Connecting Students to Brighter Futures with Cisco Meraki
In many ways, the modern university campus is a mix of extremes. Many campuses are hundreds of years old with storied traditions, yet have responded to the information age by making huge investments in the latest equipment and technology. Physical spaces on campus have not been ignored, either. It’s common to see a wide variety of architectural styles on display, with the classic limestone pillars of yesteryear standing beside a building entirely made of glass.
Once they step foot on campus, students quickly become acquainted with the academic and social realities of university life. Brochure images of universities almost always display students gathered in various locations and group sizes, showing that college isn’t just about a course of study; it’s about connecting with others and sharing experiences both inside and outside the classroom. In addition to learning course material, students have to understand how to connect with their peers and with the new resources available to them.
Enabling students to connect with the university community has always been paramount, but now it’s more important than ever. Modern students connect with the campus and the larger world primarily through technology. They use messaging apps to meet up. They use laptops to complete homework and take notes in class. They use smartphones for everything from watching videos to locating the nearest late-night sandwich shop.
Because of this, wireless infrastructure is a major responsibility of higher education institutions. It’s not a nice-to-have service anymore—it’s a must have. Students, faculty, and staff alike expect the ability to stream, upload, and communicate anywhere on campus. If a student finds a comfortable space, they assume the connection should be strong enough to work. If a group finds an available meeting room, they need to be able to access high-speed streaming from that room—not the one down the hall.
If everyone on campus can’t get a signal at the moment they need it, all the limestone and glass structures are irrelevant. If thousands of people, all of whom use multiple devices, are frustrated by the slow and unreliable Wi-Fi networks, a university’s reputation could be on the line. No one would believe a school to be a cutting-edge modern educational environment if they can’t even provide a stable Wi-Fi network.
This digital transformation of academic spaces, of course, mirrors the society at large. We now live through technology and universities have a responsibility to properly prepare students for the work environments of the future. You cannot prepare students for that future using the information tools of the past.
UDT as a Partner in Technology
I may be somewhat biased in my belief of the critical role that technology plays in education. After all, technology is what we do at United Data Technologies (UDT). Twenty-five years ago, our founders had the vision to use our knowledge of technology to help organizations do what they do best. Today, we are a technology enabler that helps clients in major industries evaluate, architect, provide, secure, and manage technology on the go, in the rack, and in the cloud. Our slogan, “Accomplish More,” captures the goal we have for our clients and our society.
We are in the technology business but our clients are not. We know that any solution has to allow our customers the ability to refocus efforts back to their core mission. Right now, we’re all about creating secure digital transformations. We want to give our clients the most powerful tools available to streamline and enhance every internal process. At the same time, we believe that technology solutions have to be seamless and easy to maintain.
I’ve been with UDT for the past eight years. As a former entrepreneur, I know that success depends on the unrelenting drive toward improvement. Being a consulting firm, we need to know that the solutions we provide to our clients will work for the long haul. That meant finding a technology partner that was just as focused on listening to the customers as UDT.
I’m a former associate of Cisco and have experienced the company’s commitment toward providing top quality products and services. Over the years, we at UDT consistently found that Cisco also offers the best customer experience, which makes it easier for us to help our clients modernize their operations and better prepare to compete in the future.
In this respect, educational institutions have a special challenge. Schools have moved from textbooks to a new form of communication: digital devices. Many schools have full-blown technology stores right on campus. UDT has been intimately involved with the digitization process of several organizations within the education sector. As such, we have developed a keen understanding of how to effectively build modern educational solutions.
A New Dean and a New Scene
Barry University is located in Miami Shores, Florida and has almost 8,000 students representing about 80 countries. Founded in 1940 as a Catholic school for women, the school has become a major hub for education in South Florida. The administration provides a well-rounded, quality education for students in a variety of fields from undergraduate through Ph.D. levels.
When a new dean joined the school’s leadership team, they had a number of new priorities. One of which was improving their customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores regarding the wireless environment, which included upgrading the woefully inadequate wireless network on campus. The dean knew that making a significant leap forward in their digital transformation could not truly happen with spotty wireless connections all over campus. A modern campus can’t exist in a place where students can’t venture outside the dorms and classrooms because they can’t get a stable connection.
Because we love working with education institutions, we were already in talks with the university around device management. When the new dean launched into discussions about the wireless problem, we were ready with our wireless-as-a-service offering.
We began with a series of meetings with the school’s existing technology staff and together we created a specific list of solution requirements. One of these requirements was that we wouldn’t have to repeatedly touch the access points (APs) for at least a three-year period, because doing so is costly and disruptive. We also looked at mean time to failure, the ease of upgrading, and what any new upgrades would enable.
We recommended Cisco Meraki as a perfect match.
First, UDT was already using Cisco solutions, meaning connecting to Barry’s system and monitoring data would be a breeze. Second, and perhaps most importantly, we were able to show them the value of a system that operates entirely in the cloud. Meraki was born in the cloud and designed with management in mind. Barry’s IT staff is limited, and they were afraid of creating a monster that they couldn’t control alone.
Meraki was designed to allow upgrades and adjustments remotely, meaning Barry University saved money and time on upkeep. The entire system could be monitored from one centralized dashboard. While we required proofs of concept from three separate vendors, only the Cisco Meraki solution seemed so perfectly designed to fit Barry University’s needs.
The Dawn of a New Day
Saying that we installed the new Wi-Fi system overnight would be an exaggeration, but we did complete what could have been a three-month implementation process in a month and a half. Even better, we were able to complete the upgrades around the school schedule. Most of the potential interruptions happened when the students, faculty, and staff were on a break and the impacted area was nearly empty.
As part of our continuous quality control, we engage in several forms of active interactions. We monitor the tickets coming into our call center so that we can be aware of any problems as soon as possible. After every ticket gets solved, there’s an opportunity to send feedback through what we call our “smileback” service, where the service is rated with a smile, a neutral face, or a frown. Measuring these smilebacks along with the call volume gives us a great way to measure our CSAT.
But even that isn’t enough. In addition to occasionally having our staff walk around the campus testing the system, we also interact directly with the students. Several times each school year, our staff travels around campus to solicit direct feedback. We give the students a chance to let us know in person if there are any areas of the campus where the connection can be improved.
The university is proud of this new investment, and they tout the campus-wide connectivity at every opportunity. As anyone who works in IT knows, this kind of intentional publicity is often needed. When Wi-Fi works, it just becomes part of the background of life, and that quiet success is exactly what we were able to accomplish. Students are now able to select a spot to gather and work based on whether or not the location meets the requirements of themselves or their group. They no longer need to check their connection before they get settled because they know it’s strong throughout the entire campus.
Building this kind of infrastructure is about more than comfort for the students, staff, and faculty. Doing so gives the school a competitive edge and provides a foundation for future innovations. Best of all, UDT’s managed services shifts the burden away from Barry’s IT staff.
We handle the calls about lost passwords and any connectivity concerns. We provide onsite resources to manage the 1,600 APs on campus, as well as complete site testing. We also handle data monitoring and planning so that we can adjust service according to volume, particularly during high surges of connectivity such as the start of a new term.
Barry University is an educational institution, not a technology company. The less time they spend on infrastructure issues like Wi-Fi, the more time they have to devote to more specific, educationally-focused activities. UDT is proud to draw on our depth of experience and expertise to help the educators do what they do best: educate young minds today, and prepare them for whatever comes in the future.