Bob Flynn is no ordinary Box customer. With his deep knowledge of Box, Bob has helped shape the way universities across the US evaluate and deploy Box. As Indiana University's Cloud Technology Support Manager, Bob is transforming the way faculty, students, researchers, staff, and contractors work with their content. His curiosity and his passion to enable his users, no matter how complicated their use case, has helped Box better understand the needs of our higher education customers. We are thrilled to celebrate Bob as "Innovator of the Month" for March 2018.
We sat down with Bob to learn more about his journey.
I originally came to Indiana University in 1984 as a graduate student in Slavic Linguistics, and also spent some time teaching at other universities. While teaching in Europe, the world wide web became a big deal. When I got back to IU, I took free computing classes on campus. Eventually the combination of my teaching background and work in technology landed me a job as IT director for an academic program. The chair felt that combination would help me translate technology to faculty in a way that they could easily embrace. I eventually moved back to central IT and for the past three and a half years I've been managing cloud technology. Overall I've been working at Indiana U for 21 years. I love it here - it's a great place to live and work!
How did you get involved with Box?
In the fall of 2011 the university asked me to lead IU's Box implementation with our partners at Internet2 and a few other pilot schools. I was then asked to became the overall lead for Internet2’s evaluation of Box for all schools. The pilot schools' role was to decipher the requirements of higher ed and partner with Box to ensure those needs are considered and/or met. Box was the first cloud technology that Internet2 evaluated and eventually provided to member schools as part of it's NET+ program, so we were breaking new ground. Since then, we've used a lot of those same evaluation criteria for security, identity, compliance and usability with other cloud vendors.
Speaking of bringing Box to higher ed, how is Indiana University using Box?
A university is like a small city. We have all sorts of industries: health care, urban planning, finance, legal, academics. It leads to a lot of different use cases, but unlike a typical enterprise we have the added challenge of not being able to mandate anything. We can make suggestions, provide quality services and that’s about it. If they don't like it, they won't use it. I think Box's success at Indiana University speaks volumes. With over 110,000 active users, it is second only to email is adoption.
There are fabulous use cases where people have organically taken the tool and done things we hadn't even thought of. One of my favorite use cases is with one of our professors who teaches Spanish phonetics to students around the world. He asks each of them to record themselves reading the same sentence which he collects as audio files in Box. He uses them to each his students to learn the nuanced differences between the various dialects of Spanish. He even uses Box Embed to embed one of the audio files into their online quizzes to see if students can name the dialect and list the identifying characteristics. That’s just one of our many innovative use cases. It's always fun to hear about the ways people find to use Box.
I hear that you're involved in the Box Skills beta. What do you think the implications of Box Skills are for education?
A colleague saw a preview of the Video Skill at BoxWorks and told me it could help us save a ton of money in closed-captioning to meet ADA requirements. We are testing that use case now and, if it works and the accuracy is high enough, the cost savings would be significant!
Also, we'd like to explore how we could string together Box Skills with the SDK to translate informal foreign language videos using Microsoft’s foreign language processing. That would give students and teachers an interesting new tool in the classroom!
What do you think are the biggest opportunities for higher ed enablement in the next decade?
I think there needs to be more confidence in the reliability of tools IT offers our universities to use. For example, people that have all their files in Box should feel confident enough that if their machine dies, they can pick up a new laptop without losing data. We want savvy IT pros at universities to be able to move away from things like fixing backup servers and focus on tools that will bring innovation to their organizations. It’s a big trust leap but if the tools and the partners that provide them can deliver reliably we will get there.
What is the most rewarding part of working in technology support for higher education?
This is going to sound trite, but I love making a difference. I also love the fact that there are so many great people who do what I do at other universities, and I love learning from them. In higher ed, though we may compete on the sports field and in admissions, by and large we're an extremely collaborative group of customers, particularly in technology. We share everything - our victories, our defeats, the code we write, and we all come together to solve the difficult challenges we're facing. It’s really energizing.
If you have a question for Bob, you can find him on Box Community @bobflynn.