Good fortune and good timing are behind the technology upgrades underway at Thomas Nelson.
John Savage is the assistance vice chancellor for Information Technology Infrastructure and Security for the VCCS, as well as the acting IT director for Thomas Nelson. Steve Carpenter is the College’s vice president of Finance and Administration. Both said improvements have been needed for some time, but finding the money for the improvements hasn’t been easy.
“There were always monetary challenges to pay for it,” Savage said. “There were some years where as much as it was necessary, there were lots of things that were necessary, and there wasn’t money for those things, either.”
Carpenter said talk about upgrading technology at Thomas Nelson, which will cost about $750,000, actually began a few years ago.
“We were just going to start setting aside a little bit of money at a time to try to do a little piece at a time,” he said. “We wouldn’t normally do this all at once.”
That all changed when the College received money last year from the CARES Act, and the follow-up CARISA Act dollars, so the decision was made to do make major improvements all at once.
“Which is a much better option, and in the long run cheaper,” Carpenter said. “It’s really worked out better, all around.”
So what exactly is being done? It might be easier to say what isn’t.
“We’re going to be, literally, tearing out and replacing all the Thomas Nelson network services,” Savage explained. “That means the services that run the buildings, the services that run the classrooms and labs, the Wi-Fi services when you’re on campus, Wi-Fi services when you’re in the parking lots, our online programs so that even if you’re working from home, you get better access to them. Basically all scenarios, and all the above.”
With the Hampton and Historic Triangle campuses closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, that has sped up the process.
“We have a unique opportunity in that all the work we do on campus right now isn’t interrupting a whole lot of classes,” said Savage, who expects the vast majority of the work to be done by the end of the spring semester.
Students, faculty, staff and, visitors to campus have voiced concerns about the Wi-Fi capabilities for a while. His team has taken notice.
“We know there are some places on campus that we’ve already identified as weak spots,” he said. “In particular … if too many people walk into a particular room, all of a sudden everybody has a problem staying online reliably.”
Wi-Fi and hot-spot availability in the parking lots of both campuses also will be improved.
“We’re addressing all the weak spots at the same time, and looking to really enhance the services,” he said.
When all the upgrades are done, the system will be able to handle having more people online than ever before. Studying and working from home also will be easier, all in reliable and safe ways.
“They won’t have any of those problems by the time we’re done,” Savage said. “I think they’re going to have service like, they’ve never had it before.”
Savage said if, nothing else, the past year has shown how important accessibility to online service is. All the work being done will allow the College to handle another catastrophe such as the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s gone to a whole new height as far as how important online is these days,” he said. “We now clearly have a world in which we have to be ready to be online without warning from this point forward.”
These upgrades will allow for that.
“If anything does happen that provides a sudden need for the service … we will be ready for it.”