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Innovation Through Efficiency

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In Higher Education, Efficiency Drives Innovation

IT demands are increasing but budgets aren't.

posted February 4, 2013  |  Appears in the Winter 2013 issue of EdTech Magazine.

The word "efficiency" does not typically conjure up thoughts of excitement, invention or innovation. More often, it can bring to mind smaller budgets and fewer resources. But why can't it be related to both? As more colleges and universities look to leverage existing technology and IT resources and improve ROI, true innovation is necessary.

A group of colleges led by the University of Arizona is finding that balance through cloud computing. The initiative — dubbed the iPlant ­Collaborative — is a private-cloud infra­structure that provides ­scientists, teachers and students with data analysis tools, high-­performance computing and even a social network to s­upport their research on various aspects of plant life.

"We have a whole range of applications and services that address the needs of our diverse community of educational and scientific users," says the university's Edwin ­Skidmore.

Besides research, college professors are using the cloud environment for their classes. To teach students how to use software tools for data analysis, faculty can create ready-made virtual environments with demonstration data loaded onto them, he says.

"They can tell their students to launch the VM and everything is installed. They don't have to configure or download anything," he says. "When they're done, they shut it down and make the resource available to other students to use in ­another class."

For more on how institutions are utilizing cloud computing resources, read In Higher Education, Cloud Projects Are Delivering Real ROI.

Helping the Help Desk

Infrastructure isn't the only place to find efficiencies. Ivy Tech, a ­community college in Indiana, was looking for a way to improve its help desk while dealing with limited ­resources and staff. CIO Anne ­Brinson turned to Indiana ­University's Sue B. ­Workman for advice on replicating IU's help desk model. The discussion led to an ­approach that ­benefitted both: Ivy Tech would utilize IU's resources and outsource its help desk to the university. To learn more about their collaboration, check out Helping the Help Desk: Collaboration Cuts Bottom-Line IT Costs.

Other articles in this issue share advice on how institutions can ­ensure the most value is gained from IT spending. Mark Frydenberg shares how Bentley University transformed a dreary and underutilized space into a thriving campus destination. And How Campuses Meet the Demand for Bandwidth with Wired and Wireless Networks details how three universities are getting the most bang out of their ­wireless network spend.

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