Building a High-Capacity Network to Optimize User Experiences

When Kent State University looked at expanding their network, IT leaders believed their technology solution should include the alignment of three things: the voice of the customer, the mission of the organization, and the aspirational goals of the academic, research, and administrative divisions of the university.

According to Kent State’s Vice President of IT and CIO John Rathje, planning for network capabilities should begin with intentionality of service and the architecture required to support desired experiences and innovations. In this case, it is the university’s mission to support student access and completion to graduation, so they began their planning focused on capacity, capability, and performance to support student experiences. 

“When I think about capabilities, I’m also thinking about things that integrate into other parts of our strategy and our approach. For example, can we manage the network from a single pane of glass, are we able to look across the enterprise to see whether or not something inappropriate is happening, whether the performance is adequate, or whether we need to consider extending the network’s capabilities,” said Rathje. “We also want to create a great experience, so that those on our campus can connect easily with a variety of devices that integrate well with our network.”

Rathje described how students have expectations of network support. “We must be able to provide an experience that is meaningful and relevant to their academic, social, and community engagement. And in order for us to do that, we listen to what the university constituents need, and then we create a plan that helps us deliver in that regard.” Over the course of the pandemic, the network expectations of both students and faculty changed and the university had to be ready to respond.

People, Process, Data, and Technology

“Technology does not solve our problems, but we can’t solve our problems without technology,” said Rathje. “Those of us in IT must look at the capability and the promise of what technology can offer in collaboration with system users to be able to perform well in their mission—whether they be students, faculty, or administrators.” Rathje explained that building a transformational network is more collaborative than it used to be, so they can identify how to best serve their current and future users.

“Think about technology as a value proposition rather than a cost,” said Rathje. “Our job is to help people understand the value of technology and how the digital components are interwoven with the outcomes that everyone expects today.” He suggests that demonstrating new possibilities for users, and constant communication and feedback about what’s working and what is not is a way to manage the fast-changing digital world and stay current with both user demands and possibilities. “Systems are much more complex than they used to be,” said Rathje. “Part of the job of digital technologists or digital architects is to reduce the complexity visible to the people we serve. We need to absorb the complexity internally and look at forms of automation to streamline and create efficiencies on how things should be integrated and communicated.”

While the users experience is paramount for Kent State leaders, they also want to make the management of the network as holistic as possible for the technical team. Creating as much standardization as possible facilitates more efficiency for the systems and less complexity for users. To power all the aspects of a transformational network including academic, research, and residential innovations, the university is deploying Aruba Networks’ s wired, wireless, management and security solutions. “We needed a reliable, secure high-performance network that could evolve rapidly,” said Rathje.

By choosing Aruba, the university will be able to continuously modernize the network to improve all users’ experiences. “After undergoing an extensive evaluation, we determined Aruba’s vision, engagement, and the inter-operability of all its solutions throughout the network layers made them the right partner for us.”