It takes only a minute for a Saint Louis University end user to send the operating system and hardware details of his or her computer to the SLU help-desk staff. What's a minute of time worth to the university? Plenty, because SLU has approximately 7,000 PCs and notebooks spread across its campus.
An extra minute on the help-desk line for each of those computers adds up to 7,000 minutes – nearly three full weeks of an IT person's time per year. With today's budget constraints, any place where efficiencies can be squeezed out is worth taking a look at.
While reducing help-desk call time is a good side benefit, it was not the primary reason that SLU pursued a technology lifecycle management strategy.
In conjunction with adopting Information Technology Infrastructure Library best practices, SLU wanted to get a handle on the sprawling device landscape on its campus and wring out whatever efficiencies it could across its desktop purchasing, deployment and support programs. Centralizing and streamlining its technology lifecycle management helped the university achieve these goals.
As is the case with many higher-education institutions, SLU's approach to managing desktop computing on campus has developed over time. “Our model for purchasing and supporting desktop computing evolved as a distributed function,” notes Ed Wichmann, director of SLU's Information Technology Services (ITS) customer services group.
“Colleges and departments are responsible for purchasing, and some also support their systems,” says Wichmann. “Central ITS has provided umbrella support, without involvement in college or departmental purchasing.”
As a result, heterogeneous systems became the norm, making for a cumbersome support situation. “Although we had standardized on certain makes and models, there was configuration and application flexibility,” explains ITS Business Manager Pat Thibodeau. “This created complexity for support technicians [who had to] service multiple types of hardware and software configurations.”
This setup eventually began to wear on the IT department's productivity. In addition, technology refreshes were inefficient. “We knew what was purchased, but we didn't always know whether it was still in use, by whom or how it had been modified,” says Wichmann. “At the end of our four-year refresh cycle, we couldn't accurately determine what people really needed.”
Mapping a Strategy
Day-to-day computing support remains distributed, but SLU is improving controls by implementing an enterprise asset management system as a centralized information repository. To support its new repository, SLU began a desktop procurement and lifecycle management initiative in late 2008.
First, purchasing standards were refined to reduce complexity and encourage compliance. Then SLU decided to seek a reseller partner to supply desktops, notebooks and two key lifecycle management services: barcode tagging and hard-disk imaging.
Tagged assets were desirable for accurately populating SLU's new asset management database and, in turn, speeding up deployment. “Tagged assets permit us to put equipment into the field faster, while minimizing data entry errors,” says Wichmann.
Receiving hard disks pre-imaged also offered efficiencies.
“With our distributed support system, there are dozens of ways a machine can be configured to integrate with our network,” Wichmann explains. “With hard drives already imaged, consistency is ensured. Then we can push out updates and upgrades over the network to keep systems current. The result is improved control throughout device lifecycles.”
Establishing a Partnership
In January 2009, SLU issued a multivariable RFP for the desired products and lifecycle management services. Because it planned to continue its distributed support model, the school opened the RFP process to all.
“We made the RFP process as inclusive as possible,” says Tammi Moore Robinson, ITS contract manager. “Representatives from across campus attended every RFP presentation, spoke to prospective vendors, test-drove equipment models and provided feedback to us directly or via written surveys.”
With these equipment choices, SLU was able to gain control yet still provide users with flexibility. Desktop users can select either a small form factor or a minitower version of the HP Compaq 6000 PC. Notebook choices include the HP Compaq 6530b, HP Compaq 6730b, HP EliteBook 2730p Tablet PC and HP Mini 5105 netbook.
For lifecycle management services, SLU received more than asset tagging and disk imaging. The array of additional services begins with testing each piece of equipment in one of CDW•G's ISO 9000-certified labs to ensure that only reliable units are shipped.
SLU also has its own CDW•G support team. “With one person to call, we have someone who already knows our specific needs and policies,” says Thibodeau. “This removes us as the middle man for answering questions, and we're confident users receive appropriate information for making purchasing choices.”
Furthermore, SLU-approved hardware and software is aggregated onto a password-protected subsite of CDWG.com. The customized subsite displays only university-standard hardware and other approved equipment, from document cameras to printers. Using an SLU-issued procurement card, faculty and staff may order supported items directly, bypassing paper-based procurement procedures.
For more information on lifecycle management go to edtechmag.com/higher/210life.
In contrast, those interested in purchasing nonstandard hardware must follow a traditional multilayered approval process, which can take more than a week.
When the CDW•G contract officially began in August 2009, benefits quickly piled up. “Fulfillment has been super fast,” notes Robinson. “From the time a department places an order for supported equipment, arrival is about two days.”
Consequently, standards compliance soared. “Getting machines so quickly and efficiently is proving to be an excellent incentive for purchasing our standard devices,” Thibodeau says. “The partnership with CDW•G is a win-win way for gaining equipment and configuration compliance. It's also contributing significantly to reducing procurement overhead.”
The open RFP process has also played a role in the initiative's success. “It really helped achieve organizational buy-in for the standard equipment and reseller we selected,” says Robinson.
Improvements are also palpable for the classroom technical support staff, who are responsible for 600 computers spread across 311 classrooms.
“Prior to partnering with CDW•G for tagging and imaging, it required a couple of hours to replace a single classroom machine,” says Craig Williams, manager for multimedia services at SLU. “To outfit a lab, it would take eight to 10 hours. Now that computers arrive ready to go, swapping out a single machine takes only about 15 minutes. And for an entire lab, it's down to only an hour or two.”
As a result, the team spends more time on mission-critical tasks. “Since we're not concentrating on swapping out computers, we're free to do preventive maintenance,” continues Williams. This reduces overall costs and ensures equipment is operational when students and faculty arrive for a class.