4 higher ed tech trends; winning strategies to meet new demands in a new year.
GUEST COLUMN | by Dan Rivera
As anticipated, over the past year higher education IT departments continued adjusting to their new role as significant contributors to student outcomes.
Although the coming year looks similar overall, we do expect shifts in specific demands and requirements.
As a result, we foresee that the following four tech trends will top your to-do lists, along with adopting the right infrastructure strategies to address them.
1) Student Success Stays Ascendant
With students keenly interested in attending the institutions most closely focused on their success, IT departments are simply expected to deliver high-performance, seamless, uninterrupted mobile access to educational resources, campus services, advisors, mentors and counselors on campus and off.
Ensuring utility grade experiences requires institutions to go beyond networking basics to identify and eliminate potential bottlenecks as well as put options for quickly resolving any unexpected issues into the palm of a user’s hand.
2) Physical Safety and Security Take to the Fore
Modern Wi-Fi deployments are also playing a critical student success role by contributing to physical safety and security. With many institutions completing refreshes to blanket indoor and outdoor spaces with advanced wireless, higher ed IT departments are now taking advantage of the location-based services (LBS) capabilities within their modern infrastructure solutions.
LBS technologies can speed incident reporting and then guide responders to the correct areas faster than ever before. With heightened student interest in campus safety measures as a qualification for enrollment, LBS offers your team an important tool for delivering on safety expectations.
3) Outsmarting Cyberthreats Remains Critical
Naturally, keeping data secure is also critical for student success. Given the influx of IoT devices, financially motivated cyber criminals, disparate IT groups and student expectations to live fully online lives, higher education institutions face data security challenges on multiple fronts.
Beyond criminal or financial bad actors, the ubiquity of online gaming has created a new security headache, with higher ed institutions seeing a rise in DDoS attacks by gamers seeking to disadvantage their rivals.
Clearly, innovative strategies for defending your network are an imperative for ensuring safe campus environments.
4) Sustainability Demands Continue to Rise
The current generation of students is even more focused on sustainability as a success measure than ever before, making them keen observers of what your institution is, or is not, doing to reduce impacts.
Higher ed IT departments are responding by leveraging IoT and green capabilities offered by intelligent network infrastructure and management solutions. A smart network can use Artificial Intelligence, detecting presence and activity to turn on/off wired ports, wireless access points, HVAC and lighting, and even schedule waste collection.
For example, using IoT-enabled smart solar trash can sensors to detect when a container is full and notify maintenance. In turn, collection routes become need-driven rather than fixed-route, based on IoT reports.
Savvy Strategies Get You to Your Goals
To address the technology aspects of each of the foregoing trends, higher ed IT departments have an array of intelligent and cost-effective strategies available from which to choose. We recommend the following for simultaneously contributing to student success while streamlining infrastructure management and reducing IT costs:
Make proactivity your new normal. It’s impossible to deliver the type of utility grade connectivity your constituencies expect if you’re always reacting to the next network issue. Adopting AI-powered analytics and assurance solutions allows your team to proactively uncover networking issues before they impact users.
Such solutions help you stay ahead of impending bottlenecks while eliminating manual chores that contribute to management overhead. Further, the most innovative tools are easy to learn as they deliver information via visually rich graphics. Network administrators simply drill down to investigate issues with a click, tap or swipe.
Integrate advanced emergency response tools. Although LBS was first introduced as a wayfinding feature for mobile apps, it also enables the integration of solutions that aid responders during a physical onsite event.
The most innovative tools provide responders with 4D visualizations, showing reported threat locations, entry and exit points, and time stamping and also provide real-time communication between staff, students and visitors. Giving responders accurate visuals with split-second updates enables them to focus their efforts correctly on the areas requiring the most immediate attention to improve outcomes for everyone.
Beef up your campus app. Combining LBS-enabled services and proactive infrastructure management with your campus app puts powerful self-service safety and troubleshooting tools into the hands of every student, faculty and staff person at your institution.
For safety and security, integrating LBS tools with your campus app not only can provide students with a panic button, it also serves as a locator that automatically feeds their information into the emergency response solution without the user needing to take any other action. As an integrated system, verbal and text communications can feed into the response system as well.
Improving your campus app can also provide your mobile users one-tap reporting of connectivity insufficiencies. With this type of trouble reporting, your IT team instantly gains specifics they frequently lack, such as the device involved, the AP it was connected too, accompanying data traffic at the time, sources of interference and a variety of other details for quickly getting to the root of the problem and preventing it from happening again.
Giving your mobile users the ability to report connectivity concerns easily and receive updates on resolutions will also increase user satisfaction and may reduce negative social media posts.
Stamp out cyberthreats fast. Regardless how a threat invades your network, when a breach occurs – a matter of when not if – the time it takes from an intrusion to the point of compromising data continues to be very short.
That’s why colleges and universities are infusing real-time intelligence into their security stack by adopting AI-based threat detection solutions such as user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA). Such solutions gather baselines from tens of thousands of devices and users automatically, whether connected via wireless or wired. Then, a UEBA detects anomalous behavior faster than humanly possible, gives the behavior a risk score, alerts the appropriate systems administrators and simultaneously denies network access.
More sophisticated UEBA tools integrate seamlessly with an access management solution, enabling you to provide clear, plain-English feedback to any affected users based on policies you set.
For example, if a smartphone is involved, the user can be directed to call a specific IT resource. Or, if a door card reader is affected, a potential user can be sent an automatic text message directing them to an operable door.
Supplying users with immediate, clear feedback significantly reduces the types of frustration that cause people to vent dissatisfaction on social media.
Turn your infrastructure green. With intelligent infrastructure also comes the capability to detect and learn the utilization patterns of different APs and switch ports. Much like today’s smart lighting or HVAC systems, green infrastructure powers down APs and switch ports during periods of low utilization and automatically restores them as demands require.
For example, when your large, high-density lecture halls reach certain capacity minimums, specific APs can be turned down. Likewise, as capacity increases, the APs will be automatically restored.
Regardless of where you start, in the coming year it’s certain you’ll be asked to meet user experience, physical safety, data security and sustainability expectations to address student success.
With so much intelligence available for meeting new demands, you can expect to have options to choose from that suit colleges and universities from across the institutional landscape.
Dan Rivera is a product marketing manager expert for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Dan’s career in the information technology industry spans nearly three decades, during which he has focused on the education sector. Connect with him on LinkedIn.