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Professional Opinion

Campuses transition to the ‘Internet of Things'

How schools can prepare for the hyper-connected age
University Business, August 2015
Travis Seekins is associate vice president of student technology at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.
Travis Seekins is associate vice president of student technology at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.

Human-to human communications have been the bedrock of our lives. More recently, machine-to-machine streaming has become a dominant and often disruptive dance partner in the communication landscape. And now we are glimpsing a world where human-to-machine links culminate in one seamlessly orchestrated waltz.

Imagine smart sensors embedded in the school parking garage, alerting you to a much coveted, and now suddenly available, spot right by your office. Real-time, actionable data will help schools know exactly when to service equipment and achieve savings from the most optimal use of facilities and energy. Smart doors and security cameras will know when to open, shut, lock and monitor movement through a space.

The mobile devices flooding campuses today are the first wave of an era of interconnected devices, aptly named the Internet of Things, or IoT. By tapping into the data transmitted by inanimate objects around us, schools can achieve greater revenue and value by moving away from transactional interactions with students, staff, providers and assets.

Getting ready for IoT

Transitioning smoothly to the IoT age requires a secure, agile and reliable network; a scalable plan for residential network infrastructure; and a proactive plan for bandwidth management. Here are eight tips to help you prepare:

  1. Plan for expanded bandwidth and wireless access points. With the exponential growth in devices, a typical five-year infrastructure expansion plan may last only three years.  
  2. Consider outsourcing. A proven network specialist can provide predictable costs, stable budgets and 24/7 support and monitoring. By outsourcing the residential network, our in-house IT team has been freed to improve the academic and administrative networks.
  3. Budget for indirect costs. If your network will be managing in-house, watch out for overlooked costs, such as software upgrades, new access Wi-Fi points, maintenance, training and support. These costs can account for as much as 60 percent of an institution’s cost of ownership.
  4. Tighten security. 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.
  5. Go with a provider that can deliver. Give more weight during the outsourcing selection process to a 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. This will reduce capital risk and ensure that the infrastructure stays ahead of student needs.
  7. Build a support infrastructure. Schools are increasingly being asked to handle a wide variety of devices. Providing 24/7 support—via a number of methods such as text, chat, phone and email—will be critical.
  8. Work with students. Left unchecked, students will work around the institution to get what they want without consent or monitoring, exposing the institution to a variety of threats. A best practice at Hardin-Simmons University is open communication with the student life group. Ask what they’re trying to accomplish. Then 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. Preparing for these new challenges with communication and a collaborative approach will keep network infrastructure ahead of the curve and maintain sound governance and budgeting policies.

Travis Seekins is associate vice president of student technology at Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.

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