5 trends and strategies for achieving IT and institutional success.
GUEST COLUMN | by Chris Tingley
With academic institutions continuing to recover from the enrollment and financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology remains a key enabler and higher education IT departments are being called upon to deliver the right technology, at the right time.
‘…technology remains a key enabler and higher education IT departments are being called upon to deliver the right technology, at the right time.’
To gain an understanding of how IT teams are responding in 2023, we’ve engaged with IT leaders across a wide range of public and private institutions. Through our discussions, we’ve identified the following five technology trends on everyone’s mind.
1) Addressing Escalating Connectivity Demands
As mobile and IoT device volumes continue to proliferate, today’s users expect to connect everything, regardless of a device’s age or type. Further, users frequently want their endpoints to interact seamlessly with each other to create smart home, office, and research settings. Institutionally, the ongoing move toward making facilities smarter also creates greater demands on wired and wireless networks. All of this requires appropriate bandwidth, backward compatibility, detailed device profiling, and granular policy enforcement for automatically and securely assigning tens of thousands of connections daily to the appropriate internal and guest access networks.
2) Facilitating the Esports Explosion
With the popularity of esports becoming an important institutional tool for attracting new student cohorts, higher ed IT departments are now asked to bring powerful and security-intensive edge computing solutions to “arenas” located in non-traditional sporting facilities, including repurposed spaces like media centers and student unions. This creates challenges for rapidly optimizing data traffic and efficiently scaling your infrastructure. Further, esports practice fields include residence halls, which may necessitate additional adjustments.
3) Enabling Data-Informed Decision-Making
To improve resource allocation in support of student success, institutions are turning to data-informed decision-making to harness sophisticated data analytics for increasing enrollments, transforming academics, and improving graduation rates. As networking infrastructure is continuously collecting user and device behavior data, it’s one of an institution’s most comprehensive data sources. The trick is unlocking all of this valuable data in the form of actionable insights.
4) Advancing Cybersecurity
With students, faculty, and staff regularly accessing resources via systems and technologies ranging from laptops containing sophisticated anti-malware, to headless IoT devices with no security at all, it’s no wonder that malicious attacks continue to rise at educational institutions. Combatting this escalating threat environment requires evolving your cybersecurity strategy to include new network security frameworks and advanced solutions.
5) Aligning IT and Institutional Objectives
Tackling any of the foregoing trends requires that IT teams go beyond having a seat at the table to becoming valued executive-level partners who anticipate new demands and respond with solutions that eliminate academic, research, facilities management, and administrative friction. Savvy IT leaders are deploying technologies and innovations that simplify processes and address budgetary requirements enterprise-wide, enabling them to say “yes” to whatever new needs arise.
2023 Path to Success
Not surprisingly, the path to success in 2023 starts at the networking level. Whether wired, wireless, or SD-WAN, higher ed IT departments must continuously enhance the efficiency and security of their networks. Building on our suggestions of last year, such as adopting Wi-Fi 6E, we recommend making the following a priority.
Adopt Flexible, Scalable NaaS Infrastructure. To deliver seamless, secure, always-on connectivity while enabling your institution to dedicate constrained funds to capital projects, consider a networking-as-a-service (NaaS) model. An increasingly attractive option, we estimate that 20 percent of all enterprises will have a NaaS strategy by the end of 2023.
Migrating to NaaS enables accelerating network modernization, without constraining IT resources or budget, to flexibly and scalably meet any demand – whether it’s supplying more connectivity or less – rather than delaying institutional progress to conduct rigorous evaluation, funding, and deployment processes. In addition, selecting a NaaS platform provider committed to carbon-neutrality and recycling strategies can assist with meeting institutional sustainability goals.
Embrace AIOps for AI-powered Networking. Another critical strategy for efficiently addressing today’s demands is embracing artificial intelligence for IT operations (AIOps). Utilizing AIOps provides AI-powered insights for network troubleshooting and optimization, workflow automation with self-healing configuration changes, and advanced endpoint profiling for enhanced security across the networking landscape.
In addition, AIOps helps maximize IT resources by freeing up skilled network engineers to pursue higher-value tasks, while enabling less experienced individuals to do more and learn new skills.
Gain Actionable Insights with Cloud-Managed Location Awareness. Achieving intuitional objectives around data-driven decision-making requires solving several related data challenges: Collecting, storing and accessing data, obtaining actionable insights, and maintaining data privacy.
Advanced networking solutions not only gather utilization data, but also include highly accurate location awareness for collecting situational information. For on-demand access, data is retained and analyzed in the cloud. In addition, the best platforms provide technical and non-technical dashboards, which present consumable insights for IT and business users alike, while adhering to compliance regulations ranging from the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Optimize Experiences with a User-Centric Approach. In the past, higher ed IT departments used a network-focused lens for optimizing connectivity. Although this remains important, meeting elevated user experience expectations requires also taking a client-based view. To do so, deploy a technology solution that monitors application response times, and related performance metrics, from the perspective of a client device. In addition, look for a tool that supplies proactive, AI-powered cloud-based troubleshooting insights for rapidly identifying and remediating issues before they impact end users.
Replace Bolt-on Security with Built-In. Seamlessly applying appropriate security levels to myriad devices and rapidly responding to suspicious activities in complex academic environments requires evolving beyond the perimeter-based firewall paradigm. Instead, deploy networking solutions with security engineered into every aspect of your wired, wireless, and WAN infrastructure.
Top solutions apply Zero Trust and secure access service edge (SASE) frameworks, providing stronger threat defense across your entire IT stack – including users, connected devices, applications, network services, compute, and storage platforms.
Further, to assure high-quality user experiences, it’s critical to consolidate onto a single, centralized network and security management platform. This provides visibility across the network and automates application of edge-to-cloud quality of service (QoS) while simultaneously streamlining and simplifying network and security complexity.
Leverage a Robust Ecosystem to Answer Every Call. To make your IT department a valued institutional and facilities management resource, adopt a networking solution that includes a comprehensive partner ecosystem. This ensures you can smoothly and cost-effectively extend your infrastructure to align with new priorities.
Whether its enhancing real-time cybersecurity, increasing physical safety, enabling smart energy consumption, supplying intelligent air quality monitoring, supporting proximity-based signage, or enhancing location analytics, look for a networking solution that offers tight integration with leading partners to keep IT overhead low and user experiences high.
Ready, Set, Innovate
Regardless which IT and institutional priorities headline your 2023 to-do list, modern networking infrastructure serves as the foundation for academic innovation. With the right solutions and ecosystem partners, you can provide every campus constituency with powerful, always-on, flexible, and secure connectivity that’s as simple to use as drinking water from a faucet.
Chris Tingley is a senior solutions marketing manager for K-12 and higher education with the global marketing team for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. In this capacity, Chris manages Aruba’s education customer advisory councils and focuses on the realization of advanced network infrastructures, wireless, security, and access management – all in support of student success. Chris has nearly 15 years’ experience in education, having taught in K-12 classrooms and as a tenure-awarded higher education professor. Tingley holds an MBA from PennWest Clarion and a BA from Gannon University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.