How MOREnet transitioned from its networking roots to a member-driven, service-oriented consortium
In 1991, Missouri’s four-year public colleges expressed the desire to become connected to the NSFnet, a precursor to today’s Internet. The result was the creation of the first statewide higher education network in the country, the Missouri Research and Education Network (MOREnet). Operating as a separate business unit within the University of Missouri, MOREnet began with 12 public college and university charter members with the primary purpose to “develop, maintain and cultivate applications for electronic interchange in support of the educational research and service missions of its members.”
MOREnet established funding through the state of Missouri to support the efforts of expanding into this new informational era. In the next 10 years MOREnet grew rapidly, adding connectivity to 512 Missouri public school districts, 63 of Missouri’s higher education institutions and 121 tax-supported public libraries and secured additional state funding. In 2001, MOREnet became one of the first five state education networks admitted to the Internet2 Sponsored Educational Group Participants Program.
MOREnet also continued to grow its secondary purpose established in its 1991 bylaws which was to promote “information exchange and activities that support a broader cooperation among its members.” By 2001, in addition to offering technical consulting and support, MOREnet was providing services such as training, video services, email, web hosting and annual member conferences.
As the importance of the Internet was realized for the future of the 21st century learner, so was the need for additional bandwidth. In 2003, a backbone upgrade resulted in a fourfold increase of bandwidth from 155 Mbps to 622 Mbps. It was projected that this current capacity would accommodate member bandwidth needs for the next several years without congestion.
In 2005, the first of several funding challenges presented a unique opportunity for MOREnet to look at its future. In spite of operating under a significant budget cut, members’ needs continued to be the focus of MOREnet, not only in bandwidth but also in service delivery. MOREnet increased contact with members in an effort to better understand member initiatives and service priorities.
In early 2007, an approval was given to migrate the existing network backbone to a robust fiber-optic infrastructure that would become the Next Generation Network and support today’s 10Gbps capacity.
MOREnet continued to evolve from a focus on Internet service delivery to a member-driven organization deploying and supporting the technology services members need to be successful. Over the next 10 years MOREnet added security services, Internet content filtering, email, spam and virus filtering, video streaming, e-Conferencing and online resources.
MOREnet has consistently ranked very high in member satisfaction. MOREnet became known for their superior customer service and ability to predict and meet members’ needs. Over the years, MOREnet’s value continued to grow and members viewed the partnership as one of very high quality and superior performance.
By 2009, MOREnet was funded almost 50 percent by state appropriations. Due to the state of Missouri’s economy, MOREnet was among one of the many organizations that would suffer drastic state funding cuts.
On June 17, 2010, MOREnet lost the remainder of its direct appropriation due to a withholding by the governor. The value proposition and everything MOREnet had built over 19 years was about to be put to the test. MOREnet would now have to become a self-funded organization to survive.
These were challenging times and MOREnet would have to rely on the high-performing network they had built and the value of the services they delivered. Some members’ costs increased by 414 percent and the average member cost by 158 percent. MOREnet cut expenses and worked long and hard on service changes to offer members more options. For the first time, MOREnet spilt their service offerings so members could come to MOREnet with just a connection, could purchase MOREnet membership services only, or both. The resulting budget prepared by MOREnet’s fiscal department planned for a short-fall as members made decisions based on the value for their money.
Fortunately MOREnet retained an incredible 97 percent of its members over the next fiscal year and continues to maintain a high percentage of its membership. The foundation of a high-performing network coupled with a customer service focus was the key formula in making this successful turn to a self-funded, member-driven organization.
John Gillispie, Executive Director of MOREnet, knows how important this continued member-driven, service-oriented business model will be for the future. “The future of MOREnet depends on our ability to innovate and be ready to meet the needs of the members before they know they have a need. Technology innovation is accelerating and what was once our keystone product may not be in the future. We are going to have to be risk takers, future thinkers and willing to change rapidly to meet our members’ needs. Our success and our ultimate survival is based on being member-driven and offering superior value to their next best alternative.”
MOREnet has already ramped up that member-driven philosophy by adding 13 new services since June 17, 2010. Among these services are solutions for members in areas of cloud computing and business continuity and disaster recovery. Services such as Network Backup, LMS Hosting and Virtual Servers have been among some of the services well-received from members. Other important services launched were Mobile Videoconferencing and discounts on SSL certificates.
MOREnet continues to research and develop new services that will meet their members’ needs and asks for constant feedback to help see what needs might be on the horizon. “MOREnet has always believed that offering high-quality services with superior customer service would benefit our membership” states Hank Niederhelm, Director of Infrastructure. “Our roots began in networking and if we grow this foundation with new services, MOREnet will be serving our members for many years to come.”