Making Time for Quality with Cisco Meraki


Despite how much schooling has changed in the past decade, student success and well-being are always top of mind for all educators, including those in IT. As more educational institutions, learners, and educators have become comfortable incorporating digital elements into classrooms, IT has had to figure out new ways to support student learning while providing safe and secure environments.

But not every educational institution can keep up with the challenges of increased digitization. Many schools don’t have the proper infrastructure, and schools that have the right infrastructure can’t always scale it easily. This situation leaves a big gap between capability and possibility, ultimately inhibiting the classroom’s ability to serve modern learners’ needs.

After evaluating our needs, gaps, and resources, we decided that the best way to address the problem was to tackle it head on, and that's exactly what we did at Landstede Groep.

Reworking Dated IT Infrastructure

Landstede Groep is one of the largest educational organizations in the Netherlands, with about 25,000 students taught by 3,500 employees. We offer secondary academic education, secondary vocational education, and adult education, and foster an environment to help students become the best they can be. We offer personalized educational opportunities for students to find their own niche, and put a lot of work into providing students with the tools they need to succeed—including technology and adequate IT infrastructure.

I’ve been the IT Manager at Landstede Groep since June 2017. Since the day I arrived, one of the biggest challenges I faced was reconstructing the school’s IT infrastructure. Everything was on-prem, didn’t perform well, and lacked much-needed stability. The components were dated and clunky, and we didn’t have cloud access, which made it difficult to see and manage the network across multiple campuses.

We also had little uniformity in terms of student devices. All 30,000 of our students bring their own devices to school, including their mobile phones and laptops. This BYOD approach posed a significant security threat to our school since we could not individually manage their devices or control access settings.

In addition to these issues, there was a lack of standardization in our infrastructure. Few of our locations looked alike. Again, this made infrastructure management difficult for my team. We have 21 people, which sounds like a lot, but we spent much of our efforts constantly reacting to small challenges as they arose. Old infrastructure requires much more work when it comes to activities like software updates and configuration, and we were frequently responding to outages. We had to treat each location individually, which meant driving from one school to another and troubleshooting multiple brands. All of these operational problems left little room for larger-scale improvements.

I was also concerned about the quality and performance of our IT infrastructure. If we wanted our students to succeed and thrive, we would need to make sure their lessons were high quality and accessible wherever they were—no matter what platform they were using to attend classes. That meant we would need to ensure the best possible performance for virtual calls and meetings while accommodating multiple platforms.

Making the Move to Meraki

Landstede Groep needed stable, uniform, and secure network solution that would allow us to better support our learners and their devices from anywhere. For this reason, we decided to implement Cisco Meraki. The platform had many key benefits supporting our applications across all 47 of our buildings.

For starters, Meraki’s cloud-based technology makes managing our environment easy. This is exactly what my smaller IT team needed to maintain our ever-growing environment. We also liked that Meraki offers quick development cycles. We saw a lot of possibilities with sensor technology, including intrusion notifications, air quality monitoring, and more.

In Meraki, we saw a road map that demonstrated Cisco’s foresight and ability to anticipate customer needs. The stack could provide many different pieces of our IT overhaul puzzle right away, and we were confident we could continue to leverage new technology on our path to innovation.

We began by adopting a Meraki environment that would support our mission of sustainability, security, and standardization. It included components like Meraki MV smart cameras, which allow us to capture all security videos within our Meraki dashboard, ensuring complete visibility into all physical locations. It also includes Wi-Fi 6. We upgraded and standardized our wireless capabilities across our entire network, and we manage 1,900 access points on a Meraki access layer within a single, intuitive Meraki dashboard.

Our Meraki environment quickly became the base of our entire infrastructure.

Creating a Safe School Environment for Modern Learners

Meraki technology offered capabilities and features we had never imagined before. Air quality, for example, wasn’t a concern for us pre-pandemic. But now that there are robust tools like the MT14 sensors—with which we're launching a pilot project—we are reimagining the role IT has in maintaining a positive and healthy physical environment for our students. It has made us think more critically about what it means to maximize quality in IT.

The implementation of Meraki cloud-first smart cameras is another great example of this. Before Meraki, all our different school locations used different types of cameras. The IT team didn’t even know who had access to the footage, how the footage was used, or where it was stored. 

Moving to Meraki helped us eliminate this shortcoming. We now use Meraki smart cameras in all locations. As mentioned, all our video footage now appears on the Meraki dashboard, making it easy to review it if needed. We can define roles and rules for who should be reviewing the footage and how often. These steps have been imperative for student and faculty safety and have made our school more secure. It’s yet another way IT can contribute to the physical environment at our schools.

Regardless of industry, standardization is key to efficient and effective IT infrastructure.

Regardless of industry, standardization is key to efficient and effective IT infrastructure, and we brought in our technology partner, Axians, to help us with the redesign. They played an instrumental role throughout the project, helping us maximize our time in the designing and testing phase and developing our first infrastructure “blueprint” in 12 months.

Once we created a blueprint for one school, we could use that same blueprint to repeat the process in other schools. Creating a repeatable process made implementation very simple—so simple that we completed the Meraki deployment of all 47 locations in just two months over the summer holiday.

Cost Versus Value

Switching to the Meraki cloud-based platform instead of an on-prem environment has been highly cost-effective for us—much less than if we tried to manage a physical environment on our own. Because the network is stable, we hardly have any incidents or operational issues. And instead of engaging in a kind of operational panic when something goes wrong, my IT staff can feel relaxed because it’s easier to see and troubleshoot from a centralized location, wherever they are. 

In the Netherlands, many schools have IT staff that handles everything in house. We manage most of our tasks internally and don’t often choose to use “as-a-service” models. For this reason, choosing cloud technology that focuses on the big picture has made a huge difference for me and my team. It allows us to monitor and manage our environment quickly, making our jobs easier—which is what everyone should strive for. Only once that operational panic is gone can IT teams take stock, re-evaluate their environment, and ultimately make large-scale improvements.

In addition to greater performance and security, our students and faculty have benefited in a variety of other ways as well. Educators use our network infrastructure as a teaching tool. One of our IT staff members is also a teacher, and they include our Meraki use cases as part of their coursework. We’ve also seen Meraki-powered IoT cross into other departments, such as healthcare. Our new environment allows learners across different programs to take advantage of and learn about new technologies. 

A Small Change with a Big Impact

By partnering with Meraki, Landstede Groep has completely modernized our once scattered and nonuniform IT infrastructure. Now, we are more secure, we can offer better performance on our network, and my IT staff has time for improvements with long-term positive impacts.

Between racing to solve problems and putting out fires, IT professionals may spend more time saving existing infrastructure rather than optimizing it.

Choosing Meraki lifted Landstede Groep’s school IT infrastructure out of the past. It’s paving the way for better learning experiences and reshaping our expectations of quality and the role of IT. And with so many new tools available at our disposal, I feel confident we can live up to our school’s mission: to make lifelong development possible for all.