you prefer reading? Here’s the full transcript, edited for clarity. You can find other Workday Podcasts here.

Josh Krist: Did you know that 36 percent of community college students are first generation? That’s 4.5 million people whose lives will be on a more positive trajectory. For others, it’s the way to keep the cost of a four-year degree manageable or move their careers to the next level. In short, community colleges are a force for good. That’s why I’m so happy to speak with Bret Ingerman, vice president of information technology at Tallahassee Community College. His Florida-based school enrolls more than 24,000 students per year, and almost 80 percent of them go on to a four-year institution. I’m Josh Krist with the Workday Podcast. Bret, thanks for joining us today.

Bret Ingerman: My pleasure.

Krist: Can we start by talking about TCC’s mission?

Ingerman: Sure. Simply put, our mission is to make a difference in the lives of our students. We’ve got a large number of students, as you said, and they’re pretty diverse. There are some who are coming to TCC for a four-year degree, but there are others who are just looking to improve their skills to get their first job or improve skills to get their next job.

We’re really all about trying to find the right pathway for our students to further their education or career.

Krist: As the technology leader of an institution like this, what motivates you to get up in the morning? What’s your passion?

Ingerman: You know, it’s funny. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years at all different kinds of institutions, and I think what motivates me is finding ways to take the current technology and make a difference in the way that our faculty can deliver the education they’re here to deliver, to help impact the way our students learn, and to help all our administrators do their jobs better. Every day there is something new and different and exciting that allows us to do something we’ve never done before, or allows us to do something better than we’ve done it before, and that’s pretty exciting.

Krist: I know you’ve said before: it’s not that you have the cloud or use the cloud—it’s what you do with the cloud. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ingerman: Yeah. It’s funny. We’ve been talking about the cloud for a couple of years, and for most people, technology has always been in the cloud. On our campuses 20 years ago, when people did email, those email servers weren’t in their offices. They weren’t in their departments. They were sitting in server rooms that they didn’t have access to. So, once it’s no longer at your side and you can touch it, for all intents and purposes, it could be in the same building, or it could be across the world. It doesn’t matter.

For me what’s compelling about the cloud is that it allows us to share resources in ways that we couldn’t before. If I’ve got mine, and you’ve got yours, well, now we’ve each got our own that we’ve got to maintain. The current cloud is allowing great companies to spin up software and services very quickly in ways that we can easily leverage, and then put the pieces together to create some pretty cool solutions.

Krist: And I know you’ve worked at all different types of institutions—some very prestigious ones. Is it fair to say that there is a culture to higher ed? And if so, what is it? To say it out loud: Is there a change resistance that you have to get over in higher education?

Ingerman: Yes. A former colleague once said that higher education is one of the few places where a vote of 9 to 1 is actually considered a tie. So, change does come hard. Although, I think now with the consumerization of technology people are adapting to change faster than they did before because what’s in your pocket or on your hip is changing just as quickly.

Higher education is slow to change. Education, for the most part, is being delivered in the same way we’ve done it for thousands of years. It’s slow to change because of two things. I think, one, it tends to be very thoughtful. People want to make sure that what we’re going to do isn’t going to be gratuitous—it’s actually going to make a difference, and then, two, we’re mindful of the cost. We’re at a public two-year institution that charges $90 per credit hour.

Anything we do is taking money that local students, single parents, homeless, whomever—saved and have entrusted with us to give them the best education that we possibly can. We want to be very mindful that every dollar we spend is being spent in a way that’s going to further the mission of the institution, or make the lives of those doing the work easier, so that people have more capacity and time to do other things.

Krist: And then how do you make that case?

Ingerman: That’s evolved over time. It used to be we had a hard time making the case because people just didn’t understand a lot of what we were saying as technologists. Now, I think the web has made that so much simpler because we can show people things. We can show them how something works. We can have them do a demo. In many cases now, because the data is easy to move around, the demo can be with data that they actually understand. It’s not showing them data on a fictitious business that has language that we don’t use. We can actually make the demos and make the examples relevant to the people who are going to be looking at it.

That is how we spend a lot of our time in IT. People ask us, “Hey, we want to do X.” We find solutions that will show us how X is done, and we’re able to do that more readily.

Krist: I see. And you say you’ve seen it change over time because people are more familiar with technology? Are there also misconceptions? I would also think that, in a way, people expect things to happen quicker because, for example, they’re used to pushing a button and getting a car to show up.

I’m just wondering if there’s the other side to people being so used to technology that maybe they don’t quite appreciate some of the back-end business processes and thinking and change management that goes into it.

