March 27, 2012
As time goes on and things evolve, some things change. In all fairness to Siemens, a large part of the delay in completing this project stemmed from changes FSU was making to the existing infrastructure that was being integrated with Siemens. While Siemens was developing its system, FSU was on a parallel but related mission to improve some of the underlying mass notification delivery technologies.
The term “mass notification” includes all those non-emergency scenarios that institutions send out notices for, such as important announcements from the president or chancellor, major events and administrative business (e.g. “Remember, there is no school on Labor Day”). FSU’s mass E-mail delivery mechanism was a legacy solution that was developed in-house by FSU nearly a decade prior. This system was notorious for taking 45-60 minutes to deliver 62,000 or more E-mails. FSU’s existing SMS text provider’s contract was coming up for renewal. They were doing a “good” job of delivering text messages in 15 minutes or less, but there was room for improvement.
Entities on campus such as admissions, registrar, boosters and foundation were looking for technology that would make outreach (phone calls, E-mails, text) a lot easier. So, in the overall university interest in improving communications, not just limited to emergency communications, the university contracted with Blackboard Connect.
Bringing on Blackboard Connect did a number of things to the Siemens project. First of all, mid-way through its development, FSU had to tell Siemens to redirect its efforts from our legacy E-mail system, our previous SMS text vendor, our previous voice calling vendor, our previous RSS feed generator and many other connections. Additionally, FSU placed two direct competitors in a position of being required to work together. Let’s just say that there were a lot of board-room level discussions going on in various locations to secure this arrangement.
Understandably, Blackboard Connect needed to protect its proprietary intellectual property, but Siemens needed a way to plug into their system. Once the philosophical agreements were in place, it would take a much longer time to facilitate the technical specifications of how the two systems would interact. FSU’s IT department would end up becoming intimately involved in programming the data exchange between Siemens and Blackboard Connect. This connection would take months to fix and significantly delayed final completion of the project.
While Sygnal was not a new product for Siemens, this was the first time that they were engaged in applying it to this sort of integration project. Understandably, it would take the company time to do a number of research and development projects to meet our needs and goals. Being one of the first in the nation is not easy. FSU did not expect it to be and understood going into the project that it would take a lot of development time and that there would be challenges along the way.
Even UCLA will admit that their solution is highly-customized and built specifically for UCLA. It is not transferrable anywhere else. Siemen’s goal is to use the FSU experience to better its Sygnalproduct overall and make it to the point where it can be implemented at any institution, with any existing infrastructure, quickly and easily.
While Siemens may face some stiff competition on the overall emergency notification market, they are quickly making a niche for themselves in terms of integration of pre-existing infrastructure. A number of institutions, including the University of Miami, have already signed on with Siemens and others are closely behind. It is important to note that other companies are catching on to the concept and in the future, there may be other options that were not available to FSU two years ago.