Monday, 29 March 2010

Integrating ICT into a new build school (Part 2)

This series of blogs draws on my experience from various single-school and BSF new build projects in the UK over the past few years, the aggregated lesson of which is that many, if not all problems related to ICT can be easily overcome if identified and planned for at the outset. The inverse of this is sadly equally true - show me a design team which has failed to consider integration issues and I'll show you a 'new old school' which will transform very little about its students' education. There is a reason why on any Risk Register for ICT you will find, right at the top, next to a big red flag, a risk labelled 'Integration with Design'...
In a previous blog in this series we covered integration with design, specifically making sure you have thought through the spaces required to enable ICT to work properly and to be accessed flexibly. This time, it's integration with third parties:

I know what you're thinking, but such are the times we live in, so we may as well make sure it's not a total waste of money...

CCTV is typically provided outside the ICT contract and will be provided and specified between the Mechanical & Electrical people and the Builder. However, value for money as well as environmental and ongoing sustainability can be enhanced if the CCTV system makes use of the ICT structured network, rather than a proprietary cabling system or even (yes, it does happen) a separate IP network.

Liaison between those specifying the CCTV and those specifying the network infrastructure is required as early as possible. This is to identify the location and quantity of the necessary Power over Ethernet (PoE) network points and associated active networking equipment. The joy of PoE is the fact that it removes the need for small power - many CCTV cameras can draw the electricity they require straight down the same network cable they are using to send and receive data. This means that you can stick a PoE device (in this case a CCTV camera) anywhere where there is a PoE cable - and that's pretty handy in terms of future flexibility. The flip side is that switches capable of serving PoE devices cost more and this is bound to be a bone of contention - who should pay for the infrastructure to support CCTV? Should it be allowed to reduce the money available for student equipment? The answer seems stunningly obvious to me, but there is often fun to be had before various budget holders agree on it.

The location of cameras needs discussion, as this obviously has a knock on effect for the number of PoE switches needed. A good compromise, if future requirements cannot be accurately foreseen (imagine that!), is to provision a number of PoE outlets in likely spots or places which no-one can seem to agree on, but not to make them live (i.e. don't buy the switch to plug them into yet). This means there will be some future flexibility without too much initial outlay.

Access control
Electronic access control throughout a school has the potential to provide a token or biometric-based, secure and sustainable access strategy with layers of privileges based on role (e.g. student, 6th former, community user, teacher, site agent) - imagine no keys and a school which intelligently knows who should be able to get into each space. This principle can be extended beyond doors too - Lapsafe offer a pretty cool access-controlled laptop store, and things like the staff car park barrier can also be integrated into the solution. However, access control also has the potential to be prohibitively expensive if not intelligently designed in to the building/ grounds at the planning stage.

Schools are well advised to consider in detail a design which will allow their building to be zoned, permitting the easy and efficient locking down of areas when not in use, sparing the expense of mechanical locks and card/ biometric readers on every door. In a zoned school, only key doors are accessed controlled, reducing costs and enabling the school to focus money ensuring that certain important shared resources (e.g. laptop storage rooms, staff workrooms) are electronically accessed controlled, giving open access to these resources to whoever needs them, rather than who happens to have cajoled a key out of the caretaker. Failing to go through this thinking process this at the design stage an (in my experience) only results in one thing - access control is deemed too expensive and is removed or watered right down (e.g. only the front door or a separate system, not linked to the cards/ biometric tokens being used for other things like cashless catering).

Similarly to CCTV (above), Access Control can utilise of the structured network for cost savings and flexibility. Equally similarly though, the implications of increased PoE switching must not be allowed to detract from the educational impact of the ICT budget.

For both technologies, if the IP network is down or slow, so are the CCTV & Access Control. Who is accountable for designing/ configuring/ testing this aspect of the service and who takes the penalties for poor performance? These matters need to be discussed and understood by all parties.

Next (and last) time: legacy, cabling, M&E and FF&E

Dominic Norrish. Follow me on Twitter

1 comment:

Steven McFarlane said...


I have stumbled across your blogs via linkedin and have to admit it is refreshing to find someone who shares the same views as all like-minded ICT Solutions providers who are operating within the BSF Arena.

The company I work for (Capita) are actually working on a couple of Academies alongside Novatia in Kent and we share your frustrations which as you will be aware are many and varied.

As the providers of the Structred Cabling, IPCCTV and Access Control solutions on these Academies we have come up against all of the issues and constraints that you have highlighted in this sereis of discusssions.

Fortunately we have been in a position (albeit as a sub-contractor to the Main Contractor) to influence the technology that has been proposed for the Kent Academies which has been a blessing as the lack of knowledge and creativity from the Builder, Consultants and Architects can be utterly frustrating.

The IPCCTV and Access Control solutions that we proposed fully utilises the network cabling and network storage with the further facility to control all of the functions of a number of academies from a central location.

The original M&E Consultants specification was written around the provision of an analouge solution and the resitance to change has been staggering to say the least; however we have got there in the end. There is still a complete lack of understanding as to why we have proposed the solutions that we have but hopefully the benificiaries of this will be the client.

We continue to push forward with our views on many other schemes that we are involved with and through time and effort and a bit of education we will hopefully acheive what we have set out to deliver.

Steve McFarlane RCDD
Capita IT Services

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