Straumsheim, C. (2014) Kuali Foundation: If you can’t beat them….., Inside Higher Education, August 25
While there are several providers of open source learning management systems for education, Kuali is the only provider of free, open source administrative software specifically built for higher education. In a blog post on August 22, it announced that while its software will still continue to be developed, open source and freely available, it will be creating a commercial company to provide for profit commercial services, such as hosting and contracted software development.
What is Kuali?
Kuali started as a consortium of mainly U.S. research universities which paid to join the Kuali Foundation, with the aim of developing free administrative software software systems designed specifically to meet the needs of higher education/post-secondary institutions.
What does Kuali do?
So far it has developed the following software systems:
- Kuali Student (a student information management system)
- Kuali People Management for the Enterprise (a HR system)
- Kuali Financial System
- Kuali Coeus (a research administration system)
- Kuali Rice (middleware)
- Kuali Open Library Environment
- Kuali Mobility for the Enterprise (making Kuali products available on mobile devices)
- Kuali Ready (disaster management)
How is it doing?
So far nearly 60 HE institutions are using Kuali products. However, each product is at a different stage of development/usefulness. The financial system is the most advanced and most stabilized.
Why does it matter?
Although the days when Peoplesoft nearly bankrupted several major HE institutions are now long gone, commercial administrative systems such as Oracle and SAS are extremely expensive, designed primarily for a business rather than an educational environment, and as a consequence are often financially risky when it comes to adaptation and implementation within a higher education context. The development of administrative systems for higher education by higher education is a worthy goal, if it can be accomplished.
The ‘if’ though is still in some doubt. The financial system seems to be a success, the Student system is described as a ‘monster’ development project, and the HR system lacks enough investment. So Kuali as a whole is still very much a work in progress.
What are the changes? How is Kuali 2.0 different from the Kuali Foundation?
Kuali is now essentially a for-profit company, rather than a community consortium, although its governance is actually more complex than that. Universities and colleges paid to join the Foundation and contributed investment towards product development. The Foundation will continue to exist but members will not have votes or shares in the new company, although members can continue to contribute to projects that they want done. Other sources of revenue will come from charging for software as a service for cloud-based services.
I’m not in anyway involved with Kuali, so it is difficult to give an informed comment. I thought it was a good idea when it started, but making a consortium approach to sustainable software development and services work is a major challenge. It requires dedication, goodwill, and continuity from a large number of institutions. In these circumstances, any benefits for the participating organizations need to direct and substantive.
Changing it to a commercial organization is a major disruption to this model. In particular, even if the same people are involved in the investment in product development, governance and operation, it radically changes the culture of the organization. I’m not a governance expert, but I don’t understand why full members who invest substantially in product development don’t have shares or voting rights in the board.
I do hope it succeeds in its goal of providing reliable, sustainable open source solutions for administrative software for HE institutions. I wouldn’t bet my own money on it now, though.
For more on Kuali, see: