University CIOs Have The Hardest Job

Neal Tilley, Director- Business Development Education Vertical, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise
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Neal Tilley, Director- Business Development Education Vertical, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

I salute the Higher Education CIOs across the world. No other enterprise would have the complex mix of constituents, diverse technology demands and unique budget constraints. Every university CIO has to balance the expectations of the Students (customer) Teaching staff(User) and their invested strategy from its Governing body (whether State or Privately run). It’s not easy.

It’s not just a case that CIOs have to accommodate solutions to meet new device proliferation that is appearing across the campus, it’s all about keeping everyone happy, a level of customer service that is demanded by everyone and would floor any normal enterprise CIO. This is an era that is filled with a BYOD and Personal Cloud agenda that is written by the all the higher education users themselves. The personal cloud is described as a mobile computing and communications environment in which users have several expectations are now paramount to an Education CIO, namely:

• The ability to seamlessly merge the personal and professional use of their various devices
- Easy access to the services and applications they’ve grown accustomed to, again across both their professional and personal lives—and yes, that includes social media sites

• The ability to easily move files from one device to another, a task that service that is common place in the consumer world now has to be seamless across a University

• Complete control over how they communicate, choosing from voice, video, tweet and text at will—meaning that all media must be synchronized on all of their computing and communications devices, and not restricted.

In a recent University study, it is believed that around 40 percent of the student population had three devices connected simultaneously. Of which 39 percent are on social media applications every 10 minutes, while 90 percent of teachers are use Social Media as part of the classroom communication.

The idea of Student’s employing multiple devices day to day, with no guarantee they will stick to a predictable pattern of usage also dramatically multiplies the sheer number of devices that IT must secure and support. Clearly, the traditional model of access security tied to a single device will quickly become too complex, and effect the user satisfaction. What’s needed is security that’s tied to the constituents, with policies that apply to whatever device that person may employ at any given time, but sensitive to the priority of educating students.

Bandwidth is another issue. In a world where most every device is video-capable, bandwidth requirements can increase dramatically. Students and Teaching staff will consume every megabyte that is available between the personal and the professional activities on the University network. Consider the launch of the XBOX one and PS4? Not only are they next generation devices that will consume more bandwidth than ever before, but the combine all the elements that will mean a huge drain on the dorm or campus network. But it’s an expectation that will be high on new student’s list of needs!

That goes also for both wired and wireless networks, given that the users expect to be connected no matter where they may be. Education CIOs need a way to control bandwidth usage to ensure that educational-related video sessions get preference over the ability of students to video conference friends while they download the latest game at the same time.

Such access tools are crucial for ensuring that Students and Teaching professionals consistently experience good response times no matter what application they’re using, from any device and location.

In short, Education CIOs have unique issues to confront when supporting the era of BYOD and personal clouds. Specifically, CIOs need to bring five essential attributes to the Higher Education environment:
• Real-time, dynamic bandwidth allocation of the sort described above
• User-centric connections that are prioritized by the network itself
• Meaningful presence information to put context around a contact’s availability.
• Native video capabilities that take advantage of the video capabilities built into most devices and makes possible multiparty video conferencing without the need for expensive, complex bridging equipment
• Social knowledge and applications context, enabling users to tap into social networks to find contacts and link to outside sources

What about the next phase? New era of Gaming consoles, give us a clue.
Today’s learners are different. Expectations in higher education are now different. Students (and now Parents) have grown up to be connected in ways that older generations cannot even imagine. CIO needs to keep pace supporting all these type of consumer expectation that now dominate the college environment. They also have to protect the Faculty and how they teach. This I believe is the unique mix that makes the Education CIO the hardest role right now in Information Technology

The student’s learning experience has been enriched by allowing them to feel closer to the personal cloud, share information and collaborate on projects. The Wi-Fi access points deployed over a university provide internet access to the students so they stay connected to the community and their slice of the cloud. However many teaching professionals struggle to keep the student’s focus, the pressure to match this level of connected knowledge can be a negative, and hamper their ability to drive learning performance.

But it does require a shift in thinking about the way CIO build and operate networks, a shift to a user-centric, rather than device-centric, approach to communications. This new type of infrastructure has to include tools that are easy to use—for Teacher as well as Students—effective and adaptive to rapid and unexpected changes. And, of course, it has to provide the performance the cloud era demands and that the new networking infrastructure architecture can deliver.

Recently, Educause annually researched Top 10 IT Issues faced by Higher Education CIOs.This was dominated by BYOD, Mobility and how to cope with Student outcomes that are hinged on how good your wireless infrastructure is verses how good your customer service is when it doesn’t work.

For Education CIOs, BYOD is more than a PC, a Mac a smart phone or tablet, it’s a printer, an Apple TV, a Roku, a Smart TV, a XboxOne, aPS4, its Raspberry Pi. It’s everything that plugs or connects, that a student or a teacher believes they need. The line between personal and professional, social and learning, are blurred. “You can’t just turn off the tech in the classroom because the Professor is frustrated as they fight for student’s focus to be on them, these students are paying customers and they have expectations for a connected life” one delegate told me.

Considering it is today technically possible that your professor could materialize on your personal device in front of the very material you’re studying to give a unique teaching experience. It is technically possible today for a focused student to walk out of class, click a simple URL and instantly rewind the lecture content to hit important points for a homework assignment by the time they walk in to their dorm room. It’s even possible for a parent to visit their daughters sculpture portfolio in the Art center, just by using a windows PC and a remote controlled Tele presence robot never leaving their home, while saving the visual experience up to a secure visual portal forever. It’s possible for the campus Provost to record a welcome message to a specific prospectus student, and instantly upload to a digital location across campus, exactly where that student is during their campus tour. Making sure that even though they can’t be there physically, they could still let them know how important they are to the college and the liberal arts foundation.

It’s a difficult task for any Education CIO to solve, and in some cases their hands are tied. However the faculty and academics still need to be able to teach, deliver student outcomes.

As many colleges move to a fully deployed BYOD environment, it will become even more difficult to get students focused in the classroom at all times. The very innovation we see in XBOX one or PS4, will be talked about as part of the Gamerifcation of education. They are pivotal on the acceptance of the teaching fellows and talented professors that are the life blood of the college programs and they are vital to the logistics in any student’s journey. For their part, Education CIOs have a very tough task ahead and we can hope that the importance of Education Technology to the future of education will see them rewarded you all their innovation.

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