By Richard Burnett
When Mac Hudson took the technology reins at Beacon College in late 2020, he knew he was in for a challenging ride.
Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the veteran corporate IT consultant’s mission was threefold: modernize the college’s computer infrastructure, make it easier to use, especially for remote-learning, and fortify an IT staff decimated by departures during the pandemic.
Step by step, Hudson worked from the ground up to produce Beacon’s first major IT modernization project in years.
“I think we’ve done some things not done before here at Beacon,” the interim chief information officer said. “We had a lot of catching up to do in getting the college up to date on everything from policies and testing to infrastructure.”
According to Hudson, here are some of the highlights:
- Equipment: New PCs for staff, upgraded servers, and enhanced capabilities
- People: Rebuilt staff through new hires
- Security: Advanced cybersecurity, patching and system testing
- Backup: Expanded system redundancy and server outage backup capability
- User-friendly features: Streamlined single-password access for students; remote access for IT help desk.
“That’s a lot,” he said. “But now we’ve reached a point where Beacon has all the capabilities and safeguards that a much larger institution or organization would have.”
Better for all
The wide-ranging effort has been well received campus-wide, from students to administrators, according to Hudson. While the advances in equipment have lifted Beacon’s high-tech profile, he is most pleased with the feedback from students.
“I feel pretty proud that we’ve really made the systems easier for them to use,” Hudson said. “In the past, the students needed a password to get into every system. That could mean remembering maybe dozens of passwords! So, we focused on creating a single sign-on access, which requires only one password.
“That makes a huge difference for the students,” he added. “And it also helps the staff by cutting down on many of the help desk calls we get every day.”
Value of the Canvas
Having robust IT systems during the pandemic has been invaluable for faculty and students, said Dr. James Fleming, chair of the Department of Business and Technology. The learning management system known as Canvas, for example, powered the online instruction and other aspects of remote learning.
“Tools like Canvas and Zoom pretty much saved all of us during that time,” he said. “Since then, we have continued to use it to enhance learning for the student. It is a resource they use constantly to do things like access their notes, organize assignments and due dates and have a discussion online with a teacher outside of class.”
While some upgrades can be expensive — such as a new server — others are less costly, but have an important impact, Hudson said. For example, in August 2021, the IT staff migrated Beacon’s network to Microsoft Office 365, a relatively routine move. Nevertheless, it empowered students and faculty to access their documents and apps (such as Excel) at home or wherever they are.
“That’s a major change for them to be able to do that,” he said.
“The mission of the college”
Not one to rest on laurels, Hudson is now focusing on the next big project — modernizing Beacon’s campus-wide phone system. Also on the menu: developing a next-generation IT disaster recovery plan and implementing follow-up risk management assessment and testing.
As a long-time corporate technology executive, Hudson’s work for Beacon is his first foray into the academic world. So far, it’s been a very meaningful one, he said.
“I love the mission of the college, its target market and the people,” Hudson said. “Meeting and getting to know Dr. [George] Hagerty and others who work here, it is really easy to see that they care so deeply about what they are doing. Though I’m not on the front line with students, I can tell they are the top priority for everyone in the organization.”