Purdue University, located in Indiana, is one of the largest public university systems in the United States. Its community includes nearly 75,000 students and just over 5000 faculty members, plus approximately 4000 administrative staff, and 3500 clerical and support staff. It has six campuses, a statewide technology program, numerous extension centers (U.S. and abroad), and continuing education programs.
With so many people and places to connect under the Purdue banner, the university needs a reliable web conferencing system for its members to collaborate on projects and research.
Numerous programs and lectures at Purdue are delivered online, including:
- Practical nursing tutorials via webcam
- Agricultural extension programs for students in Guinea and Columbia
- The Dean of Engineering’s “fireside chats” with accepted students before they arrive as freshmen
But until recently, the university had reliability issues with its web-conferencing software because they were using a solution designed for a different type of environment than its widespread community of many users. A deep log of user complaints about bandwidth and connectivity issues caused Purdue’s CIO, Gerry McCartney, to investigate better options. After reviewing six or seven different solutions, he chose Cisco WebEx®.
“My rule of thumb for rating any widely used technology is it must work reliably. Superior products are reliable products,” McCartney says. “WebEx won out because it’s a dependable service that people at Purdue are comfortable using. Most of our technology users don’t want or need all the bells and whistles, they just expect the tool to work when they need it.”
Using trusted technology
The telephone is the simplest, most reliable device to use for talking. But to transmit information or share data—especially during group meetings—a web-conferencing solution like WebEx® is ideal.
During Purdue’s migration period to Cisco WebEx, the university ran both collaboration environments to accommodate users who were in transition. According to McCartney, people who preferred Purdue’s original solution for its rich feature set quickly converted to WebEx because it’s a reliable product.
“Economists call it ‘revealed preference:’ people will often say they prefer fancy feature sets but in fact, when you watch their behavior, they value reliability more,” he says. “If people see stuff working, they believe it. When they see it break while it’s doing something important for them, it makes them question whether they even need the technology.”
McCartney believes that if people don’t adopt the latest collaboration technologies, it’s because the tools are either too complicated or too unreliable. User-friendly, reliable products boost user confidence and are used more often.
“People don’t want to worry, ‘Do I need a squad of engineers standing by to make it work?’ when they go to use communications technology,” he says. “The first time they use it and it doesn’t work, they’re far more inclined to refuse to use it again.”
Collaboration at the click of a button
Cisco’s overall investment in Cloud architecture—particularly the unified communications system—was another deciding factor for WebEx. It made Gerry McCartney confident that Purdue was getting a professional, reliable, secure, and scalable environment to build on.
In fact, the university recently followed up its WebEx Enterprise Agreement with a Cisco Unified Communications Enterprise Agreement. The ultimate vision is to enable users to collaborate from any device—WebEx, video, audio—by clicking a single button.
“I see the Cisco Unified Communications System as the endpoint of a long arc,” McCartney says. “At some point in the future, years from now, most hardware on campus will disappear and everything will be cloud provided. We’re not sure what the exact timeline is, but if Cisco can keep it simple and reliable, they’re going to win.”