Smart Campus Initiatives & Technology

Campuses are embracing smart digital technologies to better compete with other institutions and deliver improved student experience.  By leveraging sensors, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and education applications, colleges and create a smart campus and deliver benefits including better campus safety, higher student engagement, and increased collaboration. 

However, A smart campus initiative presents challenges on the technical level due to diverse data sets, multiple sources, and connectivity. Smart campus solutions from Dell EMC, Intel, SAP and GDT are built on software and hardware products that are available today to deliver capabilities for real-time and predictive analytics, collaboration and performance management. 

Joining me on this podcast to discuss smart campuses and the GDT Smart Campus Framework were Allen Sulgrove from GDT and Rob Silverberg and Morten Loderup from Dell EMC.  Listen and read the full transcript below!

Matt Shea:     Rob, why are colleges and universities pursuing smart campus data strategies and architecture?

Rob:                       So, colleges and universities are looking to benefit from some of the modern technologies that are now available. Many of these technologies are being used in the smart city concept, but the smart campus concept is definitely leveraging the same technologies to drive meaningful outcomes for universities.

So, the outcomes that universities are hoping to achieve by implementing these smart technologies are things around a general category of solutions. One is around efficiency and energy consumption—lowering the cost of lighting, lowering the cost of building heating and cooling; the other second major area of interest is around campus safety, making sure that students are safe as they walk around the campus.

It is important that universities are proactive around campus safety not waiting until an incident occurs before they start deploying these sorts of campus safety measures. And lastly, the other general major area they are focused on is around student outcomes and student engagement. How can we reach our students? How can we understand what makes them successful–What makes them dropout? And what can we do to change those student outcomes and improve them?

So, those are the general areas that we see universities focus on in the smart campus space.

Matt Shea:       Allen, would you share some high-value use cases for smart campuses?

Allen:                    Absolutely. So, some high-value use cases and I’ll echo what Rob said as well, we kind have split high-value use cases into two different areas: One is, what is of most value?; two is, universities and colleges. So, like Rob said, campus security is a big piece of it, but another big piece of it is actually matriculation and graduation rates which also boil into student engagement.

So, clearly, having a safe campus leveraging a lot of the different technologies including smart lighting, blue light pedestals, public address systems, help enhance that campus security initiative. On the matriculation side, increasing the graduation rates, we can use the technology, for instance, like Wi-Fi, presence and location analytics, to look at how well the campus is being utilized and how the students are utilizing campus, as well as, being able to look at attendance in classes as well.

So, in combination with that presence and location analytics, for instance, a school app that they might have in there, we could see some potential areas where students are not engaged or coming to campus on a regular basis. And that gives us the opportunity to reach out to that student through the Dean of Students’ staff and make sure that that person is engaged and getting the help that they need. Currently, most campuses you only have two opportunities during a semester to see how students are doing and what their attendance is. With using some of the presence and location analytics, IoT devices, student apps, we can increase that significantly.

On the other side of that, like Rob stated, from an ROI standpoint, clearly the smart lighting has one of the biggest ROIs. You can see an easy two-year ROI on smart lighting and then back into that security standpoint, as well, where now I can affect the lighting on campus if there is an incident happening. Another piece of ROI that we can look at is, for instance, at sporting events, at stadiums or arenas on college campuses; we can affect more advertising and digital signage through the use of smart campus technologies to drive more revenue to those universities. So, in both of those cases we have an opportunity to make the technology investment, the smart campus investment, net neutral, if not net positive.

Matt Shea:       Thank you, Allen. Rob, what kind of organizational challenges and barriers are unique to implementing a university IoT project?

Rob:                       Well, as I’ve dealt with both smart city use cases as well as smart campus use cases, I actually think campuses are somewhat freer in their ability to deploy technologies then some cities are. Cities have a very niche constituent base. They’ve got the businesses, they’ve got the public; deploying something like video surveillance and video analytics in a city can be met with opposition, a public response that would be negative to the idea of Big Brother watching them. And what I’d seen with campuses is there is a much greater acceptance around things like video surveillance for student safety, much more freedom that universities have to deploy these technologies without needing to convince the public that they’re not being recorded 24/7. So, I actually think universities have more freedom in some cases. They still have to answer to the student base and to the governing bodies, but their ability to deploy these smart campus solutions doesn’t have to go through a city council meeting, doesn’t have to go through a lot of the barriers that we see in some of the city use cases. So, I would say campuses are definitely freer to deploy these solutions and are actually moving very rapidly to do so.

