Tie Wi-Fi Upgrades to Business Goals for Education

Author(s): Ryan Welham, George Goodall

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Senior leaders in education want more from IT in the future, but what does “more” mean?

According to Info-Tech’s data, core service gap scores show that “more” means better campus Wi-Fi and infrastructure.

Diving deeper, staff and faculty want “more reliable Wi-Fi on campus (including residence)” and they need “internet and email to be working from the moment school opens.” When this doesn’t happen, “chronic Wi-Fi outages makes working on campus difficult” and “students and faculty are often frustrated with Wi-Fi when it’s slow or doesn't work.” (CIO Business Vision – comment from business stakeholders in education)

Wi-Fi challenges aren’t news for IT.

The difficult task for IT is in making the business case for improvements. Too often IT communicates wireless projects in terms of the technical requirements rather than business capabilities.

Don’t get caught in this trap.

When presenting IT’s case for Wi-Fi upgrades:

  • Discuss the requirements and comments of staff, faculty, and students.
  • Translate technical jargon into non-technical terms.
  • Tie projects back to business goals.

Leverage the following four cases to increase your chances of receiving budget approval for campus Wi-Fi projects.

Case #1 – Over-reliance on audit compliance

IT is more concerned with compliance and regulation than the administration. Info-Tech’s data shows that what keeps senior business leaders up at night is operational efficiency, service continuity, and customer experience. This disconnect in project value perception is where drop-off in project buy-in occurs.

Plan upgrades to ensure they will satisfy external audit, but don’t frame them in this light. Articulate the risks involved in not passing an audit by explaining how it will inhibit business goals. For example:

  • Network deficiencies limit the opportunity for teaching innovation.
  • Out-of-date hardware leaves staff, faculty, and student data vulnerable to theft.
  • Unreliable web access frustrates faculty, staff, and students.

Case #2 – Assisting staff and faculty

Staff and faculty are increasingly reliant on Wi-Fi to do their jobs. Outdated wireless technologies decrease administration’s efficiency and limit faculty’s teaching methods. Senior school officials understand this concept on a macro level, but do not necessarily understand the impact on day-to-day operations. Collect end-user comments to humanize the need for increased Wi-Fi capabilities.

Interview administrative stakeholders and department heads to understand their frustrations and define project requirements based on their feedback. Next, cite adoption and support of industry standards like 21st Century Learning to further justify upgrades. Present your findings from:

  1. Administration’s perspective – for example, Wi-Fi upgrades will:
    • Improve the efficiency of daily tasks (think printing).
    • Create a more reliable wireless connection for email, inter-room and inter-building communication, attendance, and other business applications.
    • Reduce data security concerns with up-to-date infrastructure.
    • Decrease long-term costs (think eliminating computer labs).
  2. Faculty’s perspective – for example, Wi-Fi upgrades will:
    • Reduce the number of areas on campus with weak or no Wi-Fi signal.
    • Support greater resource access (think bring your own device and one-to-one computing).
    • Enhance learning environments (think SMART Boards and Google apps).
    • Simplify testing, grading, and reporting

Case #3 – Equipping students

The mobile generation is here and it is hungry for Wi-Fi. Students are increasingly using privately owned mobile devices to access educational (and personal) materials on school networks. Private devices enhance learning experiences and act as a less costly alternative to one-to-one (1:1) computing, but put a significant strain on wireless infrastructure. Greater investment is needed to support the positive effects of increased Wi-Fi usage long term.

Appeal to the primary goal for (many) educational institutions to secure buy-in – academic achievement. List potential opportunities to increase student outcomes when making the case for wireless projects. Compare current vs. potential capabilities in relation to your school’s ability to:

  • Monitor progress on projects and assignments to identify teaching opportunities.
  • Support and develop learning applications that accommodate a variety of learning styles.
  • Engage younger generations of learners.
  • Foster technological fluency and capability.
  • Enable students to learn outside of the classroom.

Afterwards, refute objections that improved wireless will distract students. Explain simply that IT can create network access levels and block non-educational websites and applications.

Case #4 – Driving enrollment

Easily accessible, high-quality, and most importantly free Wi-Fi is the new normal. User expectations are increasing and extend to prospective students. According to a recent study, nearly 40% of students said that campus Wi-Fi quality was a deciding factor in their enrollment decision and 30% said that they would recommend a school on Wi-Fi quality alone. Family experience also plays a role in enrollment. Parents pay the bills and low-quality Wi-Fi impacts school perception.

The impact of campus Wi-Fi performance on enrollment is further amplified by social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Disgruntled users make more noise than delighted ones and word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool in education.

When building your case, explain Wi-Fi’s impact on customer experience. Specifically how:

  • Wi-Fi access, quality, and cost influence millennial enrollment in private institutions and higher education.
  • Guest network experience impacts visitors (both positively and negatively).
  • Wi-Fi can be used for strategic growth as a community development strategy.


  1. Use government funding programs available at the federal level in the USA and provincial level in Canada.
  2. Leverage Info-Tech’s resources when it comes time to kick off your project:
    Build or Refresh the Wireless LAN
    Prepare for a Wireless World with Distributed Antenna Systems in Higher Education
    Vendor Landscape: Enterprise Wired and Wireless LAN
  3. Establish a secure wireless environment with the following Info-Tech blueprint:
    Select and Implement a Next Generation Firewall

Bottom Line

Simplify your Wi-Fi business case. Eliminate IT terminology and link project rationale to business goals.

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