All Points Managed

‘Back-to-School’ IT strategies earn high grades.

GUEST COLUMN | by Bill Odell

CREDIT Dell SoftwareAs students around the country head back to class, they’re probably unaware that dedicated IT support teams started their school year long before the first bell rang.

Just as teachers and students need plans to best succeed in their schoolwork, IT must be equipped with the right set of “back-to-school” strategies to keep pace with critical initiatives, including personalized learning efforts, 1:1 student/computer programs and ever-increasing mobility demands as well as the need to manage complex environments with limited resources.

For K-12 school districts, the 2014-2015 school year also will serve as the litmus test for their readiness to meet Common Core Standards. Preparation will require IT strategies for identifying and determining the effectiveness of current technology infrastructures while determining what is needed to support this critical, next generation of student assessments.

By automating systems management, the district was able to save more than 7,000 hours a year on computer configuration management.

To ensure smoother, more cost-effective transitions to the latest learning programs and testing methodologies while easing support for existing systems, IT teams increasingly are embracing Endpoint Systems Management (ESM) solutions. The opportunity to simplify the management of assorted endpoints—servers, desktops, laptops, tablets; any devices connected to the school’s network—gives IT an opportunity to provide faculty, staff and students with improved service while mitigating security risks.

For that reason, many IT teams spend a good portion of the summer break reimaging hundreds or even thousands of student-assigned laptops and tablets in preparation for the new school year. They also rely on systems management to automatically discover, inventory, configure, update and secure “any points” throughout their environments to improve IT service and support.

At Academy School District 20, a public school system serving almost 24,000 K-12 students in 30 schools throughout the northern portion of Colorado Springs, Colo., the one-two punch of a fast-growing student population and increasing reliance on the latest technology programs resulted in seriously overworked IT resources that were struggling long after school was over each day to keep up with some 8,000 endpoint devices.

By automating systems management, the district was able to save more than 7,000 hours a year on computer configuration management. And when it came time for the requisite inventory and audit of its diverse technology assets, District 20 was able to reduce the time required by more than 75 percent. Not only were there significant time and dollar savings, the district were able to redirect their IT team to focus on more strategic projects.

The IT staff at Ackerman Charter School District also found effective endpoint systems management was the best strategy for providing new software to teachers and students without security risks. The automated system makes new software available within a day, which is a big improvement over the weeks it used to take due to cumbersome, manual processes. Additionally, critical software updates can be installed in minutes instead of the days or weeks.

Ensuring that much-used software is kept current—to guard against security vulnerabilities—is a major concern that educational institutions need to address continually throughout the school year. For the 5,000 faculty and administrative staff at Princeton University, having the most up-to-date software on their computers plays a big part in ensuring the best classroom experience possible.

Another critical strategy is providing faculty with increased support for Windows PCs along with the ever-increasing population of Macs. As the team lacked time and resources to do every software update and ensure that Java updates were completed on time to reduce the risk of malware, they deployed a solution to automate software updates, patching and distribution. Additionally, the ability to perform regular inventory and asset management, configuration management and custom reporting was attained—all of which provide a much more accurate picture of the university’s Windows and Mac environments.

With tighter control over their desktop environment, Princeton is well positioned to improve software deployments while ensuring the highest levels of security across an IT infrastructure with rapidly expanding endpoints. Chino Valley Unified School District already understood the merits of using endpoint systems management to manage nearly 7,000 endpoints consisting of desktops and laptops as well as a growing number of mobile devices.

When the San Bernardino County, Calif.-based district took on the growing need for tablets and smartphones to further facilitate learning, ESM helped ensure that systems are always available and protected from viruses and malware. Chino Valley, with 35 schools and some 30,000 students, also found efficient ESM produces accurate, up-to-date device inventories, which simplify its Common Core State Standards reporting requirements.

As an all-encompassing “back to school” strategy, ESM is beginning to take on a new role of “any point” management across multi-OS, multi-device educational environments. In the future, these multi-faceted, robust solutions will play an ever-increasing role in helping schools produce superior educational outcomes by improving system uptime, elevating security and lowering IT administrative overhead.

Bill Odell is vice president of marketing for endpoint systems management at Dell Software. Bill has an MBA from Dartmouth College and BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley. 

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