Sponsored by  CDW-G

With a new administration taking over in Washington D.C., educators and technologists alike are redoubling their emphasis on 21st Century Campus. In the world of higher education, this means a renewed commitment to familiarizing students with the hardware, software and services that can prepare them to meet challenges of the new millennium. Most 21st Century Campus initiatives also are designed to help students develop the ability to communicate, collaborate, think critically, utilize media to gather information and incorporate awareness of the world around them.  To prepare for the campus of tomorrow, we all must act today.

Four Tips for Better Unified Communications

It’s no secret that technologists across industry sectors are unified in support of Unified Communications (UC). After decades of approaching voice and data communications as separate silos, a growing number of CIOs now are taking a more centralized approach. According to a late 2008 survey by Gartner (www.gartner.com), 82 percent of respondents were planning a new facility or deploying a program to include component technologies for unified communications.

According to the “2009 Unified Communications Tracking Poll” from CDW-G (www.cdwg.com), the story is slightly different in higher education. While technologists at colleges and universities are finding that unifying communications over one platform increases productivity and reduces operating costs across the board, there are some unique attributes to UC

  • Higher education institutions are least likely to have prepared a business case or strategic plan for the adoption of UC (41 percent versus 58 percent in other sectors).
  • Higher education institutions are most likely to have experienced challenges with the interoperability of UC technologies (44 percent versus 27 percent of others).
  • Higher education institutions with greater than 8,000 students (49 percent) are more likely than smaller institutions (31 percent) to have developed a business case or strategic plan for the adoption of UC.
  • Larger institutions (60 percent) are more likely than smaller institutions (46 percent) to include UC technologies in their upcoming organizational plans.

Considering the different realities of implementing UC at colleges and universities, here are four suggestions for getting the most out of your institution’s UC strategy.

Tip 1: Ease your way in

Just because unified communications brings together a variety of communication methods doesn't mean you have to deploy all of those methods at once. What's more, UC is a phased approach leading to an end goal that meets organizational communication goals—it is not a one-size-fits-all, packaged solution.

The recent CDW-G research indicates that most organizations ease their way into UC, starting with technologies such as audio conferencing, instant messaging, web conferencing, video conferencing and VoIP, then moveing on to technologies such as unified messaging, collaboration and communication-enabled business processes (CEBP). Higher education survey respondents in the same CDW-G report described themselves as being at different stages of implementation: 74 percent described themselves as "assessing" or "planning" their strategies, while 26 percent said they were "implementing" or "deployed." In addition, 41 percent of respondents said they have prepared a business case and/or strategic plan for the adoption of UC.

Tip 2: Grow your infrastructure

Like just about any sophisticated technology that operates over a data network, UC requires a fairly significant amount of bandwidth—sometimes two or three times what old-generation communications solutions require. As such, UC will only function as well as the infrastructure it is built upon; if that infrastructure is not robust enough to handle the increase in network traffic, you will not get the results you are hoping for.

While necessary bandwidth amounts differ from one organization to the next (depending on the number of communication methods deployed), the best way to make sure your network meets minimum bandwidth requirements is to conduct a standard network assessment. A number of solution providers can deliver this service; trusted vendors also can serve as a liaison in making these connections.

Tip 3: Create accountability

Before getting too involved with a UC deployment, it’s important to identify key drivers and stakeholders to tackle governance and, therefore, accountability. Instead of tabbing exclusively C-level administrators to oversee the project, it’s important to involve leads from individual operating units and departments as well. By giving these men and women responsibility to own a portion of each project, you are ensuring that end users will feel represented in the decision-making process throughout the life of the implementation.

Once you have involved a handful of trustworthy end users, work with them to determine the difference between absolute necessities and functionality that would be "nice to have." Frequently there is a gulf between the two.

Tip 4: Train accordingly

Because the technologies that comprise UC often are new for adopting organizations, implementations frequently get bogged down by the need to train users on how to use the tools. In the recent CDW-G survey, 42 percent of respondents labeled training requirements as a "significant" challenge. The transition was easiest for those organizations that started training efforts before or during implementation began. The bottom line: when it comes to preparing constituents for the switch to Unified Communications, it’s never too early to plan ahead.

For more information, go to: www.cdwg.com/highereducation

Resources for the 21st-Century Campus

These resources are provided to give you fresh perspectives on the meaning of 21st-century learning, the role of technology in facilitating the teaching of 21st-century skills, and the relevance of these skills as students are prepared to enter the general workforce.

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