Jan 29 2024

How Technology Powers the Experience-Driven Institution

At colleges and universities, Wi-Fi 6E-enabled hardware and artificial intelligence deliver a frictionless experience.

Reliable connectivity is an important component of the university experience for faculty, staff and students. They require a seamless network to manage data from thousands of devices.

Cisco refers to the creation and promotion of seamless connectivity as creating an experience-driven institution. The concept entails digital technology and key applications, such as learning management systems combined with stable networking connections. The experience is “end-to-end,” according to Neal Tilley, education adviser at Cisco.

“When we talk about the experience-driven institution, you’re monitoring and observing how the end-to-end experience is operating to make sure it’s frictionless — simple and easy to use,” Tilley says.

A hybrid campus experience should be frictionless both online and in the classroom, he notes. Students log in to systems with the same level of reliable service, whether they are working remotely or in person.

“In an experience-driven institution, every single interaction is important,” Tilley adds. “Every user, student and faculty member has to have a consistently good solution or service.”

Tilley says that an experience-driven institution could include smart lighting, in which sensors on windows adjust LED lighting based on available natural outdoor lighting. This can help improve cognitive recognition for students. 

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How Wi-Fi 6E Enables Smooth Connectivity on Campus 

Broadband and Wi-Fi play a crucial role in an experience-driven institution. Wireless technology unifies an experience for faculty, staff and students by enabling features like Cisco OpenRoaming, which lets users connect easily throughout a campus using unique identities.

Ultralow latency and multicloud access also ensure seamless connectivity. Researcher communities at universities rely on fast, shared connections, Tilley notes.

“One of the biggest points from a Wi-Fi 6 perspective is the flexibility and the intelligence it brings,” he says. That includes the ability to make a network as simple or as complex as necessary, using cloud, on-prem and dual-mode options. Data resides everywhere, including on mobile devices across LTE networks, Tilley says.

“You need to be able to bring all of those domains together and not run them as technology silos,” he says.

READ MORE: Multicloud adoption takes hold in higher education.

How AI Improves Experiences on Campus for Faculty and Students

Artificial intelligence, analytics and automation deliver an “ultra-intelligent environment,” Tilley says. “We need to use automation, AI and analytics to create seamless connectivity, so that we can create a very secure, intelligent, automated environment that is delivering the best experience.”

That experience includes AI observability tools that let educational institutions spot a drop-off in network performance, manage access to services and use features such as wayfinding, he says: “You can get some amazing insights into the way that an organization is running.”

In an experience-driven institution, AI cybersecurity tools help detect vulnerabilities caused by human error, Tilley notes.

At universities, physical security is interconnected with network security. But universities must manage security so that it does not interfere with user productivity, according to Tilley. IT managers can segment compromised parts of a network to protect the experience and privacy of everybody else on the network, Tilley says.

AIOps enables institutions to improve their daily network operations and the performance of devices such as sensors, thermostats, door locks and research equipment. Using Wi-Fi 6 or 6E instead of legacy wireless architectures uses bandwidth and connectivity most effectively. As universities benefit from increased automation and intelligence, they can justify upgrading their technology faster.

When schools combine features such as Wi-Fi connectivity, sensors and AI, they can see wider benefits, such as higher retention rates, higher satisfaction, lower operating costs and even a possible reputation jump, according to Tilley.

AI-powered campus networks incorporate software-defined networking and DevOps overlays to make the networks more programmable and flexible. In addition, a full-stack observability model lets university IT departments conduct open telemetry on networks and deliver a smoother network experience by detecting latency and outages.

“That gives great visibility to not just IT but to the actual university itself,” Tilley says.

Universities gain visibility into when network connections fall below acceptable standards. Tools such as ThousandEyes can monitor internal or cloud-based applications and perform synthetic transaction tests. They also provide detailed visualization of network issues.

“You can drill down to a single user and look at that digital application experience,” Tilley says. “And, of course, that can really be tied to a student’s success.”

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