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Big tech: what is in it for me?

  • 7 February 2020
  • By Lucy Haire and Tony Nneke

This blog was kindly contributed by Lucy Haire, Oracle Higher Education, with contributions from Tony Nneke, Oracle Cultural Harmony Network Chair.

As I visit university after university, many lament the gap between the quality of the technology they use as a consumer or researcher, and the systems that are used to run the university business, whether for teaching and learning, assessment or crucial professional services such as finance, projects, student records and human resources. Universities can be particularly hard hit by underfunded technology infrastructures because they have such a wide range of complex activities to cater for, mostly frontline.

As consumers, we are doing so much more online and with, or via, machines of one kind or another. Plenty of us are also utterly dependent on the latest phones and networks for our work, conducting remote, often global meetings, and working with smarter and smarter systems to get projects and tasks done. We follow early adopters (in my case at least) in trying out voice-activated systems and encounter immense sophistication at every turn, whether at the opticians, on our transport systems or just browsing the web. All the connectivity, speed, volume of data, machine capability, usability, computing power and analytics are adding up to what many commentators are calling the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Given the enormity of the changes which are impacting every area of life, it makes sense for a range of types of university and college role-holders, from executive leaders to operational office-holders, as well as specialist technologists and academics, to engage with the type of technology that is both reflecting and driving the revolution. It is also crucial for students too.

Big tech also needs to hear from universities. After all, universities, as a key component of the global knowledge economy, are arguably the birthplace of the fourth industrial revolution. Particularly strong in research, where high-powered computing, artificial intelligence and deep learning are ever more commonplace as well as in growing areas of the taught curriculum, notably medicine, healthcare, the sciences, computing and branches of engineering, universities also educate the graduates who will drive the next stages of this revolution. The business press is replete with statistics about anticipated new types of jobs, as-yet-univented jobs and, of course, the end of current roles employing millions worldwide. You simply cannot address employability at a university without interacting with tech developments.

When I studied, and indeed taught, the industrial revolution of 18th and 19th Britain, we were required to look at the social, economic and even cultural drivers and impact of the momentous technological changes. So too with the current fourth industrial revolution. “Digital anthropologists”, “futurists” and analysts of all kinds are trying to help us to conceptualize and frame the new world order. Ethicists also are making their voices heard as data takes on so much power. The big global themes of our age, ones that are often at the forefront of college campus life, like climate change, diversity and inclusion and lifelong learning, are all interconnected.

If you work in university IT, you will likely already be familiar with the big tech vendor shows, particularly famous in Silicon Valley, Las Vegas and other high-profile cities around the world. But, if, like me before I started working for one of those types of companies just over a year ago, you have only a passing acquaintance with this hi-tech, big-business world, you might well wonder if you are the right person to be even thinking about a big tech event, let alone attending. What could I learn? Do I not need to be fluent in several programming languages, or system architecture or data analytics, to be able to engage meaningfully? I am just a (relatively) passive adopter of the technology my employer supplies so would I not be better leaving any thinking about this to someone who has specific IT skills?

These are all valid thoughts which perhaps reflect a tension between the imperative to engage and our perceived limited ability to do so.

Oracle Open World London 2020 on 12th and 13th February at Excel is carefully curated to provide for the interested generalist as well as the most specialized technologist. Whether you’re looking for continuing professional development, undertaking business or academic research, or just blatantly curious, you will be given a warm welcome at this completely free event.

Oracle Open World London 2020 keynotes include astronaut Major Tim Peake, TV mathematician Dr Hannah Fry and comedian Dara O’Briain.

Tony Nneke is speaking on “Changing Lives, Changing Society with Technology” on Wednesday 12th February.

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