Northeastern nears completion of award-winning technology upgrade
When Chief Information Officer Sam Kann arrived at Northeastern Illinois University in March 2017, one of his first points of business was to complete an environmental scan and health assessment of the institution’s technology.
What the assessment found was a technology environment that was ready for an upgrade to keep up with modern advances and practices. With the approval of the Board of Trustees, Kann’s team in the Office of University Technology Services embarked on a $1 million information technology (IT) project.
“We started this process with two variables in mind: One was student experience, and the other was student convenience,” Kann said. “We embarked on this IT modernization project by moving the data system out of the University and into cloud computing technology. The idea is to get out of the hardware business completely and focus on areas like Wi-Fi, application automation, distance education and instructional technology.”
This innovative approach to the University’s technology systems earned Northeastern the Hybrid Iaas/Paas and Cloud Storage awards at Educause’s annual conference, which took place in Denver from Oct. 30 through Nov. 2.
By moving the data system into a cloud-based format and adopting a pay-as-you-go billing (consumption) model for cloud usage, Northeastern is saving 48 percent on IT services, Kann said. Information is safely secured through a dark fibre system that connects the University network across locations as well as remotely with password protection and other security measures, which minimizes phishing attacks and improves NEIU information systems security presence.
The University was also able to implement Starfish, a computing system that generates data points about students each week, such as alerts if a student hasn’t attended a class. Through data analytics, the software can help advisors better understand student retention as well as possible student barriers by comparing outcomes from schools with similar student demographics and online offerings.
“By the end of this year, we plan to go live with our IT modernization,” Kann said. “Once that’s done, then our goal is to put a concerted effort into application automation, streamlining of process workflows, digitizing of forms and paperless initiatives. All these changes would help administrators and staff to process things faster for our students.”
As a result of this modernization, students will experience increased Wi-Fi speed and more modern data protection for the entire Northeastern online system, including NEIUport and Nmail.
“It’s been like a bullet train for the past 18 months,” Kann said. “I’m glad I joined NEIU at the right time. It helped us to champion the IT modernization need and get it going. The key to all of this is to socially engage with the students. When you socially engage with students, they respond to it, which can contribute to successful enrollment and retention.”
Middle photo: The University Technology Services staff
Above photo: Sam Kann holds Northeastern’s Hybrid Iaas/Paas and Cloud Storage awards.