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Smart Lessons - Telecom empowers FORE school

June 15, 2010
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The Foundation for Organizational Research and Education (FORE) was incorporated in 1981 as a non-profit institution. FORE offers courses in general management, human resource, finance, operations, marketing, information technology, economics and international business.

Recognising the importance of technology in education, FORE upgraded its telecom infrastructure to provide better delivery of education and research content.

tele.net takes a look at the development of the company's infrastructure...

Legacy system
In the early days, the education major utilised "information silos", which were isolated management systems incapable of reciprocal operation with other, related management systems. Timely coordination amongst various departments, and seamless communication and interoperability were impractical. The various departments had their own computer systems and each system had to rely on a set of common data to communicate with each other.

The institute had a very simple communications set-up. It used email, intercoms and telephone lines for internal and external communication. "Dumb terminals" were also employed in the initial stages of the institute's operation. These were basically display monitors that had no processing capabilities; they were simply output devices that could accept data from the CPU.

Over time, FORE realised that without a systematic IT infrastructure in place, vital information was fragmented and erroneous which, in turn, created confusion at various administrative levels.

The shift
FORE chalked out a basic agenda to achieve greater operational efficiency, lower costs and streamline the communication channels between the various departments on campus.

To achieve these objectives, the education major opted for leased lines as well as internet connectivity provided by Tata Communications and Spectranet. The bandwidth is 8 Mbps.

For last mile connectivity, FORE opted for two mediums -­ optic fibre and wireless connectivity, in the form of WiMax, provided by Tata Communications.
Moreover, the institute is Wi-Fi enabled with Ruckus access points at various strategic places, through a zone director for monitoring Wi-Fi connectivity and authentication.

In terms of applications, the institute made use of web hosting and email. Business intelligence and data mining tools such as COGNOS and SAS are also being used. A library management system was put in place using the Lipsys software, making it accessible to students via the internet as well. Industry databases such as Prowess and Capitaline were also made available to students.

For network security, tools such as access log, security audits, user authentication, unified threat management (firewalls), proxy servers and OS security patches were implemented. User authentication prevened unauthorised usage of the network and resources.

Apart from telecom, various education-centric IT tools have played an important role too. For instance, database packages like Oracle, SQL Server and My SQL were used along with specialised analysis packages such as SPSS, Systat, Solver Suite, Minitab and Crystal Ball.

A network attached storage (NAS) unit was installed. The unit basically comprises a computer connected to a network that provides file-based data storage services to other devices on the network. This performs multiple functions. For example, it provides students easy access to lectures via the intranet or even the internet.

The education major also tied up with Axis Bank to provide new students with an online admissions payment gateway. The internet was also used as a strategic tool by the institution. The website was used to provide prospective students with complete courseand campus-related information, notable publications and research as well as a bird's eye view of the facilities (IT, library resources, etc.) available on campus.

Key benefits and challenges
The key benefits of the institution's newand-improved communications infrastructure include significant scalability and capability while offering value for money.

Nevertheless, a few issues and concerns remain. According to the respondent, capacity constraint is still an important concern.

Going forward, FORE plans to implement the Campus Management suite of services. This is expected to enable a wide range of service offerings -­ from electronic class registration to class schedules, submission of assignments and results -­ all through self-service portals. It will provide students, faculty and administrators quick and easy access to student files, including administrative, financial and academic records.

Clearly, FORE's decision to overhaul its communications infrastructure was a timely one and has allowed the institute to reap the benefits of a flexible and scalable infrastructure.

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