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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.

Data analytics is also helping VSU meet its goal of responding faster to unforeseen classroom glitches. Haugabrook says he was inspired by how police forces use data analytics to track crime hot spots and then strategically place officers around town to reduce criminal activity. So VSU conducted a pilot that used sophisticated algorithms and computer models to determine where to strategically place technicians across campus. Technicians are now situated in key locations around campus so that if an issue arises, they can be on-site within minutes.

In the past, response times ranged from one to two hours. By contrast, Haugabrook says, the pilot project achieved an average 13-minute response rate. "Going from an hour down to 13 minutes is really huge," he says. "When we've talked to some other schools, they've said that's not even possible, so it was a really great achievement."

The summer race against time

All of this activity is forced to occur in an ever-narrowing window of opportunity.

Once upon a time, university campuses emptied out for the summer, giving IT time to do its work in peace. No more. Adult education programs, online learning courses, weekend sessions, summer camps for high school students and younger -- they all contribute to a round-the-clock IT environment that makes it difficult for CIOs to schedule implementations and upgrades.

"There are no downtimes," says Purdue's McCartney. "As the university moves to a more continuous twelve-month operation, opportunities for inadvertent conflicts only grow."

Deborah Corwin Scott, CIO at WPI, says her team likewise is under significant time pressure in the summer months.

"As soon as we finish commencement, that's our opportunity to get into some of the buildings that have been occupied all year long, such as the dorms, to add new technology and do upgrades and repairs," Scott says. "The classrooms also are idle a little bit right after graduation, and we can upgrade all of our classroom technology as well as get into some of the other academic spaces," she continues. "We only have a short window because then we get into the summer term and the summer programs, so it's quite a tight schedule."

If there's no downtime in the IT schedule, that almost always means there's no summer break for the CIO either. When asked what his summer vacation plans are, AU's Swartz responds incredulously, "Are you kidding me?"

VSU's Haugabrook says, "I got one day vacation and it actually wasn't a full day. I think I worked until lunchtime and then I got the rest of that day," he chuckles. "That was my vacation."

As for Bryant's LoCurto, he says never really disconnects, even when on vacation. "For me, being able to connect is a stress reliever," he says. "If I wasn't connected for a couple of days, I'd be uneasy. A vacation means being able to work, just not in the office."

(Additional reporting by Tracy Mayor)

Direct Link to Video: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2970862/infrastructure-management/how-college-cios-brace-for-back-to-school.html

 

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