Injecting Advanced Technology in the Education Industry

Sharon P Pitt, AVP & CIO, Binghamton University
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Bringing Cloud Computing To the Education Industry

Much like other industries, the higher education and information technology community has embraced cloud computing. As a CIO at a public higher institution that carefully and mindfully distributes its resources, I note that cloud computing offers options for delivery of services that can be performed more expediently by cloud providers, allowing our IT team to focus on improving services that are best delivered from within our institution.

At Binghamton University, we use Google email and calendaring; we’ve just moved to a managed hosting solution for our learning management system; and we are about to move our institutional web presence to a web service provider. We use a cloud-based CRM for our admissions efforts and are exploring services for research storage. You might say that Binghamton University is an opportunistic user of cloud services.

Proactively Using Data

Yes, we have a lot of data. And we are using that data to drive decision-making. Are we using it as effectively as we could? No, but we are getting better and better at it. Is data difficult to acquire? From a technical perspective, no. Some data (e.g. employee records, FERPA, HIPPA) is appropriately difficult to acquire as it must be protected by policy or by law, making it inaccessible to all but a few defined and authorized individuals. In other cases, institutional culture may stand in the way of consolidating and using data effectively to drive decision-making.

  We need to understand our business and bring value to that business 

Business intelligence tools combined with stakeholder collaboration can help to break down cultural walls and develop an understanding for how data should and can be used. The very act of implementing business intelligence tools helps our communities develop common language and procedures around data use, data classification and the openness of data. Implementation processes also help with the discovery of new and trusted data sources that can further refine institutional decision-making. Governance plays a part in this as well, helping IT prioritize its business intelligence efforts in support of the greatest business needs. Through governance, colleges and universities can establish a philosophy about the availability and use of data.  My personal philosophy is to be as open with data as possible.

Steps towards Fostering Innovation and Growth

Understanding who we are and what we are trying to solve is the biggest step towards fostering innovation and growth. Do we want to grow research, enrollment or new academic programs? Do we want to innovate in the student experience, scholarship or entrepreneurial activity? Answering the questions about what we value drives investment for growth and innovation.  

In the coming year, Binghamton University will make multiple investments in key technology areas, as defined by our newly created strategic plan, to include advanced cyber infrastructure, data analytics, constituent relationship management (CRM), enhanced learning spaces, cloud services, and information security. We anticipate that these investments will forward research, enhance student success, improve learning experiences, improve institutional efficiency and harden our security environment.    

The design of our networks and, by extension, services accessed via those networks, provides opportunities to diversify the network portfolio to build efficiencies and ensure uptime. Higher education CIOs also need to consider the impact of denial of service attacks, which is another variable in providing robust and reliable network services. Gone are the days when CIOs sought only redundant paths to ensure the reliability the network. We also need to seek redundancy in Internet service providers, which is becoming increasingly difficult as those providers consolidate. For higher education CIOS, working with our research and education national and regional internet service providers, such as Internet2 and NYSERNet, is critical to the long term sustainability of services.  

Regarding longer term and emerging technologies, I am intrigued by what blockchain could mean for higher education. I will be paying keen attention to technology professionals in the higher education field who are pushing the boundaries on this technology and what it may mean for professional certification, from badges to degrees. 

Enhancing Role of CIOs

CIOs in higher education work in a unique framework, just as any CIO in any sector. We need to understand our business and bring value to that business. Sometimes we do this by meeting needs and then getting out of the way. At other times, we partner with key stakeholders to ensure that we meet a need or achieve a goal.

In higher education as in other industries, compliance has become a big factor in the work of the CIO, whether compliance is associated with new institutional policies or state and federal law. 

Security is a particular concern for higher education, as our sector represents an open  technology environment with enticing and valuable targets such as student information and research data.  As such, CIOs in higher education are paying attention to hardening our security environments and building security awareness within our communities while simultaneously balancing the values of an open, academic and research environment. 

Keeping Pace with Changes

Colleges and universities are using CRM to respond more quickly to students that are interested in attending our institutions. At the graduate level, a day or two in response time can make the difference as to whether a student attends our institution or another institution. Attracting students is simply a more competitive than it was just a decade ago.

Colleges and universities are using social media to engage with potential students as well. Once those students have matriculated to our institutions, we use technology systems to improve their living and learning experiences. 

Ensuring student success is a goal of all colleges and universities. At Binghamton University, a State University of New York, we do a stellar job of retaining students and graduating them on time, with high percentages in these areas relative to our peers. To continue to assure the success of our students, we use and will make further investments in analytics and positive service experiences. Further progress requires insight into our students’ curricular and co-curricular activities, as well as their career objectives and progress.

Making the Infrastructure Ready

Both the wired and wireless networks of colleges and universities must shift to respond to increased digital and mobile demand from teachers, learners, administrators and researchers. This is not only about the onslaught of digital content and mobile use, but also includes the proliferation of cloud services and IOT. 

Infrastructure readiness requires a thoughtful network design, to include both inside and outside plants.   Within our campuses, we need to understand how and where the network is used.  Knowing how your campus uses your network will drive the mix of wired and wireless investment in a network architecture plan. 

From the core, to distribution and the edge of our network, and even the data center, CIOs need to ensure resiliency and security. As such, we need to make appropriate financial investment in the refresh, growth and maintenance of our systems, as well as the physical spaces in which they reside.  

Changing Campus Life and Learning

Binghamton University uses IOT to improve services for our students. Within our institutional portal, we are incorporating IOT applications and are encouraging student development of such applications. In addition, we are using network analytics to identify times of high and low use of service areas, allowing for adjustments staffing and the rethinking of space design.