5 simple ways to streamline campus technology


Paige Francis, CIO for Information Technology Services at Fairfield University, shares five tips to prepare for a future of rapid technology growth

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Somewhere along the line, it seems that higher-education technology leaders hit a development gap where the KISS principle was routinely ignored. The “Keep It Simple Stupid” adage states that “systems perform best when they have simple designs rather than complex ones.”

It appears this gap has coincided with significant advancements in technology, leading to near-immediate obsolescence—and resulting in an overabundance of clunky technology and an over-outfitting of space. In a nutshell, more has resulted in less. We oversupplied and over-indulged, and now many institutions are forced to maintain these cumbersome environments … or are they?

Here are five suggestions for getting back to the basics and streamlining campus technology.

1. Telepresence sounds fancy, but…

Unless you are a Fortune 500 company or a vendor for Walmart, it’s entirely possible that the amount of money you invested in an end-to-end telepresence unit could have been avoided. Between Google Hangouts, WebEx, and Skype, outfitting a small conference room that might get used a few hours a week with a five-figure telepresence package is likely overkill. Are you in the business of making conference calls? If not, you might not need a comprehensive “telepresence.” You most definitely don’t need two.

(Next page: More higher-education technology tips)

2. Simpler classroom technology

The touchpad on the wall has twenty “simple” buttons, yet a faculty member still can’t figure out how to get the screen to come down from the ceiling—while the cords to connect their laptop look like the world’s largest ball of twine. It makes sense for a college campus to have an auditorium or two equipped with specialized technology based on need, but there should be a push toward a standard layout for all standard classrooms that epitomizes simple, straightforward, plug-and-play technology.

3. Virtualization, cloud-style

Often there is a “daisy chain” effect to campus technology. Do you have students chained to particular labs for one or two high-capacity software programs (think: SPSS)? Are your online students required to visit campus to use these systems as well? Are you forced to refresh dozens of computers on a routine basis to keep these labs stocked, solely for a handful of students needing to access a handful of specialized programs?

If you’ve hesitated to embrace desktop virtualization, think again. Only this time, think about virtualization minus the massive up-front costs, the high-power hardware, and the perpetual maintenance. Cloud My Office is one solution (among many) that has allowed Fairfield University to jump nearly overnight into a desktop virtualization pilot. It’s relatively economical, it’s easy to set up, there’s help for faculty and students, and you only pay for what you use. This effort also ties in with any BYOD initiative, as the cloud-based virtualized environments run the same from any device.

4. Printers: The elephant in the room

Do you own your campus printers? If so, ask your staff how much of their time is spent maintaining the printers—the paper, the toner, the jams. If a high-volume printer breaks down, is there outcry? At Fairfield University, we took down decades of resource-draining printer maintenance with a one-two punch.

For student printing, we outsourced the process entirely. We opted for the Wireless Everywhere, Print Anywhere (WEPA) system. The company provides the hardware and all support except for loading paper. When the paper runs low or if there is an issue, technicians receive automated alerts. In addition, students’ print jobs are tied to their student IDs. They can wirelessly print a homework assignment from their iPad sitting in the cafeteria, then swipe their ID card an hour later at a WEPA station in the library—and out comes their selected print job. Secure, seamless, convenient.

For staff printing, we went a more traditional route and contracted with a local company to supply and maintain our network printers. Slightly less innovative than the WEPA system, but more adaptable for our office environment—and a significant improvement over owning and maintaining our own machines.

(Next page: Francis’ final tip)

5. Campus training

Our campus does not have a dedicated “staff development” department. Our academic side does a fantastic job of engaging and training our faculty through the Center for Academic Excellence; however, the staff side was lacking. After a brief review, we discovered our students could use some assistance as well with basics like Excel, Access, and PowerPoint.

Fairfield University decided to purchase a site license for Lynda.com, making it available to everyone via our university portal—and within six months, this hosted solution boasted nearly 1,600 users and 13,638 videos viewed, to the tune of 911 hours. It continues to provide benefits as we roll out Office 2013 and new operating systems.

You might be thinking, “Ugh. We already invested all of this cash in outfitting our space with extreme solutions. If we walk away now, it’s like throwing money away.” Not necessarily. Agility will be key for the next few years. No vendor or solution should make you feel trapped into continued use.

If they do, now’s the time to start wrangling out of their grip. Do the math. Include upkeep, support, replacement parts, energy, time, staff, reliability, and risk—and compare that total to the total cost of a more economical and flexible solution. In our case, in every case, it made sense to boldly go where few have gone in technology at our institution—to the land of minimalistic, clean, and user-friendly.

Now, more than ever, the theme needs to be: consolidate, streamline, and prepare for a future of rapid technology growth. This future can only be realized effectively through the simple use of equipment in thoroughly scalable environments.

Paige Francis is the CIO for Information Technology Services at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. A Northwest Arkansan turned New Englander, Francis was named as one of the Top 50 Most Social CIOs in Higher Education and one of Computerworld’s 2014 Premier 100 IT Leaders. She is also a member of eCampus News’ Advisory Board.