As organizations across the globe embrace hybrid work it is having a knock-on effect, especially on educational institutions as they train the next generation workforce. Universities, especially, are rethinking the learning and campus experience for students and staff alike so they are able to provide a hybrid and connected environment as has become the norm in the corporate world.

A prominent university in Asia-Pacific that had a decades-long relationship with Cisco recently embarked on a journey to transform its campus driven in large part by the recent changes in the way we work and learn. The idea was to build a facility that brings learning to life by connecting students and their devices to classrooms and educators, seamlessly and securely, while creating opportunities to embrace new technologies that enhanced user experience while on or off campus across learning, teaching, and research groups.

Just like workers in a corporate environment, students today also want to learn from anywhere, collaborate with peers across physical and virtual environments, and connect with professors and counsellors for guidance and advice quickly and easily. They want to be able to mark their attendance, login to e-learning and administrative portals, and access courseware and resources on a multitude of devices. The smart campus was expected to deliver on these expectations and more.

Given its position in society, the university was also keen to adopt energy-related best practices with a focus on sustainability. Young students like to see those guiding them walk the talk and the institution’s leaders planned on doing just that when they partnered with Cisco to bring their vision to life.


Building a next generation network platform

The institution followed an eight-year technology refresh cycle which is common in the industry given the state of its technology infrastructure. However, to build a smart campus, they needed to think beyond the solutions that served them in the past.

Connecting students and staff across the facility, from the campus to the research wing and beyond, is critical to achieving the end goal. With educational institutions being increasingly targeted by hackers, the university was constantly vulnerable. A single successful attack could wreak havoc on the institution, bringing everything to a grinding halt, while also putting sensitive financial data from the bursary and critical personal data such as visa status, educational records, and other information at risk.

Several instances of colleges falling victim to ransomware attacks as well as to data theft in the US, Canada, and Europe, have been in the news over the past few years. As a result, the leaders couldn’t even think of building a smart campus without addressing security concerns.

Working with Cisco naturally enabled the institution to think big, scale up their network, and ensure security of data and devices. Their mindset and approach to network and security has been impressive, resulting in them acquiring capabilities that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to manage the network and use advanced continuous threat and behavior analysis solutions.

The deployment of an intelligent network allowed for centralised campus policy management with distributed security enforcement – which means, the institution could run its more advanced IT operations with a lean team. With AI and ML offering proactive and preventive fault mitigation and self-healing capabilities for the network, the IT team is free to focus on leveraging the new infrastructure to solve business problems rather than operational tasks/issues.

In practice, think of the institution’s future-forward network as the fabric that unlocks creativity. The security features this network now boasts of safeguards all relevant stakeholders, enabling them to push the limits on their knowledge exchange without worrying about vulnerabilities and evolving threat vectors. This is the fundamental layer of the institution’s smart campus.


Enabling use cases with a focus on energy efficiency

During the initial workshops, the institution made it clear that they had a mandate to become more energy efficient and adopt sustainable best practices as far as possible. As a result, sustainability was baked into everything they did – right from disposing and recycling old hardware to making sure every new dollar would only be spent after considering its impact on the community and the planet.

Cisco’s advantage is that it has a lifecycle approach to sustainability and an extensive program to meet important goals in this sphere. The university aspires to adopt sustainable procurement practices immediately and by 2030, become an entity with zero waste to landfill – and Cisco will deliver on these expectations.

However, in the course of everyday operations, there’s an interesting contribution that the institutions’ investment in smart campus facilities is enabling. They are now using energy more efficiently which is a priority for every public institution with government bodies as key stakeholders.

In practice, what does this really mean? The university will use AI-enabled adaptive power adjustment of wireless access points based on time, connectivity, and load. Further, they’re also leveraging their smart campus ‘platform’ to natively integrate with a partner ecosystem full of rich IoT devices that can facilitate delightful experiences for students and educators alike across their spaces and facilities while also ensuring energy optimization. Finally, our team is constantly working with their IT team to build bridges with divisions within the university to help them visualize what’s possible with all the new infrastructure & technology they now have in place – and we believe this will unlock greater value for these investments in the near future.

The efforts undertaken by the university is not only making learning fun in this new era, it is also having a significant impact on lives. Truly speaking, the possibilities for the future are endless and we are delighted to be a part of it.