Campus/Vendor Partnering: The Ultimate Win-Win

Ah, teamwork. It’s the secret to all great sports teams, the recipe for just about all of humankind’s greatest accomplishments. In the world of academia as well, teaming and forging partnerships for success is no less crucial. And while it’s true that some colleges and universities have the resources and wherewithal to innovate independently, they represent only a handful of the 4,000-plus institutions of higher ed across the country today. To engineer change, the majority of US academic institutions generally have found that they need help from others: statewide systems, consortia, and consultants. And in the case of technology implementation, they need help from technology vendors and solution providers. Three institutions profiled here—the University of California-Santa Barbara; DePauw University (IN); and Dutchess Community College (NY)—have recently turned to solution-provider partners for assistance with groundbreaking IT strategies and technology rollouts. In each case, the partnerships resulted in impressive victories on and off the ledger sheet, and innovations that have dramatically changed daily operations and function on each campus.
A Parked Improvement

Parking revenues are an important source of dollars for many colleges and universities, especially metropolitan schools, but the challenges of on-campus parking are universal as well. The math behind the conundrum is simple: not enough spaces, too many cars.

Until July 2003, such was the case at the University of California-Santa Barbara, one of the largest public institutions of higher ed in the West. With nearly 25,000 students, faculty, and staff members, and only 6,000 parking spots, parking during the weekdays at the central California school was an endeavor that could last nearly as long as a standard lecture. Most of the 30 lots on campus were administered by three manned kiosks at campus entrances, which meant that users had to wait in their cars at the kiosk to buy a permit, then wait in lines in various lots for available spots. Compounding the problem were those students who refused to stay out of faculty lots, parking illegally and praying to the parking gods that campus parking enforcement officials didn’t catch on.

“The situation on campus was pretty bad,” admits Tom Roberts, the school’s director of Transportation and Parking Services. “We knew there simply had to be a better way.”

Roberts set out to find that better way in July 2002, researching alternatives to the kiosk system that would eliminate the long lines they caused and reduce the school’s annual expenditure of $300,000 to staff them. He turned to the International Parking Institute for inspiration, and found the names of literally dozens of vendors who specialize in helping public entities such as colleges and municipalities overcome their parking w'es. Roberts produced scores of requests for proposals (RFPs) for systems and technology that might help UCSB park its parking problems in the past. Finally, after nearly a year of research, investigation, and competitive bidding, the school turned to two vendors from Canada for a $1.4 million system that saved the day.

By the beginning of 2003, a transformation was underway. The first phase of the solution revolved around 50 solarpowered pay stations from Vancouver-based Digital Payment Technologies. DPT installed the pay stations on campus and set up wireless access points to link them together over a campuswide wireless network. The second phase of the project focused on expanding the convenience of electronic payment into the hands of every parker. To accomplish this, Verrus, another Vancouver firm, worked to merge UCSB’s physical pay station approach with software that enables users to pay for parking remotely, from any standard mobile device.

Today, the systems work together seamlessly. Campus drivers park their cars, note the space numbers on their parking spaces, and settle up at a pay station or from their phones, via a toll-free number. To pay, users simply enter their parking space number and select the amount of time they think they’ll need to park. At the machine, users pay by cash, credit card, or debit account through their student ID card. Via cell phone, parking is automatically billed to a credit card (users must first register online). When a user’s parking time is about to expire, he can go to any pay station on campus and add more time. If the user paid by cell phone, he will receive a text message five minutes prior to expiration, asking him if he wants to extend the time.

Behind the scenes, all parking transaction information is stored in DPT data bases, and is updated in real time as users come and go. Roberts says the immediacy of this system design has paid huge dividends, particularly in the area of enforcement. UCSB parking patrol officers are now equipped with personal digital assistants (PDAs) that send them up-to-the-minute information on expired parking spaces so they can head right to the offending vehicles and write tickets. The result: Revenue from parking tickets is up 20 percent, not because parkers are more apt to let time expire (it’s actually easier for them to prevent time expiration), but because the parking patrol officers can proceed right to the offending vehicles, without hunting for them. Coupled with an overall 26 percent rise in parking revenue, and an initial savings of $250,000 (both in equipment and staffing dollars) from closing the original kiosks, Roberts says the success of the campus/ vendor partnership has exceeded his wildest dreams.

