IoT Technologies Being Put to Use in College Campuses


‘Smart’ Campuses Invest in the Internet of Things

Campus Technology, August 24, 2017

At Sun Devil Stadium on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, sensors connected to the WiFi and cellular network collect temperature, humidity and noise data for use by facilities staff. As part of a longstanding cheering contest, the noise data analysis identifies the section of the stadium that is making the most noise and puts the results on a big screen. Sensors can identify if a faucet anywhere in the stadium is left running after a football game is over, to help cut water usage. ASU also is exploring providing information through a mobile app on the availability of parking and wait time estimations for concession lines and restrooms.

The tech-infused stadium has been a test bed for a larger investigation of and investment in Internet of Things (IoT) technologies at ASU, according to Gordon Wishon, the university’s chief information officer. “We built the back-end infrastructure to support those proofs of concept,” he said.

Wishon is convinced that research universities are the perfect place to test and deploy IoT. “The enterprise of a large research university has some component of every industry vertical in the larger world around us. We not only support academic and research operations, but also very large business enterprises with retail operations, transportation, healthcare, ticketing, supply chain,” he said. “We have been working with industry partners such as Intel and investing in the infrastructure we think we will need to support the broader deployment of IoT technologies. As CIO, it is my responsibility to be sure that the university is prepared for emerging technologies and the impact they will have on our campuses.”

Coordinating IT and Facilities

As campus executives start to develop their IoT strategies, it is not just CIOs who have to be involved. Sometimes, facilities groups have their own IT executives working on data pipelines from IoT devices. Chuck Benson, assistant director for IT in Facilities Services at the University of Washington, chairs a campuswide IoT risk mitigation task force.

Energy management is a great example of where IoT is having an impact, Benson said. With help from a federal grant, UW has made an effort to meter much of the campus. There are about 2,000 data points where power and building controls are sampled. “I work with our energy conservation managers making sure all the samples are coming through,” he said. Data flows into an aggregation point and from there to consumption for reports, dashboards or ongoing research. “We do a lot of work in building that data pipeline, and there are challenges all along the way that involve different groups on campus,” Benson explained. If a meter goes offline, initially you don’t know why — or who is responsible. Did the device or routing have a problem, or is there a problem with the configuration somewhere in the data pipeline? “We have a team made up of the energy conservation manager, electrical engineer for power, our mechanical engineer for HVAC, a vendor and a subcontractor who helps us support this,” he said.

Benson is interested in the organizational challenges to make sure responsibilities don’t fall through the gaps. For example, in a new facility being built at UW, there are IoT systems for environmental control monitoring, HVAC and lighting controls. Planning and budgeting, capital development and facilities management are involved. Central IT provides the backbone, local IT helps facilitate implementation and countless vendors are involved, so that creates gaps through which accountability and ownership can fall, he said. “That is one of the things that makes this different from traditional enterprise systems — [IoT spans] so many different organizations, it makes it a different animal, and these are groups that are not used to working together in this way. That is one of the biggest challenges higher education institutions face. If this is going to be successfully implemented, there has to be oversight and coordination — not that it is going to be easy. But to have all these groups operating independently is not going to work.”

Wishon agrees that IoT could ultimately change the role of the CIO and require much closer working relationships with many different departments on campus — residence halls, facilities, retail operations, parking, transportation and public safety. “This has allowed us to establish much closer relationships with each one of those organizations on campus,” he said. “We are working with each one of them to help them understand the potential benefits as well as the potential risks of deploying these technologies.”

He used facilities as an example: ASU has five campuses with more than 2,000 buildings. All were constructed with different materials, standards and techniques. In the cases where there are building information management systems installed, there is no set of standards that allow facilities managers to share data across different systems. The challenge is to develop a “single pane of glass view” into all facilities and operations, which facilities executives can leverage to drive down consumption of energy and resources as well as do predictive maintenance.

