With the stroke of a pen, officials in California's Merced Union High School District began saving thousands of dollars annually on software. They did it through full-time-equivalent (FTE) licensing, which shifts the licensing of applications from a device- or user-based model to a headcount-based subscription one.
Typically, such arrangements give all district-owned computers access to the latest versions of applications from companies such as Microsoft and Adobe. Contracts are structured around annual employment or student enrollment numbers, with payments for the coming year adjusted based on a year-end headcount.
Transitioning to the Microsoft Enrollment for Education Solutions program saves MUHSD about 40 percent annually on software costs, says Jorge Arteaga, director of technology for the 10,000-student district with 10 schools in Atwater, Livingston and Merced.
Such savings are crucial in light of MUHSD's shrinking IT budget. Between 2008 and 2010, the budget was slashed by nearly 75 percent, forcing Arteaga and his team to have "some really honest conversations" with their CDW•G representatives, who suggested they consider FTE licensing.
According to Karen Billings, vice president of the Software & Information Industry Association's education division, the FTE model streamlines and simplifies licensing. "It provides universal and equitable access for students, teachers, administrators and staff on institutionally owned computers at all district sites," she explains.
To determine whether FTE licensing makes sense for a district, Billings suggests performing a comprehensive needs assessment. Although every district is unique, the combined amount that each school pays for its per-seat or per-site licenses often is enough to cover the cost of licensing the entire district, she says. "If a district ends up paying more, they typically end up with a much larger deployment option in return."
Following their initial success with FTE-based licensing through Microsoft, MUHSD officials evaluated other options and recently enrolled in Adobe Volume Licensing for its Design & Web Premium bundle.
Members of MUHSD's IT team welcome the array of benefits an FTE licensing model delivers. Ease of management is especially valuable, says Network Engineer Jonathan Watry. "Now, our desktop technicians can standardize the Microsoft OS and Office across all district machines" from a single desktop image, he says.
Streamlined administrative and compliance processes are another bonus, says IT Manager Anthony Thomas. "Before, we could use the online software asset management tools from Microsoft and Adobe to obtain the number of licenses we held, but we couldn't tell who owned them," he explains. "It took dozens of hours annually to track licenses throughout their lifecycle. FTE-based licensing changed that."
$25,000 The annual savings Merced Union High School District realized by switching to an FTE-based software licensing model for its Microsoft desktop applications
Professional development also takes less time — "We cut two-hour training sessions for Office to an hour," Thomas says — and leads to more satisfied teachers and staff members. With FTE licensing, compatibility issues are eliminated because everyone works in the same version of the software, leading to greater confidence with the technology. "They're really thankful they can create, edit and share documents in the same format," Arteaga says.
The savings really add up when compounded across the district, says Leonard C. Kahn, MUHSD's assistant superintendent and chief business officer. Scaled pricing for software licensing means "we can more accurately predict our budget requirements," he explains. Plus, with standardization, "IT can effectively support devices remotely, which significantly reduces the amount of time technicians spend driving around to the schools they serve."
Other FTE licensing participants reap similar rewards.
Chris Persaud, director of technical operations for the School District of Palm Beach County in Florida, enrolled in Microsoft EES when the program launched in March 2011. Beyond saving the 178,000-student district at least 50 percent in licensing costs, the FTE model has improved teaching and learning. "We're a transient district," he says. "More than half the population transfers buildings each year. With FTE-based licensing, everyone receives a consistent user experience."
The FTE model also centralizes licensing administration and promotes better resource allocation. Previously, computers were licensed at a building level, leading to under- or overutilization depending on population shifts among the district's 200 sites. "Now, we move computers based on enrollment," Persaud says.
There were dramatic compliance gains too. Under the previous system, each site managed its own licenses, in turn limiting IT's ability to reconcile and manage them. "Today, we know we're in compliance," he adds.
Michigan's Bedford Public Schools system embraced FTE-based licensing in 2011 as well, during an initiative to standardize on Microsoft networking and desktop applications. The effort also centralized numerous IT functions for the nine-site, 4,800-student district, including the help desk.
"With FTE licensing, we need one help desk person because everyone uses the same software version," says Director of Information Services Doug Kohler. "In the past, we had three or four versions of Office. But Microsoft EES permits accessing the latest version on all devices, so we upgraded everyone to Office 2010."
According to Kohler, the approach has made certain applications and expenditures obsolete, saving the district $16,000 annually. "We were planning to upgrade Exchange," for example, he says. "But it was included in EES, so we avoided that cost."
Kohler also expects EES to streamline the district's transition to one-to-one computing, which is slated to begin during the 2013–2014 school year. The importance of resolving licensing issues increases tenfold when moving to one-to-one, he says. "Adopting EES positions us favorably for that effort."
An FTE Blueprint
As a headcount-based subscription model, full-time-equivalent (FTE) software licensing offers school districts considerable benefits over traditional licensing options. According to the Software & Information Industry Association, FTE models help districts simplify and streamline order management, purchasing and deployment; budget planning; version control; and compliance.
To gain the most from FTE, Karen Billings, vice president of SIIA's education division, suggests these steps:
- Evaluate districtwide software acquisition and deployment needs.
- Investigate funding sources.
- Review historical annual purchasing history for licenses (and costs) for the companies and products of interest.
- Determine overall technology projects, including classroom technology integration, virtual learning and others that cross grade levels, subjects and programs.
- Ensure support from district leaders, educators and staff.
- Plan for professional development time and leverage train-the-trainer models.