Ingerman: I think that inexpensive applications that people buy on their phones give them a false sense that things should cost $1.99 or be pretty inexpensive when that’s just not true. And I do think that the consumerization of business solutions—where anybody can go on the web and see what they want—doesn’t allow them to see all the behind-the-scenes things that need to go into place to make that pretty demo really function. So it becomes more of a conversation with people.

Before, they used to come to us and trust that we would deliver a solution, and if it wasn’t 100 percent right, we were at fault. Now, it’s really a collaborative experience to sit there where we’re depending on people in the room to look at the functional aspects of it. And we’re saying if those three software solutions have functionally that you want, technically only two of them have the ability to tie in with what we need to do elsewhere to make the data move back and forth and enable you to do more meaningful things.

Krist: So, it’s almost not having an appreciation for that ecosystem. I mean because that’s something interesting about higher education. On the one hand, it’s this closed ecosystem, but on the other hand, you basically have new users at least every semester.

Ingerman: We do. So, our student users are like that—they want things right now, really quickly, the way that they’re used to getting it, and I think most vendors and manufacturers are responding to that. I don’t want to say instant demand, but: Make it quick, make it easy. Let me get in there really fast.

The harder problem has been historically on the administrative side and the academic side. All of our systems have been filing cabinets. We spent decades and hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars creating systems and solutions where you put the data in. You may have done something with it once, and it just sits there. Now, because of the cloud and all these new technologies, we finally have the ability to take that data and use it in clever ways.

That’s led to some really great conversations with colleagues where now, I can say, “Okay, I understand that you wanted to do this, but let’s make sure we can also get it to do that because together, it’s going to give you more of what you want. And maybe give you some solutions you didn’t know you needed, but it creates the opportunity for you to get those later.”

Krist: So, answers to some of the problems you either didn’t know you had, or that you hadn’t been asked lately.

Ingerman: Yeah. And I think we’re all talking about being data-driven decision-makers. That’s the new mantra. The trick is to take that data and make it more exposed in ways that let people actually make decisions or, more commonly, have that data drive other systems to make decisions on behalf of people and take us where we want to go.

Krist: Right. So, your counterparts at other higher ed institutions might come to you and say, “Hey, you’ve had this deployment. It seems to be working for you. Give me some advice. What do I need to know that I’m even not asking yet?”

Ingerman: Yes, and that’s a good question. For me, the number one thing I tell people is you can spend a lot of time focusing on the deployment itself—and that’s important—but that’s an event. You’re going to get through the deployment. However painful or easy it may seem, there’s going to be an end.

What I’m talking to people about, where I spend most of my time thinking is: How do we make sure that this solution that we spent so much money, time, and energy on can actually connect to all the other things that we want?

It’s caused us to look at our entire ecosystem of applications and say yes, that legacy application may have met our needs in the old days, but it doesn’t play well with others using modern techniques and modern tools, and so, it’s had a ripple effect where we threw the rock and everybody focuses on the big splash, but what we really need to be focusing on are the ripples as they get further and further out because that’s actually where interesting things occur.

When you see a rock hit a lake, no one ever comments about the pretty splash, but they comment about the pretty ripples, and I think we need to focus on how that builds out, how this one decision influences the next round of decisions and the next round, so that collectively, we’re creating something really clever that works well together.

Krist: That’s great, but it’s really hard just in my daily life to understand the second- and third-order ramifications. So, how do you do that?

Ingerman: I don’t think I’d expect you to understand the ramifications. What I would expect you to do is say, “If we could do this, what’s the next thing you’d want to do?” Where do you think you would want to go? And then my job as a technologist and the job of my team is to listen to what those “this-then” statements are; for example, if “this,” give us the “then,” and then our job is to try to figure out the pieces we need to put in place, so that we’re ready for you when you get to the “then” moment, or that we don’t make a decision that precludes you from getting to the “then” moment. In a way, we’re sort of building the bridge just enough ahead of you that you don’t—if it goes well, you don’t see us working on the bridge, but you never doubt that the bridge is taking you where you want to go. Right? We’re right there.

Krist: What’s really interesting about that—and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with our own CIO—is becoming a customer-centric tech leader. I find it fascinating that it seems like more and more, the job of a technology leader is to both communicate and to listen. When it comes to communicating, especially when you’re bringing in a new system, how do you let people know what they need to know? I know change management is a big thing.

Ingerman: It’s huge.

Krist: But I would just love your thoughts on that.

Ingerman: Well, and I wish I could tell you that we’ve gotten it right, because I think no matter what project I’ve been involved in, hindsight always shows that you could have done better. It’s an area in which I don’t think technologists do particularly well. We live in a world of constant change, and now we’re bringing everybody along for the ride.

