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IoT in education: Gonzaga taps ITSM to manage device growth

Gonzaga University is building upon its cloud-based ITSM system, as it deals with an expanding number of Internet-enabled devices -- from wireless speakers to sprinkler systems.

The Internet of Things is arriving on college campuses, and Gonzaga University is among the schools getting a handle on the IoT-in-education trend.

Gonzaga, a school in Spokane, Wash., with total enrollment of about 7,400, has seen IoT drive up the number of student-owned devices from an expected three to five per student to five to eight per student. In addition to the traditional complement of laptops and phones, the student load-out now includes network-ready TVs, Nike shoes equipped with Fitbit fitness trackers and wireless speakers. The school's faculty, meanwhile, contributes their own collection of gear. And as for facilities, Gonzaga is Internet-enabling its lawn sprinklers and light switches.

"Five years ago, I would never have dreamed we would be putting the sprinkler system on our Internet," said Jim Jones, Gonzaga's associate CIO of information technology services. "I don't think anything now catches me off guard. I'm just waiting for our window panes to be Internet-ready."

IoT management

Five years ago, I would never have dreamed we would be putting the sprinkler system on our Internet.
Jim Jonesassociate CIO at Gonzaga

Against that backdrop, Jones this week said the IT group is leveraging an IT service management (ITSM) offering from EasyVista Inc. to help manage the IoT wave. Jones said Gonzaga first went live on EasyVista in the fall of 2014. To date, the company has deployed the vendor's service request management, incident management and change management capabilities. The school is now working through EasyVista's release management component and plans to deploy its configuration management database.

ITSM systems automate, among other things, the task of dealing with users' service requests, as well as the process of responding to the incidents they encounter. Amid the rise of IoT, the number of devices requiring network services goes up, as does the number of incidents. The growth isn't linear, however.

Kevin Coppins, general manager, Americas at EasyVista, said since IoT devices talk with each other, as well as communicating with the network, "something can go wrong now in a geometric number of ways."

Coppins cited a case in one university he was working with, in which a student called the help desk because his phone wasn't connecting with his weigh-in scale. The student had to report his body mass index to his coach on a daily basis. Such calls will be hitting the college help desk in rapidly growing numbers, he predicted.

Kevin Coppins, general manager, Americas at EasyVistaKevin Coppins

"The reality of IoT is creeping into organizations ... but it is showing up to college campuses in force," Coppins said.

Other EasyVista higher education customers include Fordham University, Samford University, the University of Barcelona and Villanova University.

Schools are indeed taking notice of IoT in education, judging from the IoT-focused conference tracks at recent higher education gatherings. In November 2015, the semiannual meeting of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, for example, featured an IoT session. The session's introduction asked, "What do we do when our students arrive on our campuses in Internet-enabled vehicles, wearing Internet-enabled clothing, carrying eight to 10 Internet-enabled devices and with clear expectations that our systems can support them?"

Extending ITSM

Gonzaga aims to use its EasyVista system to manage IoT-related management tasks. For example, if something were to go wrong with the sprinkler system, an event could be triggered, and the ITSM would route the incident though a queue and direct it toward maintenance personnel.

While such capabilities will evolve this year, other ITSM extensions are further out on the horizon. Jones said EasyVista will roll out to encompass the human resource functions over the next couple of years. The system, in that scenario, would be used to help bring people on board. While ITSM is generally associated with IT organizations and help desk operations, the technology increasingly finds a home in other corporate capacities, including HR and legal.

Jim Jones, associate CIO of information technology services, GonzagaJim Jones

This ITSM buildout is taking place on the cloud. When Gonzaga's previous on-premises service desk system was approaching end of life, the school issued a request for proposal for a new ITSM. Jones said Gonzaga wanted a software as a service (SaaS) product that was ITIL-compliant, easy to use and within its budget. In addition, the ITSM had to be deployed in a two-month window before the fall semester began.

In general, cloud offerings take precedence over other options when the university implements new technology, Jones added

"We want to move away from having a data center on premises," he said.  

Another key point for the new ITSM system was the ability to create customized workflows within a SaaS offering, he added.

IoT in education: Impact

Gonzaga's ITSM provides a single face to support the growing roster of Internet-enabled devices in use on campus, precluding the confusion of operating multiple help desks as additional IoT-driven devices proliferate -- from smart lighting systems to Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats.

Students, Coppins suggested, "don't want to go to five different service desks; they want to go to one."

IoT also has the potential to change organizational culture, as well as the systems that support the organization. Jones said IoT doesn't necessarily change the way the Gonzaga IT services department does business, but it does call for more interaction with non-IT groups at the school. For example, the university's maintenance personnel and the IT group will become more integrated, as they work more closely together.

"It just means more collaboration and communications with our colleagues in other areas," Jones said.

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