By Jamie Pitchforth, Head of Education Practice EMEA, Juniper Networks
As a new crop of school leavers are embarking on their university studies, higher education providers are constantly looking to improve the experience of students. Now, more than ever, candidates closely compare their options and student satisfaction scores when considering their potential university choices. This leads universities to focus on student-centric models which use IT systems to structure universities’ digital ecosystems. These systems now rely on automation and AI, making logistics quicker and more efficient.
Meeting the challenge of on-campus IT
In many ways, universities’ IT requirements are similar to large corporations as they supply connectivity to many users. However, universities also have to manage the students who graduate every year and their incoming replacements. IT teams have to manage this constant mix of users year-on-year while maintaining the same levels of security and access to digital resources.
In addition, university IT teams have to deal with the complexity of students bringing their own devices, regardless of their own technical characteristics. The teams must also deal with providing access to these devices while roaming across large campus areas, even on multiple sites.
Sudden digital migration
When the pandemic brought immediate lockdowns across most parts of the world, universities were forced to migrate to a distanced learning model to allow students to continue with their studies and collaborate digitally. In response to this, universities brought in new communication systems to meet these new demands. Some universities adopted centralised IT management and chose to regulate technology solutions to create a consistent network that is easier to administer across the campus. They also changed the calibration of their VPNs from allowing remote access to the network of 100 to more than 1000 people. A lack of preparation for events such as this left some institutions grappling with administration difficulties and security vulnerabilities. Since the pandemic, universities have seen an increase in cyber-attacks, again highlighting the importance of robust and secure network solutions, from hardware to software.
Naturally, some institutions have fared better than others in the race to digitalise. A stand-out example of a successful digital transformation comes from the University of Reading. Like most other institutions across the globe, it had to implement new ways of working and studying digitally, which meant adopting unified communication solutions, video conferencing and the strengthening of digital resource sharing capabilities to form the distance learning ecosystem. The university successfully strengthened its network infrastructure and managed it appropriately across the globe through artificial intelligence and agile network architecture. As a testament to its adaptability, the university was able to offer online courses in just six weeks.
Intelligent networking, intelligent solutions
Managing these networks is an increasingly complex task. Although the corporate world faces many of the same challenges as universities with networking, in general, universities operate with much less staffing than their corporate counterparts. This makes it necessary to simplify IT teams’ tasks and streamline their procedures.
In spite of all these constraints, an AIOps (artificial intelligence applied to IT operations) approach can be the solution to networking on modern campuses. For example, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies can help to resolve tickets during network operations, overcoming staff shortages issues. Some errors can even be solved automatically to significantly ease the workflows of IT teams and give them a better experience at work, free from menial tasks. AI powered networks can operate with zero-touch and provide engineers with better insights and information granularly. In order to provide the best possible student experience, universities must overcome all the problems they encounter and drastically reduce the complexity of network operations. With education at stake, AIOps is the next natural step in modernising university operations and driving innovation.