“The responsibility of the CIO becomes helping to lead and educate peers across the institution on what the impact of these technologies will be and how to prepare for it,” Wishon said. “In our case, we have the responsibility in central IT of ensuring that the security architecture and data architecture we are building can accommodate all the different forms and sources of data and the applications that will be used to leverage it across campus. The privacy conversation cannot be understated. The potential advantages of these technologies in terms of benefitting student, faculty, staff and visitor experience are going to be huge.”

IoT and Student Success

Some campus academic leaders are interested in the possibility that IoT devices could help improve student success efforts, although obviously these efforts raise a number of privacy concerns. Arizona State University has launched a pilot project to see if using IoT to take attendance could help advisers reach out to students.

The university offers an introductory course called ASU 101 for first-time freshmen. “We know that students who fail to attend that course on a regular basis have a very high probability of failing to persist,” said CIO Gordon Wishon. “So we have a vested interest in understanding which students are attending that course on a regular basis and those who are not.” But with section sizes of up to 300 students, faculty members have no time to take attendance. With the approval of the institutional review board, the provost’s office is sponsoring a pilot project asking the students to opt in to allowing ASU to track their location using a virtual beacon when they enter the classroom. Wishon said the data would not go to the faculty member but could help the institution identify which students might be at risk because they are failing to attend.

Dealing with IoT Data

Some IT leaders may find the amount of data being generated overwhelms the campus’s ability to organize it, analyze it and act on it. “Just because the data is there potentially for us to collect does not mean we have the tools we need to do anything about it,” said David Allen, director of enterprise systems at Pacific Lutheran University (WA). “It is one thing to connect a device. It is another level of complexity to do something with it beyond turning lights on and off and changing temperature settings. Every campus is a little different in terms of where the responsibility lies to work with the data and act on it,” he said.

Pacific Lutheran has had to think through the impact of IoT on its network, involving everything from its BYOD policy for students to washers and dryers in the residence halls that have IP addresses. “In our architecture, we have multiple network segments that we can put different kinds of devices on,” Allen explained. “Our access control system is on a different segment from everything else. We have to think about whether we want all the facilities-related devices on one network, or work with the facilities team to figure out how to segment that more granularly. Maybe lighting controls are on one segment and HVAC controls on another — in part, because there is some risk if one segment is compromised.”

UW’s Benson noted that it can be difficult for IT leaders to find time to study the potential impact of IoT and work to prepare for it. “CIOs have to work on big projects such as ERP replacements, which take a ton of effort and resources. That in turn distracts from other things like thinking about IoT,” he said. “I believe CIOs are increasingly aware of coming issues around IoT, but their plates are full with other IT challenges. I think we’ll see some organizational changes to help CIOs with IoT issues.”

Smarter Together

When the nonprofit organization Internet2 created a Chief Innovation Office in March 2015, it surveyed members asking which key areas they wanted to work on. The three top choices were Internet of Things, end-to-end trust and security, and distributed big data and analytics, so working groups were established around each topic. “Interestingly, two of those working groups — IoT and distributed big data — chose the smart campus as one of their focus areas,” said Florence Hudson, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at Internet2. “And when you think of the smart campus, it is the culmination of all three working groups: IoT devices create distributed big data you have to do analytics on, with end-to-end trust and security. Looking at that, our CEO at the time, Dave Lambert, suggested we create a Smart Campus CIO Advisory Council. I reached out to 10 CIOs and they all joined.” (Both Arizona State University‘s Gordon Wishon and University of Washington‘s Chuck Benson are members of the advisory council.)

Hudson said CIOs are figuring out who on campus needs to be involved in IoT. She described a recent summit meeting on IoT in which CIOs were asked to bring with them the one person they are working most closely with on IoT issues. “One guy brought his provost,” she said. “A few people brought their chief facilities officers. Some people brought manufacturing/engineering professors who run IoT labs. Some brought their CISOs. What you see is that it takes a village. I like to say ‘IT plus OT equals IoT — Information Technology plus Operational Technology equals the Internet of Things.’ Different players need to come together to deploy these solutions. A lot more people are asking questions about it now, and that is good because we can get all these brilliant people in the academy to work on it together.”

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