Matt Shea:       Allen, would you explain what the GDT Smart Campus Framework is?

Allen:                    Absolutely. The GDT Smart Campus Framework is a holistic framework that allows the data not only from the edge but from the application layer to be translated into a common information model, all the data can be put in one place, into a single pane of glass, so we can get a real value out of the data.

One of the big issues in smart campus type environments and the IoT technology environments, they tend to be single-legged stools and what I mean by that is you’ll see groups on campuses that are really interested in a smart campus type technology, but they don’t really think about how that potentially could play in with other data sources or other departments on that. So, the Smart Campus Framework gives you the ability to pull in all the different edge devices, IoT devices, put them into a common information model, as well as, a centralized API, that way we can do command and control at the edge. We can have a single point of data, where we can pull into the data center, where we pull into the analytics–that way we don’t have to worry about having a single-legged stool. And we have the ability to put all the data into a single place that makes the most sense for that campus.

Matt Shea:       Starting with the software layer, how can SAP software be utilized to support a smart campus initiative?

Allen:                    One of the great things about SAP HANA, their in-memory platform, it gives the ability to do everything in real-time. So, as we are trying to affect things from an operation standpoint a student engagement standpoint, having the ability to process data in real-time and be able to use that data in real-time, SAP HANA really puts us ahead of most other data platforms out there. The other part about it is it already has predictive algorithms built into the in-memory platform so we are able to see outlier detection, time series, and predictive analytics—just as table stakes of what the SAP HANA in-memory platform provides. So, we don’t have to go out to different places to try to put in various and sundry type predictive analytics.

The other piece about that is, being that HANA is an in-memory platform, now we have the ability to use a multiple different visualizations tool and can visualize streaming data as well. So, where we have a connected digital platform as our API layer to IoT devices, SAP HANA can act like that as well and has the ability to pull in application data, systems data as well, into that common information model. So, SAP HANA has the ability to give us a head start in looking at data in real-time predictive analytics and application integration.

Morten:               Morten Loderup, Dell EMC, I just want to echo what Al Sulgrove just emphasized here.  We want to take advantage of SAP technologies, specifically around the HANA platform. HANA enables computations to be accelerated and gives you, as a research organization, a whole lot of insight into what’s possible.

Take the topic of Genomics, for example, trying to sequence genomes to find a particular strand of a disease or wherever your research might direct you, using HANA technology you can do this so much faster; what took him months to prep, years before, you can do today in real-time. So, again, whether you are SAP-sharp or not, it doesn’t matter. Take advantage of the technology as we are explaining here in this smart campus paper, to get ahead of the competition.

Matt Shea:       Allen, what hardware options are available to deploy a smart campus on?

Allen:                    Well, there is a variety of different options from when it comes to hardware for smart campus options. One of the things about the GDT Smart Campus Framework is it is very modular. So, for instance, if we are looking at how we are processing data, especially at the edge, we might have to look a different way… if we have, for instance, video analytics at the edge?

We might have to look at doing the processing at the edge as opposed to hauling that back to the data center. So, we can look at edge type processing on routers at the edge; we can look at having hardened mini-racks at the edge; or, depending on our bandwidth requirements, we can do that back in the data center with standard computer storage from Dell EMC–or, if hosted makes more sense than some of the hosted options like VirtuStream. So, that talks a little bit about the compute and storage pieces of it. From an edge device and an analytic standpoint, again, like I said, we’re very modular. The great thing about our connected digital platform is everything is segmented in a different domain. And what I mean by that is, for instance, with smart lighting.

So, we look at command and control on data from lighting. We look at on, off, dim, power usage, potentially multiple colors. So, we have the ability to use multiple different vendors for smart lighting, but we have an inter-connected digital platform that Debian’s set up where we can do control of multiple different systems. As we see in most campus type environments, they don’t have a homogenous type system for anything; typically, there are just varied systems with different vendors of technology doing the exact same thing.

So, we do have the ability regardless of the manufacturer, as long as they have open APIs to work with multiple, different hardware vendors when it comes to IoT and edge devices.

Matt Shea:       What’s the Dell EMC infrastructure needed for a smart campus analytic solution, for any of the use cases we just talked today?

Morten:               Morten Loderup, with Dell EMC. So, the infrastructure components for smart campuses include a compute power of Dell EMC-powered servers with the latest Intel Xeon processors and also Dell EMC software, storage, and also networking products. So, Dell provides portfolio of infrastructure options that includes stuff that we refer to as Ready Nodes or Ready Bundles and Ready Systems.

