The five minute CIO: Paul Mooney

30 Nov 2012

Paul Mooney, IT co-ordinator for education at the Law Society of Ireland

IT co-ordinator for education at the Law Society of Ireland in Dublin Paul Mooney makes a case for a managed approach to BYOD and argues for solid Wi-Fi to support iPad-toting students.

Can you outline your role at the Law Society?

I was acting IT manager for the education centre. I was covering maternity leave. I was in place when we did the Ruckus rollout. I was at the helm for that point but I’ve moved into my existing role, which is network admin and support.

As far as the Law Society goes, we have nearly 200 staff. We are the regulatory body for solicitors in Ireland and as part of that we provide post-graduate training for solicitors. We admit them once they’ve qualified and then they’re eligible to practise.

We would get on average 400 trainees per year, starting every September. We also provide diplomas for qualified solicitors to upskill themselves, so the Ruckus [wireless] rollout was mainly for them. There was a decision longer than a year ago to start delivering some of the courses via iPad so we needed to get a robust Wi-Fi infrastructure for that.

What made you opt for a BYOD policy when a lot of organisations are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach?

People were using the tools already, it wasn’t like we were foisting them on them; there was a demand there. With the people who manage and structure the courses, there was a feeling that this is the way the world is moving.

Traditionally, diploma courses are delivered with a lot of paper and certainly the diplomas print a booklet every week for each course and hand it out to the students. We thought moving the materials to tablet-based devices would be a brilliant advantage.

I think the attraction of the iPad is it’s a shiny new device and it attracted a lot of students. The course content is very relevant so the iPad is just a tool.

We also deliver course content online, via Moodle, so the move from paper-based to online was very seamless. Students can pull down anything from Moodle and read it on the device.

There’s a lot of talk around BYOD and the challenges it brings, like who’s responsible for tech support, and the need to protect information securely – how do you handle that?

We are issuing the devices and they are all iPads so we only have one device to support, which is iOS, so we don’t have to support any other devices. I suppose that removes a lot of headaches for us. As far as the device goes, it works flawlessly. It doesn’t present user training issues or hardware issues. They don’t tend to go wrong. As far as IT support goes, they’re actually a perfect fit.

How many people take the course this way?

We have over 160 people currently using iPads on campus.

That must put huge pressure on the wireless network you have – how do you ensure that’s robust enough to cope, and ensure everyone gets good bandwidth?

Coming into the building we had sufficient upstream and downstream bandwidth for our needs so it was simply a case of delivering that to students in the lecture theatres, conference rooms and tutorial rooms. I’ve since rolled out a second lecture theatre with Ruckus access points.

We had an existing solution and we found it fell over with just 35. We couldn’t get a signal to all of the people. After that course, we approached Net Communications and they did a site survey. They initially deployed nine access points between a large lecture theatre with a capacity of roughly 250 and a suite of eight tutorial rooms.

How has the Wi-Fi coped since then?

It has been absolutely flawless, I would have to say. There is a video component: what we do as well as providing the lectures in situ is, we also webcast them for people who can’t travel so obviously they wouldn’t be on our wireless network.

Here [on campus] it would mainly be PDFs, e-books and web pages. There’s not a huge video component to it but I have seen web traffic during lectures and it’s held up perfectly.

Were there any particular network capacity issues that had to be addressed?

This is what attracted us to Ruckus, as well. The lecture theatre had cable runs for two access points in the ceiling and we felt that another access point would make the whole infrastructure rock solid. The main delivery of Wi-Fi would be focused on the lecture theatre.

We didn’t have the budget for another cable run – we would have had to drill through walls and ceilings – the usual infrastructural nightmares you would have. Ruckus has the ability to mesh an access point to an existing access point … and it receives its signal. We thought that was brilliant.

What other technologies are you considering?

We’re looking at bandwidth at the moment, just because it’s a case that the number of devices on the network is going to rise, probably exponentially. We have students with iPads and they all probably have a smartphone in their pockets.

We have just upped our access point licences from 12 to 25, so we can roll it out throughout the campus. We have other rooms we’re looking to use.

Given that you’re using Wi-Fi and smart devices, is it safe to assume you’re looking at cloud in some way?

We’re exploring a number of possibilities. Obviously, with a legal course you want to make everything ring-fenced and not made available publicly. For our current day PPC [professional practice course] students we use a Citrix system and we run that all in-house but in the future we could certainly look at moving that to a cloud-based scenario so that is available to people everywhere. We are actively looking at that.

What other technologies interest you right now?

I think video is probably where things are going. We currently webcast everything for diplomas and that is a live stream for people who can’t attend.

Video as a teaching tool for the processional practice course would be very useful. The immediacy of getting a message across via video, either lectures or tutors speaking from their desks, would certainly really enhance the education experience of our students here.

The legal profession has a reputation for being very traditional and slow to embrace technology – is that a fair reflection, or has IT use grown in recent years?

I think there’s been a complete sea change. I think that was a fair assessment a couple of years ago. The legal profession, as well as most industries, is definitely looking at technology now. I think they absolutely see the advantages of upgrading their technological skills and working with new tools, be they tablets or video.

The students that I see coming in now are completely au fait with cloud services. They use Gmail and Dropbox and iPads don’t represent any challenge to them. I think it’s a dated view that it’s all done with paper.

Is your IT budget the same as last year, or reduced, or increased and how does it affect priorities?

Everybody is clamping down on spending, and if you do spend, you want to get a return on it. I think when we see an advantage we could argue for an increased budget and we would win that argument. We are running a very tight ship. There’s no excess there. We do what we need to do.

Is technology helping your case, by letting you do things more cheaply that you couldn’t do before – for example, cloud allowing to you move from cap-ex to op-ex spending?

Yes it is. Certainly if you were to move to the cloud you would absolutely see a cost advantage, especially when your existing IT infrastructure is reaching its end of life. I think you would be mad not to consider the option of moving to the cloud instead of spending more capital on bigger boxes.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic