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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.

Bryant University reduces at least part of the headache by providing every incoming freshman with a brand-new Lenovo ThinkPad, which they use for two years; returning juniors are encouraged to trade in their original laptop for a newer model.

"On Labor Day, we will roll out 1,100 laptops in an hour," says LoCurto. Despite a tightly run distribution process that would make enterprises envious, LoCurto says, "We worry less about the 1,000 or so students getting good computers and more about the 2,000 students coming back with the computers that they used all summer, potentially filled with viruses."

To guard against students connecting infected devices onto the network, university IT departments typically take a number of preventative measures. At Bryant, for example, no device is able to access the university's network unless it is registered -- a policy that also pertains to the school's guest network. Students are on a separate network from faculty to minimize security risks. Network usage is policy driven via Bryant University's network management system.

And for any students who may be a wee bit rules-averse? "We have enough monitoring tools that we can tell who did what, and when and what site they were on," LoCurto says.

Social, analytics amp up service delivery

Another new pressure on the tech staff: social media, which has dramatically changed the way education IT interfaces with its target audience of tech-savvy 20-somethings. "You like to see the green lights on the network all the time, because if the network goes out for one minute, I'm guaranteed to see at least twenty tweets out there," says Haugabrook. More than simply a nuisance, he says, these kinds of virtual black eyes can have a disastrous impact on a university's ability to recruit prospective students.

For this reason, VSU relies on a combination of Oracle Business Intelligence and social relationship management technologies to flag social media mentions the moment they occur. "We'll find out [about a network outage] on Twitter before somebody actually calls the help desk," says Haugabrook. "We're monitoring social media so that we know about things as early as possible."

VSU also taps the Oracle suite to make more informed decisions in regards to staffing its help desk. By collecting and analyzing data on call volume and response times, VSU now has a clearer picture of how to better deploy its staff and respond more quickly to queries.

Some of these data-driven decisions include transitioning to a 24-hour help desk to accommodate adult and online learners, as well as training overnight library staff to serve as IT support specialists for late-night queries. What's more, rather than hire full-time employees, VSU is hiring students part-time to function as help-desk technicians, enabling VSU to cut the overall IT budget by 5 percent this year while offering greater service, Haugabrook says.


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