Social Networking as a Strategic Advantage at University of Missouri, a future data center education Nexus

I was in Columbia, Missouri in Dec 2009 to discuss data centers as the area is at the center of the US, and there is a shortage of data center inventory compared to other areas. I had a chance to meet the Provost of University of Missouri (Mizzou), Brian Foster, to discuss how GreenM3 could work with Mizzou on data center innovation.  The meeting turned out to be one of my best meetings in 2009. 

Why was Brian Foster so interesting? One of the concepts we discussed is the social networking effect going on in the data center industry and how Mizzou could participate as an educational institution and a nexus for data center innovation.  An example of the nexus potential is there are five high voltage power grids converging on a site in Columbia which allows interesting experiments for power use by data centers, power generation from renewable energy, and energy storage.

image Photo of Brian Foster

Well, it turns out Brian’s Ph.D is in Anthropology and he has studied for many years the social networking effect.

The scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans.

One of the ideas Brian discussed was Mizzou Advantage.  Here is an introduction.

The strategic initiatives will not become new “centers,” “institutes,” or similar units. Rather they will be networks of collaborators in a wide range of activities: research grants, conferences and other academic events, clinical operations, public education, economic development, academic programs, and large scale clinical trials, development of specialized facilities, to name a few possibilities. It is likely that the network structure will morph continuously as projects come and go, as individuals’ interests shift, as organizations’ agendas change, and as environmental conditions evolve—e.g., funding potential, regulatory environment, and political support. Each initiative must have strong leadership—a senior faculty member who will facilitate the network relationships, maintain contact with funding sources, provide a compelling public voice for the initiative, work with MU departments in hiring faculty contributors, and develop research facilities (e.g., labs, studios). In short, the leader of each initiative will bring together the people and other resources to make the initiative effective.

Brian Foster’s vision has five areas of focus that will follow the structure described in the previous paragraph.

  1. Food for the Future

  2. New Media

  3. One Health, One Medicine

  4. Sustainable Energy

  5. Understanding and managing disruptive and transformational technologies.

Before I drill into the area of interest for GreenM3 let me point to the history of the Strategic Advantages project.

In the current political and economic environment it is clear that universities must have a strategic plan that provides the "roadmap" for disciplined allocation of resources over a long period of time to build the requisite infrastructure and other elements of program distinction. To achieve stature, the University must identify a carefully defined set of "strategic advantages" which provide the points of reference for positioning the institution uniquely in the world of higher education. Thus, unique facilities, outstanding faculty, environmental assets, potential partners, and other potential university resources must lead us to define a set of areas in which we will achieve high stature. The areas must be chosen such that MU is positioned well in the competitive environment. These identified strategic advantages will become key elements for the strategic plan, much like the mission statement, values, and other foundational MU principles.

The first area of interest is Sustainable Energy.

• MU has many assets in the area of sustainable energy, both research and educational. The MU reactor is a strong asset for research and training in the nuclear energy (though it is currently underdeveloped in the energy area), and biofuels is an area of considerable research capacity and of local agribusiness interest.
• The sustainable energy initiative intersects with many other educational, research, economic development, and service programs including environmental sciences, nuclear science and engineering, public policy, economics, business, architectural studies, journalism and public information/education, transportation, basic sciences (chemistry, physics, biological sciences, geological sciences), agriculture, history, psychological and cultural studies, agricultural economics, and rural sociology.
• Energy may be the single most promising area for federal funding over the next decade.

The second area is disruptive technologies.

• MU’s strategic initiatives all are in areas in which existing technologies and all that is based on them are fundamentally changing: media, agribusiness, biomedical sciences, and energy. These changes are both transformational (opening stunning new opportunities) and disruptive (destroying existing businesses, jobs, and other ways of doing things). Implications of these dramatic changes need to be understood for the benefit of policy, business, and socio-cultural adaptation to changing times.
• This topic touches on virtually every part of the university, including business, legal, policy, economic, ethical, health, education, entertainment, arts, history, environment, standard of living, quality of life, climate, and transportation. MU’s strategic initiatives, which are based on Missouri’s position in these areas, provide a virtual laboratory for studying four key areas of disruptive and transformational technologies. Understanding these dynamics would position Missouri and the U.S. favorably in the rapidly evolving world economic, political, business, and cultural environment.

New Media is appealing to drive change in the industry.

• Builds on MU’s world-class Journalism, including the Reynolds Institute, which does research on the rapidly changing media world; it also builds on Engineering and other work on digital technologies, on Communication Studies, and on many other disciplines that touch on media production and/or business models.
• This thrust intersects with nearly every college in the University, including Business (studies of the rapidly changing business model), applied ethics, public policy, graphic design, digital arts, creative writing, and many subject-matter areas (e.g., arts, athletics, politics, social issues, economics and business, health, agriculture, environment, public policy, religion, and science)

Here is a video that provides background for the development of the initiative with Brian and his faculty discussing the ideas more.

MU Strategic Advantages Open Forum, March 2, 2009 - Link to video!

As the new year develops, I’ll be writing more on the opportunities for the Mizzou Advantage.