In the higher education product marketplace, vendors fall along a spectrum. At one end is the majority of vendors who focus exclusively on higher education. They believe higher education has unique problems and develop products and features to address these challenges. On the opposite end of the spectrum are a few vendors, such as systems integration solutions, that see their products as industry-agnostic. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, these vendors consider “integration to be integration to be integration.”

In between, however, exist some vendors that offer products specific to the world of higher education, but also provide products that are applicable across industries. Unit4, for example, offers an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, Business World, that spans higher education, the public sector, and other industries.

This vertical (industry-specific) and horizontal (cross-industry) issue impacts both vendors’ product development and institutions’ product acquisition strategies. Vendors like Unit4 face a challenge. Should they extend horizontal products into higher education, or, develop specific products for this industry unrelated to any of its horizontal products? For institutions making a systems selection decision, the critical question is: does it truly matter whether a product is higher-education specific?

One vendor making great progress in overcoming this challenge is Oracle. In past years, its annual conference has focused on improvements in its horizontal products, such as Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud, Autonomous Data Warehouse Cloud, Oracle Artificial Intelligence, and Oracle Database, and how these products impacted certain verticals such as supply chain, finance, and others. In fact, higher education seemed to be entirely separate from the major areas to which Oracle was paying much attention.

Although the language at the recent OpenWorld Conference was primarily that of business (customers, etc.) and other industries (supply chain, finance, etc.), Oracle has made great strides in thinking through how its horizontal and vertical worlds intersect in higher education. For example, Oracle is considering how to extend its artificial intelligence and automation capabilities further into its Student Cloud suite of modules. Likewise, Oracle is examining how the recently-acquired financial aid product from Vocado (i.e., Oracle Student Financial Planning) might leverage these artificial intelligence products to determine patterns in the millions of financial aid transactions and allow users to access data via cloud-based analytics.

It appears that Oracle has thrown its weight into the higher education is a legitimate vertical and is working hard to think through how to bring horizontal features into it, while adding higher education-specific features. This work still has a way to go, however, and there are some key things Oracle should consider to make this move successful.

Where Should Oracle Go Next?

The trick for Oracle is demonstrating the “so what” when it comes to higher education. While the value of products such as cloud infrastructure may be apparent to some institutional stakeholders, products such as its database technologies, with an emphasis on speed and capability for handling big data, seem to be far removed from the needs of higher colleges and universities.

To solve for this, Oracle needs to look inward at its discourse. At OpenWorld’s Analyst Summit, Mark Hurd, CEO of Oracle, spoke of how the company strives to communicate the value of its products in relation to the outcomes they help businesses achieve. The company defines these outcomes as decreased workload, improved performance, and lower costs.

In the area of higher education, we suggest that Oracle should establish what higher-education-specific outcomes its products will help provide. For example, would schools that do not require real-time data processing care about Oracle’s databases? Is there another feature of these databases—lower requirements for user maintenance, for example—that would resonate more with higher education institutions?

Likewise, Oracle should make it very clear to higher education stakeholders what horizontal products and features it plans to fold into its higher education product and why it selected these products and features. Usually in the form of a roadmap, these decisions would provide transparency to its product development process and allow institutions to see the commitment Oracle is making to higher education.

The Bottom Line

Cross-industry companies that move into higher education need to strike a balance between adding industry-specific features to their products while also determining which, if any, horizontal features they should add. Should Oracle take our suggestions, the road ahead would not be easy; as a large company, its product development process has not had to adapt to new verticals in its vast, overall roadmap for some time.

For continued success in higher education, however, Oracle and others like it need to extend efforts to get a real sense of where their products—both horizontal and vertical—fit within the specific needs of higher education and communicate that to the marketplace.

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