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A Model for Highly Leveraged Procurements: The Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Abstract

This research bulletin discusses the process and challenges of establishing a statewide education technology consortium and the leveraged purchasing and other benefits that can accrue to member institutions. In an effort to leverage K–20 technology budgets statewide, the Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium (MEEC), administered through the University System of Maryland, has discovered value that makes both dollars and sense.

Citation for this Work: Petronka, Tamara, and Donald Z. Spicer. “A Model for Highly Leveraged Procurements: The Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium” (Research Bulletin 7, 2010). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2010, available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.

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Comments

This study supposedly validates the Costco approach - that buying in bulk can save costs on a per-item basis as long as the negotiation costs don't go too high. That conclusion seems .. self-evident? What it does not address in the section "Key Questions to Ask" is the more important and even critical question of /what/ they are buying. In the offered case, it is bulk access to Microsoft products running on fat clients (stand-alone, networked PCs).

The latest Annual Threat Assessment by the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair (goo.gl/Y75V) classifies the greatest threat currently facing US national interests as neither foreign violent terrorists, nor the collapse of the financial system (the 2 previous top threats, and still significant). Instead, it is cyber-threat, mostly from China & FSU.

What is the most open avenue for those cyber-threats? The same one that brought down Google recently; apparently an unpatched copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer running on Microsoft Windows, which allowed the initial penetration to run amok on the rest of the Microsoft Windows platforms. Google is highly concerned about security and hacking, with a much higher budget for security than most of us. That it was taken down (among many other examples) by what passes for Microsoft security should be causing a massive re-thinking in how IT is done in all walks of life. Instead, this article (and I might add, many in my own organization) pimps the extraordinary value that this kind of licensing provides.

In may ways, the very cheap distribution of Microsoft products run counter an academic system's best interests both as an IT infrastructure (due to the above noted security concerns) and as a institution of higher learning where experimentation, investigation, self-sufficiency, statistics, logical assessment, and the scientific method are supposedly still prized. Despite the academic ideals, people tend to use the tools they are provided and given 'free' Microsoft tools in university, they will tend to use them post-university, drifting Microsoftwards in their jobs and home life. While this is an excellent use of marketing and the power of early seeding and branding (and therefore one of the best uses of long term loss-leader market capture from the POV of Microsoft (and Apple, and Adobe, etc), it is not at all clear that it has long term benefits for the licensee, and especially the funding agencies.

If all our students ever see is Microsoft and the Microsoft approach (fat clients running incompletely patched older software, with local storage (largely not backed up), is it any wonder that we're spending so much money playing IT catchup and support? The recent trend to Virtualization improves some of these failings, but certainly not the homogeneous group-think that a Windows-everywhere environment encourages. Other Thin Client approaches hew more closely to an ideal IT environment, but this is typically not a Microsoft strength, neither in technology nor pricing.

A person with stronger feeling than I noted that the annual $49 fee that Microsoft charges for an all-access, all Microsoft desktop could scarcely do more harm to the educational system if Microsoft provided free cocaine for a year.

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