For example, if we look at something like Workday, in the past, our ERPs would get to determine when we took up features and when we made changes. Now, that’s no longer the case. I think solutions like Workday have it easier because many of these people already have email accounts with Google or other companies, and they wake up on Monday morning, it looks different than it did when they shut down on Friday. The world has become conditioned now to more rapid change, but I’m not so sure we manage it well. I think telling people, “Get with the program, move ahead,” is necessary, but it’s not sufficient.

Not hiding the changes that are going to come, not hiding the work that’s going to be involved, not hiding how tomorrow is going to be different than yesterday, and how that’s okay because we didn’t hire you specifically for the task you did yesterday. We hired you to do something, and you did it one way yesterday, and you’ll do it another way tomorrow. I think really the key is to be up-front with people and say, “This is where we’re going. How do we help you adapt and adopt the change?”

Krist: Right, and I know you’ve touched on this when we last spoke is about changing the mind-set from, or just getting people oriented toward like… whereas people used to be used to like okay, we have this saying. Here’s the manual. Here’s how you do it, and then getting them to realize yes, there’s a manual. Yes, there’s instructions, but the bigger question isn’t, “On what page of the manual shows how I do this process?” The bigger question is how do you want to best use this?

Ingerman: It’s funny. Historically, technology—you asked earlier about how it’s about talking and listening to people about technology. In the past, we told people how the system was going to work. You can do it any way you wanted as long as it was exactly like this because that’s the only way the system did things. We were viewed as somebody who didn’t care necessarily about the needs of the customer. We were forcing a set of parameters upon them, and that’s true. Software wasn’t widely adaptable. Now, the model has changed.

What’s interesting is we’ve built a whole class of employees who don’t know how to cook but who are really good at following a recipe, and now we’re saying, “Step back, and tell me how you want to cook this.” What are you looking to have these ingredients do? And they say, “Well, what do you mean?” Well, tell me if this could work, how would you like it to work? “Well, how will I do X, Y, and Z?” Well, how would you like to do X, Y, and Z?

It becomes a conversation that they’re just not used to having because people aren’t often asked to say, “How would you like to have this function work?” How could you make that process that you’ve complained about for decades because the old system didn’t work the way you wanted it to work? Okay, how would you like it to work to make it better for your clients? For your customers? In our case, your students? And even better, you don’t have to get it right the first time. If you do it, and it’s not quite right, what’s cool about some of these modern technologies is that we can change it. We can do it again. You can evolve.

You can sort of take what techies would call an agile approach to doing this. Don’t worry about designing it to death so that you never get to the end.

Figure out well, this would be better than that. Okay, we’ll do this, and then let’s take another week and look and say could we make the next thing better? It’s getting people to think in ways that companies have never been able to empower their employees to think because everybody who’s hired does the task the same way the person who they’re succeeding did the task, and now, we’re saying, “Okay, how would you like to change the task?”

Krist: And are people getting there?

Ingerman: Yes, but for some people, it’s not easy. But I think once people do it and realize that there may not be a penalty, and there shouldn’t be a penalty for designing something that doesn’t work quite right because we can do it again. I think that alone becomes empowering.

Because, at least in my organization or college, as long as you make a thoughtful mistake that was trying to do something to further things, that’s okay. We can take the next step after that, but the important thing is you took the step forward. You rethought how we’re providing a service all with the goal of making it better. If you didn’t get it right, that’s okay. We’ll make it better the next time.

Krist: Right. And as far as the future technology for your school, what are you excited about?

Ingerman: What am I excited about? I don’t think any particular specific technology. What I’m excited about is finding technology providers who start to realize that their solution is indeed a cog that fits in with other cogs. There’s something really empowering to me and to my organization to say we’re going to buy this piece, but the company that does that understands that they need to be open and accessible and modern and not hold your data hostage and not hold your access hostage, but they’ll enable it to work with another solution. So, then I find another piece, and suddenly I can put together solutions that provide things that we weren’t able to before.

I’ll give you an example. Let’s say we’re a Workday Student client, and Workday Student has this great engagement framework where Workday can automatically send email messages out to students. Perfect.

Well, our students would prefer to get things by text. Email works, and legacy systems can’t even do that very readily, but we want to do text. Well, because of the way Workday is designed with all its open APIs, we were able to find a texting solution.

We found one that also has really good open APIs, and we could connect them together, and I’m guessing we’re the only college who someone can go into Workday Student, put in an engagement plan, and have that trigger a text message that gets sent to the student.

Did Workday think about that? I suspect there are people at Workday who want to look at texting, but even if they couldn’t figure it out now, the fact that we got a solution that our core is open all around, I could find these add-on solutions and go. We’ve now created a pretty clever solution at not a whole lot of extra cost. So, what gets me excited is creating a toolbox of these little point-specific kinds of solutions, be it text messaging, be it social media interaction, be it the portal and exposing things.

