May 20 2024

Keeping Devices Refreshed Is Critical to a Healthy and Modern IT Ecosystem

Regular refreshes help K–12 schools overcome funding and staffing hurdles, improve security and reduce costs.

As in any industry, IT teams supporting K–12 schools must navigate a challenging landscape. But with education on the line, IT staff take on significant responsibility for ensuring that the technology they support provides an optimal digital experience for teachers and students alike.

Despite strict budgets and small IT teams, school districts must keep devices safely and continually refreshed. That task can be overwhelming in the face of such obstacles as reduced federal funding and constantly evolving security threats. Add to that the trend of school districts adopting one-to-one device programs, and suddenly those necessary device refreshes demand resources that many teams simply don’t have.

“I think the funding is going to be one of the larger issues for schools moving forward, especially after the federal Emergency Connectivity Fund wraps up,” says Caitlin Witry, senior manager of the education partner program at CDW. “ECF is about to expire shortly, and then the last round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds would expire in September 2024.”

While it can be daunting, IT teams can’t delay or ignore the task of refreshing huge numbers of devices. Keeping them updated helps prevent interruptions in education and breaches in security. But there are some solutions and services available to help IT teams confront the challenges of device refreshes and maintenance.

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Keeping Devices Refreshed Amid Funding Limitations

According to a recent survey from Lenovo, K–12 IT leaders are prioritizing device refreshes despite tight budgets. “With the increased number of devices a district is now required to maintain, as well as non-stop demands for more bandwidth, IT leaders want devices that support fast and robust Wi-Fi,” Lenovo reports. “Nearly all districts (94 percent) struggled with videoconferencing during the pandemic, and bandwidth was the leading cause of trouble. Wi-Fi 6 outranks 5G nearly 4 to 1 as an ‘important or very important’ priority.”

Some leading IT companies are working with schools and service providers to offer assistance and funding. One such program is the CDW Education Collaborative, a community of K–12 technical administrators across North America who work alongside CDW Education’s experts to navigate changes, updates, challenges and solutions within their Google and Microsoft environments.

Tech leaders such as Google and Microsoft offer automatic update policies, but devices in the K–12 setting frequently have shorter life spans than those in professional settings. Student devices may need to be refreshed or replaced more often, which can become expensive for schools and force them to find alternative solutions.

“Lately, we’ve seen schools trying to extend the life of their devices by using cases and extended service plans such as accidental damage protection, using more break/fix programs and trying to extend their lifecycles rather than doing a refresh every three years,” Witry notes. “They’re trying to stretch the bang for their buck.”

Windows 11 Is a Necessary Consideration for Many Schools

For school districts using Microsoft Windows, a major update is looming. As Microsoft prepares to sunset its Windows 10 operating system in October 2025, schools that use it should be planning to move to Windows 11. To avoid potential challenges in migrating to the new OS, schools should consider enlisting an experienced partner to make the transition seamless.

Microsoft is trying to ease the transition by offering migration assistance for students on its Windows for Education website. “Customers with qualifying subscriptions can upgrade student-owned and institution-owned devices from Windows Home to Windows Education, which is designed for both the classroom and remote learning,” the site states.

READ MORE: How to make a smooth migration to Windows 11.

Regular Device Updates Contribute to Better Cybersecurity

Regular device and software updates play a critical role in keeping them secure. But with so many devices to be refreshed and so few IT staffers to do the work, third-party asset management services can fill the gap.

Witry acknowledges that asset management can be a valuable tool that some schools aren’t yet aware of. “Asset management could be a good way to say, here are some different tools that other schools might be using that you can think about,” she says, “because some schools might not be thinking that way.”

However, in addition to refreshing devices, removing obsolete equipment is another key consideration. When devices reach the end of their useful lives, schools should consider sustainable options, and not just for environmental reasons. Device recycling programs are important to help institutions reduce their carbon footprint, but they also can be used to reduce the costs of necessary equipment and extend the lifecycle of devices.

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Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.