Educators are now mobile, agile, and connected. Communication platforms should reflect these changes.
Everyone knows that telephone communications have been moving to the cloud for some time. So, someone must have mastered the process by now, right? The latest push to the cloud is requiring higher education IT professionals to strategically review all of the options on the table and decide exactly how they will effect change with their users.
You know that strange little device that is placed on faculty and staff members' desks or the unusual box that is mounted to classroom walls or near the podium in lecture halls? Most college and university faculty probably haven't touched it in the last few years, except in a specific situation or an emergency. That plastic device that can be found in various locations around campus and now exists primarily for "safety and security" is called a land-line telephone.
As a former history educator, I have a curious need to better understand the past, especially as it relates to how telephones have been used in educational institutions. Before mobile phones, they helped people meet their basic daily communication needs. Eventually, telephones connected people to the internet. Then, about twenty years ago, something magical happened. A technology called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) was developed. At colleges and universities, VoIP allowed IT teams to consolidate the connectivity of these devices over a single medium that was shared with all the data and internet traffic that had taken over the world. But did VoIP really change the use or just the delivery method?
As someone who helped many higher education institutions transition to VoIP, I keenly remember conversations about making sure the new device looked and acted like the device that had been there for the previous twenty years. A new feature or two might have been added when VoIP came out, and it did make the 911 platform more robust, but the device also became more complicated at the same time.
We are at that crossroads again, but this time we're just talking about moving the workload to the cloud and not really addressing the changing dynamics of what educators and staff need. These decisions are usually made at the facilities, public safety, and IT levels at higher education institutions. Most of the time, institutions take the common denominator approach and hope for the best during technology deployments, thinking more functionalities can be added later.
Conversations about expanding features or ensuring there is a robust and full-featured platform tend to include things like "well, everyone has a mobile phone." While I'm sure everyone would agree that communication technologies have changed, there will always be a public safety requirement to place these devices in strategic locations around campuses. But what if this could be looked at differently—from a persona standpoint, for example? What if there were a solution that met the needs of educators and facility, public safety, and IT teams?
Educators are now mobile, agile, and connected. Communication platforms should reflect these changes. Educators communicate with students through students' preferred modes of communication. Text messaging, video chat, and voice services are all used daily. And since each faculty member has a phone number on campus, why can't that number also be used for mobile calls, voicemails, and text messages? How can higher education institutions promote a "mobile-first" mentality that includes tools that are as easy to use as smartphones?
The good news is that systems that can do this exist, and they are cloud-based. These systems can provide a single form of identity and communication medium for college and university users. Plus, they can repurpose some of the devices institutions have already invested in.
These systems are also fully compliant and more robust for public safety teams. Nomadic services are now required for softphones and mobile apps. The RAY BAUM'S Act of 2018 requires a much more definable location to be conveyed to dispatch centers when a user calls 911 during an emergency.Footnote1 How can locations be identified while also allowing users to operate their campus number from wherever they might be (at home, their favorite coffee shop, or a vacation destination)?
The IT department will benefit as well. It will no longer need to undergo those painful upgrades, worrying about the location and redundancy needs of aging data centers. The IT department can tie into the current cloud platforms to simplify identity, authentication, and configuration. These things can be accomplished with a unified communications as a service (UCaaS) cloud platform, which is easier to administer, analyze, and operate. But why is it so hard to implement? Most of the time, IT departments are looking only at moving the workload to the cloud, but they're not really looking at how to maximize or address change in the environment. Educational users, not IT departments, drive these new use cases.
Additionally, IT departments must work with facilities and public safety teams to ensure everyone's needs are met. Sometimes, this can be a tall task. Educational technology departments need to engage with the teams that currently run their VoIP platforms. These conversations with the key stakeholders can help shape the decision to move the current platform to the cloud, and they can help open the full range of features and options for all users at the institution.
If the institution doesn't provide the feature an educator needs, that educator may go out and get it themselves. These kinds of "shadow" IT departments have been around for years. The transition to the cloud allows IT departments to reign in some of those practices while giving educators and staff members access to their preferred communication solutions.
IT teams should assess whether the current communication platform at their institution has a cloud migration strategy and explore whether some assets could be reused in a cloud environment. These considerations are all part of the decision-making process and can help institutions find a solution that best suits their needs.
With a well-thought-out approach, IT teams can avoid the same scenario they faced twenty years ago when institutions just shifted from one platform to another. This is a rare opportunity to build a full-featured platform to serve educators and staff with a cloud-based ecosystem that reflects their current use cases and needs.
Just remember one important thing: Faculty and staff communication tools include more than just a plastic phone on a desk or mounted to a wall. There are now a range of technologies and devices that allow users to communicate across multiple mediums. By bringing all teams to the table and facilitating a dialogue that genuinely assesses future communication needs, IT teams can start building a true communications platform.
Ready to get started? Experience the next generation of productivity tools for educators and IT teams with Webex Calling.
- Multi-line Telephone Systems – Kari's Law and RAY BAUM'S Act 911 Direct Dialing, Notification, and Dispatchable Location Requirements, Federal Communications System (website), April 22, 2020. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
Justin Jordan is Product Manager WebEx Calling at Cisco.
© 2022 Cisco Systems.