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IoT and the College Campus: 9 Ways Schools Can Prepare For the Hyper-Connected Age

Transitioning smoothly to the age of the Internet of Things (IoT) requires that schools build a bedrock for further innovation.

For many years, human-to-human communication has been the bedrock of our daily lives. More recently, however, machine-to-machine streaming has become a dominant, and often disruptive, dance partner in the communication landscape. But now, we are beginning to catch a glimpse of a world where the communication composition is created with human-to-machine data culminating in one seamlessly-orchestrated waltz.

Higher education may soon see smart sensors embedded in the school parking garage, alerting you to a much-coveted-but-now-suddenly-available spot right by your office. Real time, actionable data will help schools to know exactly when to service equipment and achieve savings from the most optimal utilization of facilities and energy. Smart doors and security cameras will know when to open, shut, lock and monitor movement through a space. This seemingly utopian scenario could become the reality for higher ed institutions in a few years.

The mobile devices flooding campuses today represent the first wave of an era of interconnected devices, aptly named the Internet of Things (IoT). The 2013 Horizon Report predicts that the adoption of smart objects will become widespread in higher education institutions by 2017. By tapping into a stream of data that transmits from inanimate objects around us, schools can achieve greater revenue and value by moving away from transactional interactions with students, staff, providers and assets to seamless, instantaneous relationships.

With the rise of IoT, institutions are faced with preparing for the boom in smart devices on the horizon. In the past, schools were worried about a few ports from a printer they didn’t know about -- and this new wave brings with it too many variables when it comes to mobile.

Transitioning smoothly to the IoT age requires that schools build a bedrock for further innovation. This consists of a secure, agile and reliable network; a scalable plan for residential network infrastructure; and a proactive plan for bandwidth management.

Below are nine IoT readiness tips for the residential network:

  1. With the exponential growth in devices, a typical five-year plan for infrastructure growth may only last three years. It is impossible to future-proof the network with a “wired-only” budget. Plan for expanded bandwidth and wireless access points by working collaboratively across the business, IT, housing and student services departments to meet student expectations, now and into the future
  2. More data and devices equal greater complexity equals greater IT spend. To streamline operational and capital investments, consider outsourcing the residential network to a proven specialist that can provide predictable costs, stable budgets, and 24/7 support and monitoring. At Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, honesty has been key in the decision to use a ResNet specialist -- the school decided to ask if the in-house team can truly continue to meet student expectations in a secure way. The answer was “no,” and the team decided to let a specialist bring in not only domain expertise and high-caliber talent, but also lessons learned from other schools, leaving the institution to fulfill its core mission. By outsourcing the residential network, the in-house IT team has also been freed to improve the academic and administrative networks dramatically.
  3. If the school will be managing the network in-house, remember to budget for indirect costs, such as software upgrades, new access Wi-Fi points, maintenance, and training and support, as such costs account for up to 60 percent of an institution’s cost of ownership, according to tech research firm Gartner.
  4. As the lines between everyday objects and technology blur, schools will be challenged by the issue of security. What were once static ports that could be tracked down are now fully mobile. The IoT provides an array of opportunities for hackers to target residents. Begin a conversation about who owns and processes the data, how smart devices affect the privacy and security of students, and how the school can toughen and monitor its security infrastructure 24/7. Outsourcing the network will help transfer security risks and liability while offsetting the costs needed for additional manpower.
  5. To ensure high availability, give more weight during the selection process to a vendor/partner that has committed to a specific bandwidth per student -- even during high-traffic periods -- and is able to prove results through regular testing.
  6. Build in network upgrades throughout the life of the provider’s contract to reduce capital risk and ensure that the infrastructure stays ahead of student need.
  7. Ensure that a support infrastructure is in place to handle a wide variety of devices. Increasingly, although now still in the minority, schools are providing 24/7 support, and via a number of methods such as text, chat, phone and email.              
  8. Watch consumer and entertainment businesses to keep abreast of what smart technologies are coming our way.                       
  9. Students can work with schools to get their needs met, or they will work around the institution to get what they want without consent or monitoring. A best practice that has worked at Hardin-Simmons was to keep the channels of communication with the student life group open and ask, “What are you trying to accomplish?” and then, “Let’s work together to find a solution that makes sense."
The long-term implications of the Internet of Things on higher education is not yet clear, but schools can be better prepared for new challenges by opening the channels of communication between business, IT and housing departments to proactively strategize, keep network infrastructure ahead of the curve to meet student demand, and implement sound governance and budgeting policies.

Travis Seekins is the associate VP of Student Technology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.