Apr 04 2024

Why Device Management Programs Make Financial Sense for Higher Ed

Universities with small IT teams and tight budgets might think that third-party device management is out of reach. It isn’t.

The benefits of device management are fairly straightforward. It’s a tool (or set of tools) that removes the human element from deploying, maintaining, securing and replacing the laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones that power higher education.

So, why isn’t every university IT team in the country outsourcing device management?

The answer to that is also fairly straightforward: Higher education is in the midst of belt-tightening, and device management programs mean that institutions are asked to spend money on something that almost any trained IT person could do just as well.

That’s an oversimplification, to be sure, but it helps to understand a surprising reality. While almost everyone in IT agrees on the value of device management software, a recent EDUCAUSE survey revealed that just 1 in 4 higher education IT teams were using a software asset management tool, one of the bedrocks of device management.

Particularly for IT departments in smaller college and university settings — basically anywhere outside of R1 research institutions — a device management program seems like too great a financial burden to justify. But the risk of not managing devices is arguably even greater and could lead to unexpected consequences down the road, including for the bottom line.

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Device Management Is an Investment in People

The simple argument for device management is that spending a little money up front saves on soft costs — which can turn into hard costs — in the future.

The leading device management platforms, such as Jamf for Apple iOS devices and Microsoft Intune for PC devices, charge a per-device or per-user fee that renews annually. So, the initial enrollment in device management could cost a large amount, and one that must make its way into the operational budget when renewal time rolls around.

There are additional full-service asset management programs available as well, including from CDW, that can customize the Device as a Service approach to a university’s needs and can include everything from break/fix support to original equipment manufacturer warranties, imaging, deployment and more.

RELATED: How technology protection programs can save higher ed IT teams.

No matter what route an institution chooses, the decision to pursue device management is best framed as a proactive investment in the people working in that college’s IT department rather than a shot to the bottom line. Especially in the face of continued staffing challenges in higher education, and in IT in particular, universities should be paying close attention to the work their people are doing and how they feel about it.

Every minute that highly skilled IT employees spend repairing a broken laptop, imaging a new desktop, pushing out software updates on a faculty member’s smartphone or patching a security flaw across thousands of devices is time they could be spending on other, more critical tasks. Just as important, it is time spent doing something they’re vastly overqualified for, and it represents the kind of grunt work that may be contributing to employee dissatisfaction and high turnover rates in higher education IT.

Turnover means plenty of other hard-to-quantify soft costs, too, as anyone responsible for IT hiring knows. There are job postings to write, HR departments to involve, interviews to go through, on-the-job training and more that can drain time from other tasks. And while these activities may not translate easily to the bottom line, there is a quantifiable cost in spending time on the clock doing things that could have been automated by a device management solution.

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There are also things that could be missed. What price would a higher education institution that has suffered a ransomware attack place on having a few extra hours available for a systems administrator to check for security breaches or vulnerabilities instead of replacing someone’s cracked screen? Whatever the amount, it probably pales in comparison to the outlay for a device management tool.

Where to Start with Device Management When Money Is Tight

Money is still king, however, and for IT decision-makers who know a full device management solution is never going to fly with their budget offices, it can be helpful to start small. In device management, that means looking at the software you’re using.

If you can make the argument for Jamf, Intune or even Windows Autopilot to help with deployment, that can familiarize administrators with the concept of device management and is sure to save countless hours in the IT department. It will also probably win you some goodwill from staff, who will be relieved to get break/fix and deployment off their plates.

Beyond that, investing in warranties on devices can take at least the break/fix part of device management out of IT and redirect it to the original equipment manufacturer, so that could be a place to begin as well.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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