Our engineer teams have spent hundreds of hours to ensure these are optimized for the particular campus workload that needs to run on these Ready Solutions and also to make it easier for the IT staff to decide on what deployment model is best for them. Dell EMC offers the certified SAP HANA Ready Solutions optimized for the HANA analytics workloads. So, what we talked about, we have to get quicker insights into research and whatever that insight needs to heal, the HANA portfolio is an important aspect of this. And again, from Dell EMC, you get these certified solutions that are ready-to-go turnkey solutions.

Matt Shea:       How does Dell EMC differentiate in the higher education sector?

Rob:                       Dell EMC is very focused on making sure that our solutions match the needs of the education market. We have an entire team of individuals that is just focused on education–understanding where our solutions fit, understanding how to address this market, and making sure that we have the right solutions and contrast vehicles for that market. So, education is a major focus area for Dell EMC as a whole and we have an entire team just focused on making sure we have the right solutions for our education customers.

Morten:               If I can just add to that a little bit. There’s multiple ways that Dell EMC differentiates in the high-end sector. Dell EMC’s provided infrastructure solutions to Higher Ed for many years in addition to the understanding we bring into that higher education phase and to help meeting organizational performance requirements and matriculation requirements. We also provide insight up to how the university and college can leverage modern technologies like Stoop, Splunk, SAP HANA, and leveraging new, emerging technologies like Blockchain–artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and all these parts are part of the technology solutions that we offer.

The High Ed solutions that also include student computing learning spaces teaching administration that enables student faculties and administrators to use modern technology to accomplish both their private and public learning objectives. So, yet, another way that Dell EMC differentiates, look at the Dell technologies umbrella, for example. We bring together the innovations of Dell, Dell EMC, Pivotal, RSA, SecureWorks, VirtuStream, and we have been aware that we are closer to get to partner with these high-end institutions in pursuing student outcomes, improvements, supporting new and also innovative faculty research and better operational efficiency to modernize these campus environments.

Matt Shea:       Thank you, Morten! For smaller institutions that understand the smart campus benefit but have a limited budget, where do you recommend they start?

Rob:                       I would recommend that they start with simpler solutions that are available and have a clear cost-savings. The most commonly deployed IoT device these days is a smart campus light. If you change your lighting from the older incandescent over to LEDs, the cost-savings is significant and the ROI can be as little as 1 to 2 years in terms of cost-savings; and from that point it’s a revenue increase for the university. Although the new smart street lights that are available on the market include sensors and video surveillance and other analytics that drive the need for this backend processing.

So, where a smaller can benefit from deploying the smart street lighting and then gathering some of that data from the sensors and video on the street lights, they can do things that are very innovative, such as the street lights that are over parking lots can identify when parking spaces are empty or full. That data can then be provided out to users of a mobile app to tell them where to go to find parking. These solutions are relatively simple to implement and definitely using GDT Smart-X Solution, it can be deployed very rapidly.

Matt Shea:       Before we go, can you share some tips for a college or university that wants to get started on a journey to the smart campus?

Allen:                    Absolutely. This is Allen from GDT. So, one of the things when we talk about or talking to colleges and universities is the first we do is look at the technology that they already have in place. Most universities, if not all of them, have some sort of campus Wi-Fi network. Those Wi-Fi networks give us an opportunity to get presence and location analytics that will give us data about the utilization of the campus from a student standpoint, from an employee standpoint, from an educator standpoint.

So, we look at that as kind of our first piece of the journey. Once we move from that particular area, then we start looking at how we can augment that technology. So, the tips that I always provide is doing something small in scope, with a well-defined scope. Do something that provides a clear proof of that value. And notice, I say, proof of value and not proof of concept. All these technologies have been around for years now; they have come to a point where they are cost efficient to be deployed. So, for instance, we have talked about the smart lighting several times on this call, those are things we can also lead with because we can get that ROI immediately from that and give us the ability to, through cost-savings, be able to invest in more and more technologies.

So, as we move into that journey of a smart campus, the tips we would say would be to start small in scope, with a well-defined scope, pick a project which would be for a specific building or a specific open area on the campus. And then identify which technologies make the most sense, identify what technologies are already in place that you can get data, and that’s going to give you the best starting point for your journey into the smart campus.

Matt Shea:       Thank you, everyone!

The solution for smart campus management from Dell EMC, Intel, GDT, and SAP brings together all the hardware, software, services, and expertise you need to design and deploy a comprehensive solution that stands a broad environment.

To learn more about running smart campus solutions, contact your GDT or Dell EMC account representative, or visit, or