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Vertical Industry Communications: Higher Education: Page 2 of 3


Communications for instruction is organized, almost entirely, around a learning management system, or LMS. Modern LMS provides essentially everything the instructor and students need to complete the course of study. The LMS will include online capabilities for:

  • The ability to conduct classes online with audio, file sharing, and video
  • Content management for the course materials, including class session video recordings
  • Student capabilities for attendance (if remote), assignments, and work submission
  • Student team workspaces for collaborative work
  • Communication with the instructor at least by text and files, and often by voice or video
  • Grade posting
  • Integration to Administration's systems for student enrollment and completion grading

In all cases, the LMS is accessible via browser on wireless phones, tablets, and computers, and also is often available via a mobile application.



Thus, the instructional value chain element in higher education is an entirely self-contained world with essentially no requirements for general-purpose IP telephony or unified communications. This is essentially the production value chain element of higher ed, as represented by the Production Usage Profile.

The classroom experiences do require audio and video facilities that are functional but easy to use, since instructors and students in these spaces constantly rotate. For smaller classrooms and seminar rooms, general-purpose AV systems are sufficient (see the Foundational Services post). Large classrooms require custom-designed solutions. In either case, the AV system must connect easily to the LMS (see Foundational Usage Profile.)

Note that instructors may be tenured faculty, graduate students, or instructors. It's critical not to assume that all instructors are faculty, or vice versa.

Research is conducted by faculty with their graduate student cadre and is supported by technical staff, as in lab settings, and by research assistance, such as needed for interviews and data collection in social sciences or business research.

Higher education research is similar to commercial enterprise R&D, and maps well to the Collaboration Usage Profile in functionality. However, higher ed research usually differs significantly from commercial R&D since the researchers often work in teams across locations and across institutions. Also, in many cases, the grant funding for the research restricts the researchers from paying their institution for services, such as collaboration software.

The observable result is that most cross-institution research teams will use free cloud-based services such as Google G Suite and Zoom conferencing. Of course, these applications are tuned to online services, accessible from PCs, Macs, tablets, and smartphones, entirely separate from the institution's communications infrastructure other than the IP networks.

This essentially removes the research function from unified communication planning and support by the college's or university's IT team. Some institutions will decide to make the collaboration applications available for free in their service catalogs, but that still may not provide access to those services for research team members from other institutions.

The researchers may wish to use the institution's conference rooms for group meetings, yet that will be only for connection of screens and sound to the cloud-based apps.

An exception to this description is when social science or business research requires a large number of voice or in-person interviews. In such cases, traditional multiline telephones, softphones, and outbound dialing may be of value.

Note that many researchers also participate in the Instruction value chain element.

Here is where the usual voice and unified communications services occur in higher education. Overall, due to the large and constantly changing number of applicants, students, and alumni, the administration processes are highly automated.

Specialized software packages provide for all types of processes, from recruiting, to admissions, registration, class enrollment, grade posting/academic record maintenance, housing service, food service, parking permits, transportation, police and fire, etc. Since all students are now assumed to have smartphones, most of the interactions are via online browser pages or apps provided by the software applications. Essentially, this is a blend of the Information Processing Usage Profile and Contact Center Usage Profile.

Thus, the ideal communications scenario for most administration processes is to have communications integrated with the applications. In this way, the exceptions can be easily managed right within the software package context. Most interactions will be via the app (e.g., approving a parking permit request), but may be via text messaging, email, or a call. Obviously, it will be best if that call is launched from the application and a record of that call is automatically generated. In some cases, such as calls to police and fire or calls from applicants or alumni, inbound contact center technology is appropriate, again with integration to the institution's databases and software applications.

A college or university is essentially a small city that must constantly be maintained -- i.e., buildings, infrastructure such as power and HVAC, roadways, and specialized environments from hospitals to parking lots. Our experience is that this value chain element, which is similar to the service value chain element Harvard professor Michael Porter describes in his model (see the Manufacturing Outlook post), is a combination of the Collaboration Usage Profile and the Production Usage Profile.

Collaboration comes into play when facilities need to be modified or upgraded, either at the occupant's request or for safety or regulatory compliance. This is a collaborative process that makes reference to the "as built" documentation as the basis for a creative activity.

Production is the model for the actual maintenance or modifications. In all cases, this work is either larger scope work that is project based or is smaller scope work that follows a simple dispatch model. In many cases, this work is managed by software applications, such as IBM's Maximo Asset Management, accessed on tablet computers. Communications is usually through the entries in the software or through text messaging or email.

In some cases, our clients have been interested in voice communications links from the asset management software to facilitate calls for information or expert assistance. However, these calls can route as easily through a cellular service or a communications platform as a service (CPaaS) provider as through the institutions IP PBX infrastructure.