Two weeks ago Apple announced earnings. It was the biggest quarterly profit in history: $18 billion USD.
The success of Apple continues to add to Steve Jobs legacy as a legendary entrepreneur, visionary and leader. Jobs had so many insights toward the future. One was that computers should be as easy to use as toasters. And, Apple has clearly been at the forefront of usability.
One of the strategies Apple has executed on very well is “vertical integration.” Vertical integration means tight control over all aspects of the stack (software and hardware) that make up the whole product experience for the customer. Such control can maximize usability because there in nothing left to chance in terms of how things may fit together. For Apple this formula has contributed to great products that have set the benchmark for the industries Apple has entered.
Getting products from different suppliers to “fit together seamlessly” has been a challenge, even when suppliers choose to work together to deliver the stack.
I remember (many years back) how after hours of trying to connect an early model digital camera to my WinTel (Microsoft Windows OS, Intel processor) computer, and failing, I hooked it up to my Mac and the pictures just imported automatically. It just worked. More recently, when I switched from my Apple phone to an Android phone I was pleased with all the options I had – but it has also made things a lot more complex and confusing.
The egos of visionaries and product designers seem to go hand-in-hand with wanting to “go it alone.” Such personalities don’t have time to wait for others to catch up or tolerance for less than perfect fit, form and function. Perhaps oddly, however, great egos don’t have any problem using community work as the basis of their products if it makes sense (e.g. UNIX as the basis of Mac OS). They just create their own version. I don’t refer to “egos” here in a negative sense – as getting to a great product has often been driven by such individuals or organizations.
Therefore, in the real world these very admirable goals of (1) wanting to innovate fast, and (2) wanting to be the most usable, best, unique platform, cause a tension with working in a community to create what is in essence a community platform that anyone can get in on.
This has resulted in a lot of “half-hearted” support for community-driven interoperability standards (in many industries, not just education). A lot of product companies are sort of half-in and half-out. They’d like standards to make it all work perfectly for them, but that’s not likely to happen unless they can actually take the time to engage and contribute – so sometimes they engage just a little (when there is a clear benefit) and sometimes they want to just “be like Apple” (bring all the pieces together on their own, including customizing standards to support their proprietary ecosystem). After all, $18 billion profit sounds pretty good. And, hasn’t Apple created a huge, innovative ecosystem?
The bottom-line is that creating a truly seamless and productive user experience as well as scaling an ecosystem of innovation via a community model is definitely a challenge. A lot of things have to come together.
Why then do IMS community developed standards that enable a large-scale community architecture for educational innovation make sense?
- The education market requires greater innovation and diversity. A long history of market forces that have converged computing platforms to a relatively small number of dominant providers that evolves over time (today Microsoft, Apple, Android, Amazon). But, there has not been a similar dominance of just a few providers in the digital education sector. Indeed, just the opposite sort of evolution is occurring, where the diversity of digital learning resources, tools, platforms is growing dramatically (indeed, the success of things like tablets and app stores has helped make this happen).
- Usability is not as readily defined and achieved in education. When it comes to disaggregation and combination of digital learning resources, tools, and platforms there is no known, simple, proven formula. It is not clear exactly what the components need to be and how they need to interact. Some things are relatively clear, but many are not. To get to success educational buyers must maintain a lot of flexibility into the future. They must be able to experiment and evolve efficiently. This inexactness of how best to achieve an end goal of more effective and personalized learning is daunting for even one institution or school district. It is compounded significantly when one takes a global view and realizes that most educational ecosystems (and goals) are regional in nature.
- Innovation must be much more efficient in education. The combination of the realities of #1 and #2 imply that creating the seamless user experience – the one that makes the digital experience efficient, effective, viable – must be achieved across a very broad and flexible ecosystem. Institutions have no choice but to require choice as we evolve to digital education resources and experiences. But if choice is too “expensive” (expensive here meaning too difficult for teachers, student, administrators to adopt) then innovation is stymied.
In IMS we see these forces at work everyday. It’s pretty clear. What will lead to an “Apple-like” usability and innovation vision for technology in the education segment? It requires a very community-driven, non-Apple-like strategy. The strategy is to build a community ecosystem of products that can work together efficiently and effectively while we also further our individual products and institutions.
From the institution’s perspective the desired strategy for a supplier is to fully embrace the community ecosystem and drive it as the suppliers own. Don’t just dip in half-heartedly when it helps your business. Be part of accelerating the progress by making the community interoperability the primary interoperability your organization invests in. Make the 1-click integration of IMS ubiquitous and work with the community to make it better. That is what will help your customers get to where they want to go.
We have seen a small handful of suppliers really do this well – and in every case it has resulted in tremendous business success. The customers see the value.
In the education sector, whether you are a supplier of products or a service provider (for example IT, curriculum, academic services) to those using the products, there is no better way of putting your customers first than by helping to make the plug and play ecosystem of innovative resources, tools and platforms a reality.
If your organization has its own “special” versions of standards and aren’t working with the IMS community to truly participate in and build the plug and play ecosystem at scale – well – unfortunately you are not helping your customer build the future they require.
I hope to see you at our upcoming face-to-face meetings!
23-27 February 2015
IMS Quarterly Meetings, IMS Boot Camps, EDUPUB Summit and Showcase and EDUPUB Summit Day 2 – IDPF & Readium Implementation Plans University of Phoenix – Tempe, Arizona
1 March 2015
Special IMS Global e-Assessment Workshop Rancho Mirage, CA
4-7 May 2015
Learning Impact Leadership Institute Atlanta, GA