When I go talk to my colleagues on the executive team and they talk about their needs, I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve got a piece that does that. I have a piece that does that. Ooh, I don’t have something that does that other thing.” And so, we then put it all together and create a custom solution for us that’s using a bunch of really good off-the-shelf solutions where the manufacturers realize that their value to me as a client isn’t in keeping it closed but in keeping it open, so I can connect it.

Krist: Yeah. That’s great.

Ingerman: Make sense?

Krist: It makes perfect sense, and as a Workday Student user, customer, what advice would you have for other people either considering Workday Student or about to launch Workday Student? The real deal. What would your advice be?

Ingerman: I don’t want to focus necessarily on all the things that you need to do to deploy Workday Student because every school knows that. They’ll get that down. I would say it is never too soon to think about your integrations and the other solutions that you had around your ERP, and you have hundreds of them, and to look at the solutions you have in place and say those are the vendors, and those products were important to you with your old solution. Are they still strategic for where you want to go going forward? And I will tell you we have a couple of those that have multiple major players in the space. And the vendor who was a major player with our legacy isn’t looking like it’s a major player with where we want to go with Workday. That’s not to say they won’t get there, but there are other companies that may have gotten there sooner or are more congruent with where our new path is.

So, I tell colleagues don’t focus so much internally on deploying Workday Student. Yes, that’s going to happen, and there are people who can do that, but I think it’s only the IT operation and the CIOs who can think about the touchpoints to all those other systems, and if they are still strategic.

Even if you’ve just signed on for Workday Student, it is not too soon to start examining your other solutions because you will have other deployments that need to go along, and you want to sequence those correctly. You know, if you want to do room scheduling, if you want to do X, Y, or Z, you should think about making sure that the vendor you have or the vendor you choose is ready for when you get Workday to the point where you want to make those connections.

Krist: Right. I really like your measuring stick of, “Will this be strategic for where you want to go?” And that’s really key, isn’t it?

Ingerman: I think it is, and it really is interesting to look at an IT operation or a campus and say, “Have you started to have those conversations with your vendors?” Your IT organization—is it even prepared to understand how its world is going to change when you make this big change to Workday Student?

And so, it is important to have conversations with all the third-party solutions that you’ve had all these years. Say “What’s your roadmap? Where are you headed? Where are you going?” I think the mistake is to say, “We’ve chosen Workday—will you integrate?” Because trust me, they’re all going to say yes. I’m more concerned now to hear the vision of where the vendor is going.

And then to right now—start planning upgrades, vendor changes or even what upgrades within a vendor’s current platform—if they’re a partner of yours—are you going to have to make so that those add-on solutions are ready when the Workday product is ready to connect to them?

Krist: It’s interesting that we live in a world where technological changes are so rapid. We can’t just think about how things are now. We have to really factor in how they’ll be pretty soon.

Ingerman: Right. You asked earlier about change in higher education. Some of the change that’s going to happen is people have favorite solutions that they’ve used for a decade that did a particular thing. Well, that vendor may not be the right vendor to do that particular thing for you with your new Workday system. It’s never too soon to start having those conversations.

It’s not about: What did you love about this solution? It’s not about: Do you still want to work with vendor X, but what is it you need that solution to do going forward? And then, let’s have vendor X re-vet themselves. Let’s have them give us a fresh demo in light of where we want to go and compare it to all the other solutions out there. So, in the spirit of communicating more, let people know at this early stage that chances are good that some of your favorite solutions are going to have to change.

Let’s start having those conversations now, so that one of two things happen. You get comfortable finding an alternative solution—or, if the vendor really wants to keep you and some of your other colleagues—maybe pushing the vendor to make the kinds of changes they need to make, so they’re ready for you when the time comes to connect it with Workday.

Krist: Okay, great. Any last words or any questions I should have asked that I didn’t?

Ingerman: We’ve covered a lot of ground.

Krist: We did, yeah.

Ingerman: A parting comment would be to suggest to my peers that if you’ve made the decision to go to Workday Student, you’ve already made the decision that the cloud is a place you’re comfortable putting the most important data at your institution.

You should have no fear about other cloud-based solutions going forward, and indeed, once you take that first big step, you now have a world of options open to you for other tools that could integrate with Workday and then integrate with each other. Now is the time when you’ve made the first step and decided to go with Workday—an up-to-date system that really offers a set of features we never had before.

Now is the time to start having all the peripheral conversations. Because, at the end of the day, Workday will be in, and it’s what you do with it and how you connect it to other solutions that will differentiate your institution and give you the flexibility you need to provide the services your students need.

Krist: All right. Well, thank you very much for joining us on the Workday Podcast. Bret, thank you so much for taking the time and visiting us here. Appreciate it.

Ingerman: My pleasure.