Higher Ed institutions with very high research activities, like NC State University, are generally thought of as leading-edge IT innovators. We’ve lived ‘Bring Your Own Everything (BYOx)’ for over 20 years now. We have deployed the latest network technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) and many other new, hyped and oversold technologies well in advance of most industry partners and the consumer market.
“Faculty, staff and student innovations via teaching, research and outreach are our major economic drivers”
Even though, there is one area in which we continue to lag behind that could also be strength—Distributed IT. As a land-grant University with 10 colleges, many institutes and centers, and 100 statewide county extension offices, NC State inevitably developed over the years with very localized and independent IT solutions.
While dramatic, these IT changes are not driving the most important innovations on college campuses. Faculty, staff and student innovations via teaching, research and outreach are our major economic drivers. NC State University contributes over $6.5 million to the state’s economy, which is more than four times its annual operating budget. To enable this growth, we continue to focus all of our improved IT services in areas that allow our campus community to create, collaborate and implement at the rapid pace of innovation.
As a result of constant innovation, CIOs have become chief strategy officers, connecting the innovators to new technology solutions. Thus, providing support for integration and collaboration, all generally within a constrained budget and at no cost to the innovators. It is a challenging job that requires facilitation skills and many partnerships.
A major shift occurring at universities like NC State is the collaboration and consolidation of efforts to achieve synergy and scale. Universities by nature are sharing creatures. Our students, faculty and staff often present at conferences to exchange solutions, including code and architectures, to support our peers. This has resulted in unique efforts in shared services and centers of excellence.
One of our original shared services is the national Internet2 Research and Education Network that allows member universities to interconnect at 100GB with low latency and beneficial pricing. A spin-off was the regional networks that interconnect state universities and colleges. In North Carolina, NCREN connects the 17 University of North Carolina (UNC) colleges, 58 community colleges and every K-12 institution in the state. Internet2 has expended its shared services to include Net+, which provides a number of partner offerings that include added functionality to meet higher educational needs as well as combined pricing.
This fully interconnected system wherein price does not limit the expansion and use has led to more collaboration, innovations and sharing, such as federated identity, shared disaster recovery sites and centers of excellence. NC State, for example, is supporting VoIP phone service for two sister universities. Because we are large enough to operate at-scale, we can provide incremental cost to our peers.
It is these types of ever-changing technologies and innovations that make NC State one of the most challenging places to be a CIO.