The value of cloud communications to education.
GUEST COLUMN | by Mitch Tarica
Walk into any classroom or wander around any campus and you’ll find yourself immersed in a digital environment. Many students at K-12 schools have laptops, school email accounts and access to online learning applications and programs. Schools have set up mobile learning labs to enhance students’ learning environments and experiences. Libraries provide access to learning software and research databases and resources from around the globe. Automated alert systems are in place to notify parents of emergencies, snow days and other critical updates. Teachers and administrators leverage tools to facilitate efficient communication among themselves, as well as with students and parents. Less visible are the underlying infrastructures that enable students, faculty, administrators and parents to realize the greatest possible inter-connectedness, performance, and value from their technologies.
The future is now for education, and good communication is the foundation.
One such infrastructure is communications – the lifeblood of how content, resources, and news updates are shared. In today’s mobile-first world, legacy phone systems and tethered hardware are not options for progressive institutions. More and more, IT staff are realizing the benefits of cloud-based unified communications solutions as they look to cut costs, enable greater mobility, and meet the evolving communication needs of students, educators and administrators. In addition, shifting communications to the cloud enables integrations with third-party applications already in use by educational institutions, which adds yet another layer of seamless workflow productivity.
According to a 2015 Center for Digital Education survey of IT administrators across the U.S., 29 percent of higher education institutions and 26 percent of K-12 schools have implemented unified communications (also known as UC). Another 15 percent of higher education institutions and 13 percent of K-12 schools plan to upgrade in the next year.
An irresistible value proposition
The value proposition of using a hosted cloud platform for UC has many compelling benefits including:
o Cost-effective video and web collaboration
o A cloud infrastructure capable of scaling to handle thousands of users and devices across multiple locations
o Disaster recovery and business continuity with fail-over networks to keep communications up and running
o Online interactive chat, group teleconferences, and video capabilities providing increased productivity for students, staff and educators
o Reduction in overhead costs for IT administrators
o Integration with third party applications
o Mobile collaboration capabilities for staff so they are reachable anywhere on campus.
It’s no surprise more school districts are migrating to the cloud given how critical clear, effective, reliable communication and connectivity is to their business. With school districts and university campuses often spanning multiple locations and the staff and student reliance on wireless devices for keeping in touch and accessing critical resources, the cloud solves many communication issues that have historically stymied educational institutions tethered to legacy PBX systems.
Case in Point
Most recently, the Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) replaced their communications solution. Although their existing solution was cloud-based, they were experiencing reliability and quality of service issues. Additionally, district staff and teachers needed a communication solution that facilitated omni-channel communications across any device, meaning whatever mode a faculty member wants to use, be it SMS, voice, email, or fax, they can do it from the same device.
Lastly, SCUSD needed a UC solution that enabled seamless integration with Google Apps for Education, a critical productivity tool that is used district-wide.
Among their challenging criteria:
o Provide a proven, QoS solution
o 24×7 customer support
o 45-day window to deploy the solution across 28 campuses to 1,800 users
o Support mobile users across all locations in the school district
o Seamless integration with Google Apps for Education
o Secure communications that protect the privacy of users with authentication features and compliance with government requirements
SCUSD IT administration group partnered up to deploy the communications solution by the first day of school. Administrators, faculty and staff now communicate using any mode they desire on any device. Location is irrelevant because the platform makes it possible to work together as if everyone is in the same location.
Leveraging the unique capabilities of such a cloud solution, SCUSD now has the powerful, leading-edge communications it needs to provide its students with the highest quality education.
Educational institutions at all levels can future-proof their communications with cloud-based services, particularly when hosted in the cloud by a reliable provider. As districts look to increasingly modernize classroom technologies, it’s important to keep the infrastructure top of mind as well as to ensure they are keeping pace with technology innovation, while easily scaling to meet their needs. The future is now for education, and good communication is the foundation.
Mitch Tarica works for RingCentral. A University of California graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, he has also worked for Oracle and WebEx.