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September 12, 2013

Tech Corner:

Improving digital communication

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There’s no getting around it — electronic communications have infiltrated both our personal and professional lives. From blogs to newsgroups, we’ve come to depend on electronic communication.

The downside? We’re constantly digging ourselves out from an overflowing digital inbox. Many of us have fallen into the Facebook trap: Not only do we constantly check our newsfeeds, but we’ve resorted to using Facebook messaging as email. We’re not even sure we’re reaching our audiences in the best way.

What if we could use electronic communications more efficiently to communicate with the right people, at the right time, using the right channels — without the danger of inbox overload?  Wouldn’t it be nice to move beyond email, Facebook and web sites?

CSSD offers a number of options for people eager to explore new ways to communicate with colleagues and constituents. In this column, we’ll highlight four:

  • Notify U
  • Box
  • Lync
  • Enterprise Digital Signage

Notify U: Right to the point

Many people at Pitt are familiar with this service through two of its mostly widely used lists: The Emergency Notification Service, which was used to communicate alerts during the bomb threats in the spring of 2012, and Campus Connect, used by Student Affairs to inform and remind Pittsburgh students of events and opportunities.

Notify U messages are ideally suited for reminders and alerts. They’re very short — no more than 140 characters/spaces — but they can be delivered to the Pitt community via text, email or both; the choice is up to the recipient. Faculty and staff can establish their own lists for distributing Pitt text message updates. These lists can be made available to anyone at Pitt to join, or they can be restricted by the list owner to specific members of the Pitt community (such as members of a class).

When the list owner sends a message, it automatically is delivered to everyone who has joined the list.

Currently, people at Pitt can opt in to lists concerning the study abroad program, financial aid alerts, sports, CSSD news and more. Available lists can be found through your My Pitt profile page: My Pitt> Profile> Pitt Text Message Updates.

Box: Share and discuss documents, large files

Box, a cloud storage solution that lets you store up to 25GB of files and access them from anywhere, provides a unique set of collaboration and communication features. You can share individual files or whole folders, assign tasks and provide a shared online space for discussion and comment. The service is accessible through desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

Using Box, instructors can upload files as large as 5 GB into a shared folder where students can view, comment and discuss them — from anywhere.

Committee members can collaborate by sharing documents, holding discussions and even assigning tasks within a shared folder on Box.

Everyone at Pitt — faculty, staff and students — is provided 25GB of Box space for free, but perhaps one of the most useful communication functions of Box is that sharing is not restricted to the Pitt community. With Box, you can share and collaborate with anyone who has an email address.

Lync: Listen, see, chat

Lync is an exciting tool for communications; in addition to instant messaging and screen sharing, the service provides live audio and video capabilities. All Pitt students, faculty and staff can download the Lync client at no cost.

A number of departments are using Lync, both internally and across groups, for online meetings and conferences. A Lync meeting can handle up to 250 people at one time, and meetings can be recorded and shared later.

Within CSSD, we find Lync’s “availability” feature very useful. Colleagues who have agreed to share contact information can see whether their contacts are in a meeting, on the phone or otherwise unavailable, making internal communications more efficient.

Enterprise digital signage: Get your message out on the big screen

Enterprise digital signage is a CSSD service that allows departments to manage their own digital signage — those big TV screens you see around campus in places such as the ground floor of the Cathedral, the William Pitt Union and Benedum Hall.

“Enterprise” means a centrally managed service that is applied across the University. The big benefit is that CSSD maintains the infrastructure, allowing departments to focus on creating and posting content.

In a nice example of synergy, departments also can share content with other departments by placing their screens in a folder on Box specifically created for this purpose. Your reach, in other words, is not limited to the screens you directly manage, but can encompass sites across the Pittsburgh campus.

For example, information about a Swanson School of Engineering lecture will appear not just in Benedum Hall but in the Cathedral and other locations as well.

In addition to communicating images, words and video, this service can display real-time feeds such as Twitter posts, weather forecasts and more.


So the next time you need to communicate with one or more people across campus — or around the world — give one of these services a try.  You’ll reach your audience in a more effective, engaging and efficient manner.

More information on these services is available through the CSSD web site at You also can call the Technology Help Desk at 4-4357; a staff person with expertise in the service you’re interested in will call you back to answer any questions.

Kurt Lorence handles strategic marketing for CSSD’s marketing communications team.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 46 Issue 2

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