I think technology is readily understandable if you focus first on the “what,” and then on the “how.” The State of West Virginia has lost millions of dollars because people didn’t take the time to figure out technology basics. Indeed the very first thing I did when I came to state government in 2001 was unravel a multi-million dollar technology debacle. Despite the terrible circumstances, I had a wonderful opportunity to meet outstanding technology people in various corners of K-12, higher education, and state government, including several extremely helpful WVNET staffers.
- WVNET supports institutions’ Sungard Banner data systems to various degrees. Sungard Banner is back office software for our colleges and includes student record, financial aid, and finance modules, just to name a few.
- WVNET hosts WebCT for numerous institutions. WebCT is higher education’s primary distance learning system.
- WVNET supports K-12 and others with internet and other comparable services and ensures that K-12 maximizes e-rate discounts (federal discounts provided thanks in significant part to Senator Rockefeller, by the way).
- WVNET manages significant segments of the state telecommunications infrastructure, which combines K-12, higher education, state government and other technology traffic. K-12 is the largest user, followed by higher education, followed by state government.
- WVNET serves as WVU’s major back-up site and provides similar services for others.
- WVNET coordinates cross-institutional procurements.
While I could continue with my list, the real issue is that each service that WVNET provides needs to be analyzed thoroughly: (1) What is provided? (2) For whom is it provided? (3) At what cost? (4) Does someone else provide the same service? (5) Is it something that’s needed, and will it be needed in two years/five years? (6) Is the charge reasonable and could the services be obtained elsewhere more cheaply? (7) Are there other economies of scale that should be taken into consideration?
A thorough analysis, I am sure, would find things that should change, but it also would find that WVNET provides important services that are not readily replaceable, particularly by smaller institutions. Although the proposals to shut down WVNET have been on the frontburner for a long time, nobody has undertaken a thorough analysis of WVNET’s portfolio of services. And until they do, no one can argue effectively that WVNET should be shut down, moved, or merged.
Finally, any analysis of WVNET should address the significant logistical challenges and costs involved in a move. On the logistics front, WVNET has a lot of equipment and circuits that must somehow be transferred seamlessly if higher education, K-12 and state government in West Virginia are not to come to a grinding halt. (Insert joke about whether anyone would notice here. But the truth is they would.) This probably means creating additional redundancy in advance of a move. On the cost front, it is possible that significant moving costs should be incurred for the greater good, but those costs will be far more significant than political and education leaders currently realize.
I have been critical of late of many poorly-thought-out plans for major change. The WVNET proposal provides yet another case in point. Fortunately, the House of Delegates appears poised to make higher education perform its due diligence before tearing WVNET asunder.