Mar 09 2023

Proactive Desktop Management Brings Efficiencies to University IT

With features such as automation and telemetry, proactive desktop management helps IT administrators patch issues across a university’s desktop fleet.

As short-staffed higher ed IT departments continue to feel overburdened, colleges and universities could face challenges when deploying and managing devices among faculty and staff. In some cases, the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the size of IT departments as employees took other jobs for a variety of reasons — including, in some cases, to work remotely.

“Colleges and universities are working hard to adapt to the challenges of delivering quality education in a digital-first world,” says Jefferson Raley, vice president of commercial client services portfolio at Dell Technologies. “Working with technology companies that provide PC and IT management services, educational institutions gain access to tools and resources that can act as an extension of the IT team.”   

Desktop management applications include Dell ProSupport Plus for PC, HP Client Management Solutions and the Symantec Client Management Suite.

Device management programs enable universities to keep applications patched and hardware up to date. Application management, hardware health monitoring and operating system administration are key tasks that IT departments in universities must address.



To enable productivity and collaboration among faculty and staff, IT administrators are using endpoint management and security solutions, virtual desktops and Software as a Service tools to monitor application performance, says Gabe Knuth, senior analyst for end-user computing at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Proactive desktop management solutions can help save time for IT departments in addition to optimizing security procedures and reducing device downtime. They can also reduce the number of service requests from users.

“PC management services and tools can provide help with the day-to-day management of PCs, with gauging the health of the fleet, proactive and predictive alerts to stay ahead of issues, remotely resolving developing issues, and automating parts dispatching,” Raley says. “All of these things can help IT admins save time and focus on other value-added activities.” 

Here are some key features you’ll find in proactive desktop management solutions.

LEARN MORE: Endpoint detection and response solutions spot university security threats.

Automation Enables Remote Desktop Management for Higher Ed IT

Some universities are turning to automation and outsourcing key responsibilities to third-party partners. As the University of Notre Dame expanded beyond its South Bend, Ind., campus to allow faculty and staff to work around the world, the IT department automated desktop management, according to Tracy Weber, Notre Dame's assistant vice president for community IT experience.

“With increased flexibility due to remote and hybrid work environments, along with Notre Dame’s many international locations and research activities, monitoring the network activity on our South Bend campus network is no longer the protection it used to be,” Weber says. “Our device management solutions help us ensure that devices are as secure and stable as possible given the global nature of our work.”

Proactive desktop management platforms allow university IT departments to manage cases and support tickets without human help, according to Raley.

“PC management can incorporate a proactive resolution model, where pending issues are detected, cases are opened and support tickets created all without human intervention,” Raley says.

Automation helps universities save time by updating PC fleets with the latest BIOS, drivers, firmware and applications, Raley says. Proactive desktop management applications also let IT administrators create custom catalogs and deploy them to their desktop fleets, Raley adds.

Deploying Automatic Security Updates and Patches

A key feature of proactive desktop management entails patching applications to keep them secure against the latest threats. For large universities like Notre Dame that are the size of a small city, the challenge is to keep endpoint devices secure when they’re spread out all over campus and the world. Desktop management tools provide this support, according to Weber.

“Leveraging our desktop management tools helps us efficiently ensure that important security updates are happening, and that we’re refreshing devices in a timely manner for optimal operation,” Weber says.

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Raley says that application management solutions let IT staff monitor security threats at the fleet level and at the level of individual PCs.

“Fleet-to-device hardware health insights give colleges and universities the ability to quickly identify areas of concern in their fleets and take proactive steps to resolve them,” Raley says. “Those steps may include the submission of an automated parts dispatch request or the admin acting on a SupportAssist recommendation to install the latest driver.” 

Security is a particular challenge in education because BYOD is widespread, especially with students, Knuth explains. With all of those unknown devices, blind spots develop. Automation and monitoring tools can help IT administrators manage access to university services on these devices with a zero-trust security strategy, Knuth says.

DIVE DEEPER: Learn how zero-touch deployment can help higher ed IT departments.

Desktop Management Permits Central Reporting and Machine Learning

Central reporting features in desktop management applications keep IT departments informed about which users on the Notre Dame campus have an issue with their PCs, Weber says.

“By incorporating central reporting through our desktop management platforms, we are able to quickly identify and remediate issues that might arise on devices,” Weber says. “Sharing these reports throughout our campus network of IT staff helps us identify solutions to common issues.”

Machine learning can help IT administrators gather insights and make sense of important data among irrelevant data points and alerts, which can trigger remediations automatically, Knuth says.

Automate Hardware Health Monitoring and Device Inventory Tracking

Proactive desktop management solutions such as Dell SupportAssist use telemetry to gather data from device fleets on hardware health, application performance and security for IT departments to view on a dashboard. These insights let IT managers make suggestions on how to optimize, update and repair PCs, which boosts productivity for university faculty and staff, according to Raley.

“From this top-level view, the administrator can also quickly identify problems within the fleet, make maintenance decisions and act on recommendations, all from a single interface,” Raley says.

By tracking which users are using which software, IT administrators can reduce costs on application licenses, according to Knuth. Meanwhile, device inventory features in proactive desktop management platforms can identify old hardware that has no purpose on a network, Knuth says.

At Notre Dame, the IT department uses desktop management solutions to monitor the health of devices, to spot potential issues with software compatibility and to ensure that it refreshes devices to meet the university’s standards, Weber says.

Determining Health Scores and AI-Driven Metrics

Solutions such as Dell’s ProSupport Plus for PCs lets universities and colleges keep score on the health, application experience and security of desktop fleets on campus, according to Raley.

“Health, application experience and security scores, alerts, and recommendations can provide a security-focused view of a PC fleet,” Raley says. “On a single screen, IT professionals can gauge the percentage of devices that are healthy, impaired or at risk of a security event.”  

Raley adds that artificial intelligence-driven use metrics provide insights on desktop performance and can uncover security challenges. AI metrics let IT teams identify the root cause of issues and resolve them across a PC fleet.

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

Using Proactive Desktop Automation for Shift-Left IT Management

Proactive desktop management encompasses a shift-level strategy in which end users handle tasks themselves earlier in the process instead of the help desk handling them later, Knuth says.

“That has a positive effect to the right of that, where now the help desk is free to do the things that maybe a first-level IT tech would be able to do,” Knuth says.

As IT professionals at universities overcome the burden of being short-staffed, desktop management applications allow them to focus their skills on more important needs.

“Given the wide-ranging activities that happen at a university, our IT professionals support a very large number of services,” Weber says. “Anything we can do to streamline the basics of IT support frees up time to consult on how our many services offerings can best help departments achieve their goals.”

Tmn-art (desktop windows)/Getty Images; Ruth Black (open laptop)/Stocksy

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