Mar 07 2023

Creating a Device Management Roadmap in Higher Ed

Supporting an increasingly hybrid workforce starts with comprehensive device management.

Flexibility and mobility are becoming more important to the higher education workforce, especially with hybrid work growing more common. Having devices that can move with employees is vital to the steady flow of operations. It’s also critical to keep those devices current on software and security updates.

But as device management demands continue to increase on campus, so do the demands on the IT staff’s time and resources — just as many higher education institutions are seeing a decline in IT staff. According to an EDUCAUSE survey, 42 percent of respondents reported their IT organizations getting smaller in the prior 12 months.

Investing time to holistically plan for the lifecycle of a device can help IT teams save time down the road. Here are some questions to ask when developing your university’s device management roadmap.

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What Devices Does My Hybrid Higher Ed Workforce Need?

The first step in creating a device management roadmap is to determine which staff members get devices and the types of devices they need.

At Ithaca College, CIO David Weil says the school in upstate New York began replacing standard-issue desktop computers with laptops for all faculty and staff just before the pandemic.

“We’re on a four-year replacement cycle for computers, so our original plan was to phase that transition to laptops over the four-year period, but the pandemic caused us to accelerate that transition,” he says.

All faculty and staff who require regular computer use are issued a device owned by the college and can choose a Microsoft Windows or Apple device. Devices are selected and allocated based on each employee’s needs and responsibilities.

RELATED: How ServiceNow can help with eProcurement in higher ed.

How Can We Get Employees the Devices and Software They Need?

Getting devices into the hands of employees can be time-consuming, and making sure each device is imaged and configured properly can take hours. Zero-touch deployment services can help ensure each device is delivered to the end user without the IT department’s intervention.

Weil and his team at Ithaca College partner with manufacturers to ensure the IT staff does not have to manually install software on every computer.

“In working with the manufacturers, we get the serial numbers and other information about the machines automatically added to our management systems so that we can give a brand-new machine directly to the end user without our IT team having to power it on beforehand,” Weil says. “When the employee turns it on for the first time, it automatically checks in with our deployment system and starts the configuration and provisioning process.”

Tools such as Jamf and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager can automate software installation and configuration so employees can provision their machines anywhere there is a broadband connection, Weil says. Investing time in these tools at the outset can create efficiencies down the line.

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How Can We Manage the Device’s Entire Lifecycle?

Today’s devices are designed to last for years, but daily use can take a toll. Proper maintenance, such as regular battery and storage drive replacements, can extend a device’s life to an extent, Weil says, but it will eventually need to be replaced with a newer model. It’s important to factor end-of-life plans into your overall device management roadmap.

The four-year replacement timeline at Ithaca College evolved from a three-year cycle when the college’s technology renewal program was put in place 15 years ago. As devices have become more robust, the IT team has been able to extend their useful lives. Some schools use five- or six-year replacement cycles for their machines, Weil says.

“We implemented the technology renewal program to ensure that everyone had access to technology that would be current enough to support the applications they needed to run to do their work,” he says. “We also wanted to avoid having older machines that were outside of their ability to receive security updates. In addition, by having more current machines, we reduce our support calls.”

LEARN MORE: Tips for how higher ed IT departments can stay fully staffed.

Ithaca College works with a third party to lease its devices, which takes the management responsibility away from the IT staff.

“They help us manage the lifecycle by providing us with flexibility as we bring in the new machines to replace hundreds of devices each semester, and then on the back end to remove, securely erase and dispose of the machines in a responsible manner at the end of the lifecycle,” Weil says.

Ultimately, he advises other higher education institutions to seek efficiencies where possible to save time on configuration and management.

“Invest in automating the configuration and software provisioning process,” Weil says. “Find good technology partners that can help with the lifecycle management. Develop policies regarding what the institution will provide and what the employee is responsible for providing.”

Ruth Black (open laptop), Alto Images (people)/Stocksy; Cagkansayin (hand)/Getty Images
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