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As Higher Education Evolves, Institutions Should Engage Stakeholders Differently

Vendor partnerships and cross-campus support can help IT leaders achieve high-priority objectives.

It is virtually impossible to untangle technology from core service delivery in higher education. As institutions chart a path through the evolving technology landscape, they may need to shift their perspectives.

Some higher education institutions view technology the way they do plumbing: They understand that it’s a necessity, but they also think it’s probably not worth the expense of keeping it optimized and up to date. In reality, technology is essential to the core mission of higher education. When universities and colleges fail to invest effectively in technology, it quickly becomes difficult to provide the best student experience.

Most CIOs have a clear vision of what they want to achieve on their campuses: typically, some combination of improving cybersecurity, shifting consumption models, some form of cloud adoption and integrating artificial intelligence. Aligning stakeholders can represent a significant hurdle as IT teams work to solve their technology challenges and achieve their objectives. To help with the alignment, higher education IT leaders should try to develop strong vendor relationships. By developing true partnerships rather than transactional relationships with select vendors, IT leaders can achieve their visions more quickly.

The Need for Collaboration

When faced with budgetary and other pressures, it is crucial for IT leaders to engage with their nontechnical counterparts. Such cross-departmental conversations don’t always happen organically, because many campuses remain siloed. But by focusing on shared objectives and shifting technical conversations to business conversations, IT leaders can drive a dialogue in which everyone can participate.

In this dialogue, problems can be reframed to establish an objective that leads to a resolution. For example, institutions have always considered technology acquisitions to be capital expenditures. Therefore, upgrades are seen as cost-restrictive burdens instead of institutional investments with multiple flexible consumption models.

Greater collaboration among all stakeholders and external partners should yield outcomes that benefit the institution. The impact can accelerate CIO initiatives around transformative approaches in cybersecurity, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

An Emphasis on Cybersecurity

Major universities have been impacted by ransomware as recently as January. IT teams that try to manage their technology stacks like a municipality face challenges. Segmenting the network while accommodating integration is a balancing act, but security cannot be ignored.

Integrating security across the entire network and across multiple vendor deployments is a paramount consideration. For example, a necessary security implementation at the firewall should be easily accessible to  all end users, not just at the internet perimeter.

In this approach, security is not about deploying more vendor solutions, which can complicate the workload of limited IT and security teams. Instead, security is about a functional service provided by campus IT teams to ensure security policies that are easy to deploy and easy to follow for all stakeholders.

Apart from cost, complexity is the greatest obstacle to the accelerated adoption of widespread security policies within an institution. When an institution seeks out a network partner, it should keep this in mind. The ideal partners have built-in security capabilities, security certifications validated by the industry and segmentation designs that are natively secure. The right vendor should also be able to ensure that these features do not add complexity.

Creating a Custom Hybrid Cloud Environment

Like many organizations, colleges need to be budget-conscious. This consideration alone has motivated many institutions to move from the capital expenditure model for IT investments to the more scalable and predictable operating expenditure model typically seen in cloud environments. The cloud enables institutions to align their IT infrastructure with current enrollment while allowing flexibility as needed.

As institutions adopt more cloud technology, there is still a necessary dependence on IT infrastructure on campus, whether that’s a data center or the switches and access points supporting wireless connectivity. There may be times when higher education institutions want to use on-premises solutions for high-density environments, such as sports venues and other gathering spaces for students on campus. This is why most institutions craft hybrid environments that allow them to integrate the best of both worlds. Versatility is key. Higher education isn’t a one-size-fits-all environment. Identifying vendors to partner with on these outcomes is key to realizing effective transformations.

The Case for Effective Use of AI

IT leaders must weigh the pros and cons of the rate and nature of AI adoption, but AI has quickly become a necessary consideration in our modern landscape. Higher education institutions are looking at AI for a variety of use cases, including curriculum involvement, security, and institutional and technology services.

In technology services, one of the most valuable ways to deploy AI is through networking solutions that use proactive troubleshooting to ensure continuous, high-performing connectivity. These solutions may implement predictive analysis and suggest countermeasures that incorporate human oversight.

On many campuses, it’s not unusual for two or three people to support thousands of users and their devices. AI-enabled network management can reduce a potentially overwhelming manual workload. When IT teams spend less time on remediation, they can focus on strategic tasks, such as developing networks that deliver exceptional student experiences.

CIOs have clearly defined objectives around cybersecurity, cloud adoption, financial consumption models and AI. Effective CIOs meet the needs of their stakeholders by forming strategic partnerships with vendors that help the IT organization deliver on these objectives.

Story by Dane Felicien, the senior national manager for higher education at Extreme Networks. He has more than 25 years of experience across IT roles spanning telecom, enterprise and higher education. Dane is an advocate for sensible innovation, creative automation and inherent security.

Dane Felicien

Senior National Manager for Higher Education
Dane Felicien is the senior national manager for higher education at Extreme Networks. He has more than 25 years of experience across IT roles spanning telecom, enterprise and higher education. Dane is an advocate for sensible innovation, creative automation and inherent security.