“When I wrote the bid spec, I had no idea we could get something that actually made parking on campus easier,” he says, adding that between savings and expenditures, the system will have paid for itself by March 2006. “But thanks in a large part to those two vendors from Canada, this implementation truly has been a wonderful surprise.”

Knowledge Is Power

While the UCSB partnerships emerged out of necessity, the relationship between DePauw University and educational software vendor DyKnow developed in a far different environment. It all started in the late 1990s, when Dave Berque, a DePauw professor of computer science, set out to find a way to get students to do more in class than simply take notes. Berque hit the drawing board and developed prototype pen-based software designed to allow teachers and students to solve problems collaboratively through software that works across a host of devices including desktops, laptops, PDAs, and tablet PCs. Soon, Berque was piloting his software in his own classes, using his students as focus groups to tweak and test the product in order to iron out the kinks.

Originally, Berque’s software copied the content an instructor wrote on any electronic whiteboard, and automatically transmitted it to all of the student machines. Berque figured that students could add value to the notes by saving them, playing them back, and learning through the process of repetition. Over time, however, the program evolved naturally. In more recent iterations, for instance, instructors can pose problems to the students, and students can use their pens to sketch or detail solutions in real time. Another feature, DyKnow Monitor, allows instructors to limit the applications students can run during class, or even “blank out” student screens, if there is a need to do so. In this age of Internet surfing and instant messaging, the goal is to minimize distractions (now a critical issue) and help students focus on the subject at hand.

“As I tried the software on my own students, I realized that interactivity was only part of the equation,” says Berque, looking back. “In order to keep students involved, you first need to be able to make sure they’re paying attention to you.”

Finally, in 2002, a DePauw alum caught wind of Berque’s technology and decided to finance the software to build a company around it. The company, Dynamic Knowledge Transfer LLC, or DyKnow (based not far from DePauw in Indianapolis) licensed the program from Berque and began preparing it for market, hiring technologists to improve and expand the software here and there. Berque a consultant for DyKnow, was charged with evolving the educational focus. The company even partnered with DePauw to support the widespread testing of Berque’s product in other areas of the university—in economics, for instance, to help students with graphs, and in Japanese language classes, where stroke-by-stroke replays of Kanji characters help students understand how to construct the symbols.

The following year, the company released a two-pronged commercial iteration of the product known as the DyKnow Software Suite. Under the terms of the relationship, DyKnow committed to continue to work closely with DePauw to improve the software every year, an arrangement that benefits both entities: DyKnow gets valuable data from its users about how the software works, and DePauw students get to use the software in class, free of charge. Other benefits of the partnership include constant input and feedback to the DyKnow team from DePauw students and faculty, beta testing of future releases of DyKnow at DePauw, research projects at DePauw that can inform DyKnow project development, internships and full-time job opportunities at DyKnow for DePauw students, and hosting DyKnow user group meetings at DePauw.

Other schools now take full advantage of the primary DePauw/DyKnow partnership, developing campus/vendor partnerships of their own; and DyKnow Software Suite deployments—some enhanced with $80 digital graphics tablets—are now found in learning environments at elementary, secondary, graduate, and post-graduate levels in many states. Specifically, the DyKnow system has been deployed at college campuses of varying size, on various hardware platforms, including standard desktop and laptop computers (sometimes augmented with graphics tablets), on video tablets, and on tablet PCs. Today, Berque says he “can’t believe” how far his software program has come, and hails his relationship with DyKnow as a key accelerator for the application’s enthusiastic acceptance in the world of academic technology.

“Although I was able to prototype precursors to the software while working at DePauw, the current commercial system g'es far beyond what would have been possible to develop and support without the backing of the experienced and professional team at DyKnow,” he says. “In my opinion, research teams comprised of university faculty and students are effective at researching new ideas and prototyping solutions. However, the development, maintenance, and support of a commercial product require corporate backing.”

Procurement Help

In the world of higher education institutions, growth is generally a good thing, but it often presents unwelcome complications. Officials at Dutchess Community College (NY) found themselves faced with such a paradox recently when, after years of escalating enrollment, the school’s IT systems were tottering under an aging technology infrastructure that lacked the storage capacity to handle new applications and the large number of users needing to access them. The problem came to a head in September 2004, when a critical server crashed and faculty members couldn’t access their files for a week. No data was lost, but faculty frustration with the infrastructure was at an alltime high. DCC officials knew they had to act quickly to find a long-term solution and prevent the same kind of debacle from occurring again.

