nbn and the future of digital education — are you ready?


Thursday, 13 August, 2020

nbn and the future of digital education — are you ready?

Recent circumstances have highlighted huge gaps in the preparedness of many educational institutions in their goal to fully embrace digital learning. Whilst many schools may have started the move to working digitally, the pandemic has forced others to scramble to make the shift to online learning and remote working for staff in a matter of weeks.

IT systems in educational settings need to allow data to be securely shared with governmental and regulatory bodies, administrative and financial staff, teachers, parents and students. Managing the flow of information across multiple platforms and channels that may not completely integrate with each other requires a secure and reliable approach. Along with the constant risk of cyber-attacks, schools also deal with confidential and time sensitive information, such as examination results, NAPLAN testing data, and student reporting, which leaves them vulnerable to privacy breaches.

The coming nbn implementation provides an opportunity for schools to examine how efficiencies can be made in current practices, as well as whether their existing systems will be compliant and compatible with the nbn.

Has the administration of the education sector actually gone digital?

Currently, the majority of schools are using a mixture of digital and paper based systems. Many schools have retained their legacy paper based systems because the work required to digitalise their archives is beyond their current administrative capabilities. And so, they juggle a patchwork of different programs, software and hardware without a centralised system. Because they lack centralised processes and systems, schools continue with double handling data; printing and faxing, entering data into systems, and then printing a paper copy ‘just in case’.

For IT teams within schools this means considerable time (and money) is spent on the maintenance of running multi-function printers (MFP), fax machines and servers and the associated consumables.

Fax machines remain a staple of administration offices

The traditional fax machine remains a staple of the school administrative office, working alongside the MFP to send and receive data for compulsory reporting, billing and accounts, and invoices. Each fax needs to be processed by administrative staff by either entering the data manually into a database, filing the fax in the archives, or securely destroying the fax. The auditing of schools’ administrative data and compliance with privacy requirements have exposed significant holes in the privacy, security, and tracing of confidential information received by fax, where anyone who walks past the fax machine can access incoming or sent faxes.

In reporting season, the pressure to keep up with the large volumes of faxed data being sent and received means many schools could benefit from an easier and more streamlined digital alternative, such as cloud faxing.

Cloud faxing has all the features of the traditional fax—individual fax numbers, encrypted data and instantaneous sending and receiving. They work by sending each fax to an email address, where it can be opened in a secure portal. The fax can then be read, shared, printed, signed, returned and stored all within the portal. Fax archives can be easily audited and traced, with the click of a button. Unlike traditional fax machines though, cloud faxing allows for large volumes of data to be shared in different formats, saving hours of work manually entering data into systems, or wasting reams of paper to print lengthy faxes.

What happens to printing and faxing now we’re all working from home?

Under the current advice from state governments, many workplaces have switched to remote working and home-based learning. With the unpredictable nature of pandemics and changing health advice, the next few years may see schools continue to have periods of remote learning and staff working from home.

Privacy legislation prevents many organisations from sending confidential and personal information via unencrypted emails — so what happens for example, when a teacher is working from home and needs to send sensitive information to a mental health support team to support a referral for a student without access to the school fax machine?

The shift to working from home has brought to light a significant need for a secure, private and trackable document storage and sharing platform. One that retains all the benefits of faxing without the privacy and maintenance issues of traditional faxing.

nbn—ready or not, here it comes

The rollout of the nbn is largely seen as a positive—and with good reason. Faster internet speeds, reduced lag time and better streaming are all on their way. For IT teams in educational settings however, the changeover to the nbn means being proactive in taking the opportunity to streamline processes and systems.

One of the often-overlooked effects of the nbn is how it will impact faxing. MFP and traditional fax machines rely on analogue and copper phone lines to transmit data, which will be phased out as the nbn moves into each area. For schools that want to maintain a phone line, there will be ongoing costs, a need to upgrade to nbn compatible machines, and the ongoing upkeep of fax machines and MFP.

Many institutions have moved on from analogue phone lines to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), but much like Blu-Ray disks, this is destined to be quickly overtaken by the nbn as systems struggle to cope with large amounts of data, leading to faults and errors.

The future is in cloud based computing

The nbn rollout presents an opportunity like never before for schools’ IT teams to embrace innovation and the digital future by taking stock of the way they manage their institution’s data on a holistic level. Taking the time to sort through all the data entry and exit points, as well as how incoming data is collated, stored, shared and managed to create cohesive and flexible data management workflows is essential to prepare schools for whatever might be around the corner. Introducing cloud faxing is one small but necessary change that will free up IT and administrative teams from the manual processing of faxes and upkeep of fax machines to focus on more rewarding projects.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Exentia

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