Mar 21 2024

What Software Asset Management Programs Do for Higher Education

It’s the secret weapon many IT departments use to fuel device management.

It was once a daunting task to manage thousands of student, staff and faculty devices in higher education. It became even more difficult as colleges embraced hybrid learning and remote work, introducing personal devices into the mix and allowing work across multiple time zones and platforms. For IT departments, this presented a multitude of challenges and security concerns, not to mention drain on manpower.

In the past, managing devices might have meant literally going from computer lab to computer lab, with IT staff members physically downloading updates and other software onto each device. But now, keeping the whole ecosystem online can be done digitally.

This is where software asset management (SAM) programs come in. These are highly organized systems for managing a variety of devices, supporting each step of the lifecycle. Products like Microsoft Intune, Jamf and ServiceNow offer these capabilities, and they might be just the solution that higher ed needs to level up efficiency and safety across administrative, educator and even student devices.

In a recent CDW white paper, experts suggest optimizing logistics and funding to rethink how institutions deploy, manage and sustain device programs. The authors point to shrinking post-pandemic budgets and supply chain issues, all amid the backdrop of a “proliferation of devices,” which can enhance user experiences but also cause new challenges.

Here’s what IT staffs in higher education should consider as they look to implement a school asset management or software asset management (SAM) program.

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How School or Software Asset Management (SAM) Benefits Higher Ed

Today’s college students expect to at least have the option to learn online, and 70 percent even express a preference for doing so over in-person learning, according to the University of the Potomac. This evolution in higher education, along with the ability of students, faculty and staff to use their own devices, has led to an increased need for a single platform or management program from which to control software. This is even more important due to the staff recruitment and retention challenges IT teams face, especially in the realm of security and privacy.

SAM programs ensure software on all devices is university-approved and being used securely and efficiently. 

Beyond security, there are a variety of other benefits — financial, logistical and even safety — that come with investing in a school or software asset management program. However, an EDUCAUSE poll showed that institutions aren’t using these programs to the extent they could. Just 1 in 4 institutions reported using a SAM program, according to survey data released in December 2022.

Paige Johnson, vice president of education marketing at Microsoft, which offers the asset management program Intune, says there are a few possible reasons for the lack of adoption. Some management tools, for example, address only the needs of commercial customers, rather than education-specific apps such as learning management systems and discipline-specific software. Others might not see a net positive financial cost-to-benefit ratio, though Johnson says “Intune also provides benefits that far outweigh the costs, and often moving to cloud management offers significant cost savings versus traditional on-prem management products.”

Here are some benefits higher education institutions might enjoy.

Mat Pullen
It’s the ability to track all of your inventory — your device and software inventory — in one place.”

Mat Pullen Senior Product Marketing Manager for Education, Jamf

Easier device tracking and updating

Higher education institutions can improve security and free IT staff members to do other, more strategic tasks, leaving the days of walking lab to lab in the past. “It’s the ability to track all of your inventory — your device and software inventory — in one place, so that you can easily look at what is and isn’t being used, easily update things and make sure they are compliant,” says Mat Pullen, senior product marketing manager for education at Jamf.

He adds that in the past — when IT departments were centralized, and learning and working occurred almost exclusively on campus — everything was under IT’s control. Now, the increase in personal devices, even if they are university-owned, raises additional questions and challenges that need to be addressed.

Improved safety

Relying on users to update their own devices could make institutions more vulnerable to cyberattacks, Pullen says.

“Higher ed at the moment is at such risk of network threats, malware and phishing — if you don’t know what’s on the device, or whether it’s had its security patches, then the likelihood of that device being the infraction point is a lot higher,” he says. “Having it enrolled in an asset management program is going to give you insight into what those problems are.”

With the average cost of a security breach at around $3.65 million, according to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach report, purchasing an asset management program proactively is much cheaper. Pullen points out that IT staff can give end users a choice of when to update, but with an asset program, they can eventually force an update after a countdown, to ensure safety and security.

Devices campaign TOC

Options for bring-your-own-device users

Some IT staff leaders might hear concerns from students and staff about how a school asset management system could limit the use of their own BYOD devices. Johnson says this isn’t the case.

“These programs empower colleges and universities to oversee devices throughout their entire lifecycle,” she says. “However, some individuals who bring their own devices to university environments may opt out of device management, preferring to remain outside the institutional infrastructure.”

She adds that there are misconceptions about the “extent of visibility and control” the institution would have over personal devices. In addition, users might benefit from more flexibility.

“Whether studying or working from home, a coffee shop or across different campuses, users can seamlessly access necessary services without disruption,” she says.

Streamlining duplicate programs

In higher education institutions where separate colleges, schools, departments or programs might be siloed from others, there may be similar or duplicate software programs installed on devices, which can cost the institution twice as much. 

Asset programs, Pullen says, can help IT departments see where those licenses have been allocated and how frequently they are being used.

“If we actually had one version, you have cost savings around professional development,” he says. “Rather than training two sets of staff to use two different types of software, why don’t we just use the same piece of software and train them in one go?”


The percentage of higher education institutions that use a software asset management solution

Source:, “EDUCAUSE Quick Poll Results: Software, Software Everywhere! How Do Institutions Manage Their Assets,” Dec. 5, 2022

Increasing IT staff bandwidth

When IT departments aren’t manually updating devices, they are free to allocate their staff — as much as half, in some cases — to other tasks entirely.

“There are a lot less manual hours going into it, so the cost savings is in personnel and more efficient use of those people,” Pullen says.

Similar to the ChatGPT-era fear of being replaced, Pullen says, IT staffs could understandably be worried about these programs taking their jobs, but that fear is unfounded.

“With rising cybercrime, their role is transformed into not just managing devices but looking at the data they’re getting to better use the devices, and to understand the security risks to help people raise awareness. They aren’t just fixing keyboards anymore and can be more proactive rather than reactive,” Pullen says.

READ MORE: Wi-Fi 6E and the future of networking.

Allocating access and connectivity resources appropriately

If you don’t know how many devices and what types are trying to log in to your network, it can be a massive strain on the IT infrastructure. Colleges can make adjustments to their networks and support distributed usage patterns based on that information, even adding access points to bolster Wi-Fi coverage in popular places like parking lots.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Implementing a SAM

While it can seem like a big decision and will require an initial investment, Pullen explains that housing all device management in one program is a safer, more efficient way forward for higher ed tech staffs. At some point, he explains, it may be a good idea to weigh the increasingly substantial financial and safety risks of not implementing SAM. It’s worth a conversation with your IT staff about the future of your program and the direction of your leadership principles, and how SAM plays into that.

Tom Merton/Getty Images

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