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How college CIOs brace for back-to-school

Cindy Waxer | Aug. 18, 2015
Enterprise IT stands to learn a lot from higher-ed CIOs, who are on the front lines in tackling demands for connectivity, service, security and innovation.

It's a combination of value-added service and cost reduction that enterprise IT teams dream of. "What we're doing is actually improving service while at the same time reducing costs," says Haugabrook. "Our wireless project will provide students with more access, and Internet-based television is actually going to reduce our overall cable costs."

With student experience firmly in mind, Reed Sheard, vice president for college advancement and CIO at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., every year picks a project "that's really ahead of when mass adoption is occurring. If we get it right, it changes the rules in our favor by providing better service or service that's actually beyond what people are expecting," Sheard says. "It brings delight to people's computing experience at the college."

This year, Sheard is in the process of moving many of the university's services to the cloud, including student admissions, enrollment and relationship management, which he expects to improve the student experience by providing greater and easier accessibility to services.

At Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., returning students will be able to enjoy Wi-Fi that's scaled to meet the demands of their particular location on campus, says assistant CIO Sean O'Connor. "We've architected the wireless network to address the needs of the students and faculty in the classroom, in the dorm rooms or just going across campus," he explains.

The school now has the ability to deploy access points specifically designed to address heavily used areas where there is a lot of congestion on the network. "If I have a classroom with 75 people in it, that's going to need a different kind of access point than a dorm room, which serves only four or five people at a time," O'Connor says.

Network access is Job No. 1

The speediest connections in the world won't make students happy if they can't connect their devices the moment they set foot on campus. American University (AU) in Washington, D.C. will welcome 14,000 students on day one, 2,000 of which will be completely new to the school.

To help students properly configure their devices for AU's wired and wireless networks, the university holds an annual Tech Fair during orientation week, according to CIO Dave Swartz. "It's not just getting one device on the network and configuring it," says Swartz. "Some of these game consoles and other kinds of intelligent devices aren't necessarily easy to get on our network, so we have to train and orient students."

The sheer number of devices that need to be configured can be staggering, CIOs say. "On any day in the fall, just on our wireless network, we'll have over 55,000 unique devices," says Gerry McCartney, vice president of IT and CIO at Purdue University in West Lafayette, In. "That's everybody's smartphone, Xbox, laptop and iPad."


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