Unified Communication Platforms in Higher Education

Higher education administrators and staff members face an enormous challenge of trying to effectively communicate to a transient group of people on campus. Some students live on campus during the sch 8/20/2008 12:04 PM Eastern

Unified Communication Platforms in Higher Education

Aug 20, 2008 4:04 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes

Higher education administrators and staff members face an enormous challenge of trying to effectively communicate to a transient group of people on campus. Some students live on campus during the school year while other students live elsewhere and only come to campus to attend classes. Staff members may rotate campuses and not have a permanent home base. “There is a difficulty to communicate uniformly in the higher-education environment,” says Jennifer Fryc, communications consultant for higher education for Visix in Norcross, Ga. “Some schools have campus-wide systems while others schools handle communication and technology within each department.”

The Visix AxisTV diagram. Click here for a larger image

Visix has gained traction over the past several years because its technology is a good fit for the higher education market. The company’s web-based AxisTV digital-signage platform has added capability like content management, room signage, and room scheduling. The system has three main components: the software interface, a content-manager server, and one or more channel players for video distribution. Currently, over 400 universities have deployed their solutions.

“Visix supports a broad range of content. Our technology is unique in that it is web-based, network friendly, and scalable,” Fryc says. “Users can log in and create new content using our library of backgrounds and wallpaper, or they can upload an image or a PowerPoint slide.” The web-based interface also has a playlist function so that various communications can be scheduled in advance. Users can direct what content is pushed to which channel player and at what intervals.

“Depending on the school’s structure, a user can be a person within the student council/student government or it can be a technology manager within IT or campus security,” Fryc says. “You can have multiple users with an approval process depending on the type of content.”

Most importantly, the system can push the same message to multiple sources like flatpanel displays, desktop computers, cable TV (as a video stream), room signs, screensavers, RSS readers, cell phones (as a text message), and web pages. “There has been a focus on emergency communications, which is one reason why the higher education market is the most relevant application of our technology,” says Fryc, who recently met with a university that had 60,000 employees on campus in addition to the thousands of students. “People want the ability to mass communicate and especially mass text message in the event of an emergency.”

Fryc noted that schools will also deploy tools like a siren in conjunction with digital signage. The staff and students on campus would hear the siren and know to look for information on their nearest digital sign.

Advertising tracking and reporting is a popular option within AxisTV. Schools will often use a multiple content window layout and have a window for campus information, another for live video, and another for advertising. The system can track which advertisement played when and how often. Users can get a report that can is exported as a .pdf, .rtf, .html or Microsoft Excel file.

“The adoption rate for our technology is still increasing in the higher-education market,” says Fryc, who notes that school locations like the nearby University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel are a good example of how Visix technology is adopted across a large campus. “Our system is installed in 36 conference rooms for room signs and scheduling. Staff members would see the technology and ask how they could get it for their department. Now, we are installed in five different schools within the university.”

And although the primary focus is on higher education, Fryc is seeing more interest from the K-12 market as well. “We have several installs in school districts where they can support separate schools on a single server,” she says. “Our technology works anywhere there is a central body supporting remote locations.”

Moving forward, Fryc is working with Visix clients on the awareness and benefits of using RSS feed updates. She also notes that text messaging is a standard method of communication or is quickly becoming a standard for many campuses.

Recently, the company announced that it has integrated Extron’s IP Link Ethernet control technology into AxisTV so users can remotely manage multiple displays from one browser window. The Ethernet control adds the capability of turning displays on or off, selecting the input, or adjusting the volume from a remote location. The scheduling option helps to conserve power consumption and extend the life of a display. According to a company press release, the first release from Visix is designed to support the Extron IPL T S1 Ethernet Control Interface and is available for purchase as of June 2008.

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