Campus officials got to work immediately. Recognizing that the technology issues surrounding the college’s growth would not go away, they worked with IBM to complete an IBM Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) solution workshop to understand inherent costs and how to prioritize relevant activities. Through this process, DCC officials concluded they needed to replace the switches, routers, cabling, and servers attached to the institution’s data communications network, as well as switch the school’s aging operating system to a new one from Microsoft Corp. In addition, school officials planned to migrate administrative functions (including purchasing, student accounts, financial aid, and registration) to the SunGard SCT Banner enterprise resource planning (ERP) software suite.

“We knew exactly what we wanted to do with our infrastructure,” says Jay Simpson, the school’s director of Telecommunication. “For us, the big problems were that we didn’t know what specific technology we needed, and we didn’t know how to go about getting the technology for our people to install.”

Simpson and his colleagues found an answer to those questions in CDW-G, technology products and services provider to government and education. Representatives from the company came to campus in May 2004 and sat down with DCC officials to hammer out a procurement and implementation strategy for the future. Over the next few months, the CDW-G account team worked in tandem with IBM to help DCC select the best technology solutions to meet its needs. Together, the organizations chose 14 IBM XSeries servers to replace DCC’s aging boxes, and opted for four Cisco 1200 wireless access points, as well. DCC also standardized on IBM ThinkCentre workstations, Lexmark and HP printers, as well as NEC data projectors, all through CDW-G.

With CDW-G’s help, DCC was able to complete the hardware installation four months after the project began. Today, the college is deploying the new IBM desktops and, across campus, is migrating from its earlier systems to Microsoft. So far, say school administrators, the new infrastructure has worked wonders, facilitating a common storage area that allows faculty and students to save large files centrally. In addition, the new network allows DCC to improve security by keeping student traffic isolated from the administrative traffic on the network through separate Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) that map workstations by type of user. According to Simpson, the infrastructure also has ushered in hot new high-bandwidth applications such as streaming media to improve teaching and collaboration on campus.

“Ultimately, we’d like students to be able to go to our streaming media catalog, click on a title, and immediately be able to stream video to their PC,” says Simpson. “We could never even think of doing something like that without the help of vendor partners to make it all come to life.”

Partnering for Dollars

A new online auction vendor helps schools raise money fast.

Historically, when schools needed to raise money online, they could do it independently, or by outsourcing, with the help of an auction management firm. Now, however, there’s a third option: partnering with Cambridge, MA-based cMarket (www.cmarket.com), a fledgling firm that provides the templates and Web space for a school’s online auction. The company also provides easy-to-fill-out templates for helping an institution create its own auction Web site, catalog, and e-mail blasts that it can then extend to its constituency. In general, schools are responsible for all the content on the site—catalog items, sponsorships, and more. All cMarket d'es is provide the engine for fundraising.

“We’re about putting your auction into the inbox of your constituents,” says Greg McHale, founder and executive VP of the firm.“Our whole goal is to make it easier for schools to run fundraisers on their own and establish additional streams of revenue.”

As McHale explains, this kind of campus/ vendor partnership is not hard to fund—financing is built in: cMarket takes a cut of the net profit after cost, which usually works out to be between 5 and 9 percent, depending on what a school raises. Importantly, the organization d'esn’t take any cuts from sponsorships schools collect, an aspect that makes the cMarket alternative quite a bit cheaper than managing an auction through an auction site like eBay, which takes roughly 10 percent.

The company also extends to schools the benefits of its relationships with other vendors, a feature called “cMarketplace” which provides high-ticket items at a reduced cost to nonprofits. If a subscribing school d'esn’t sell these items, the school d'esn’t have to pay for them; they’re simply returned to the vendors. Hannah Croasmun, Special Events & Donor Research coordinator for Dwight Hall at Yale University (CT), says the marketplace option simply makes the cMarket service flexible.

“We did not bring in as much money as we originally hoped, but we did raise enough to substantially help our budget,” Croasmun says. “The good vibes from those who had participated convinced us that this could be a good special fundraiser for us throughout the year.” Bake sale and car wash organizers, watch out.

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