IT Advice From Experts Beyond the Education World

At a recent conference about infrastructure and end-user support, I found some interesting insights from the broader industry about mobile device management, Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) and overall mobility strategy.

The conference was called the Gartner IT Infrastructure and Operations Management Summit 2014. Gartner is the leading analyst firm for technology. The attendees of this conference were from all phases of industry as well as a few education organizations. They were learning about issues related to infrastructure as well as operations, including end-user support. I attended the sessions on mobility, hoping to find out what my peers in organizations outside of education were doing to address the management of mobile devices, like tablets.

First, I found that all organizations are struggling to manage these mobile devices in a large (enterprise) network setting. School districts and other organizations are using Client Management software to manage laptop and desktop PCs.  This would include software like Microsoft’s SCCM or Novell’s ZCM. We use client management software to manage our HP laptops and desktops. However, devices like tablets and smart phones are usually not manageable by Client Management software. Separate software is required to control and provision these devices on a network.

Gartner calls this separate category of tablet/phone support software by the term Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM). Gartner believes that it will be 5-7 years before EMM software will be integrated with Client Management software, so we can manage PCs and tablets from one system. This EMM software is recommended to bridge the current device management gap, but it will add complication to our lives as IT directors over the next five years or so.  

BYOD Issues and Planning

The second take-away from this conference is the need for additional planning around BYOD support. Although most organizations are looking at BYOD for employees, it was interesting to see how similar the issues were between employee BYOD support and student BYOD support. Companies are struggling with which devices to allow, how much support to provide, and how to set user expectations. The presenters recommended that clear objectives be set for BYOD initiatives. What are you trying to get out of this? Is it more student engagement you are after, or is there a specific instructional objective that you want this technology for? Next, craft a support policy for your objectives. Define the following in your district’s support of BYOD:

  1. What the IT department will do.
  2. What the IT department will not do.
  3. What the BYOD owner should do.
  4. What the BYOD owner should not do.

The support policy will help to set expectations for BYOD owners. If this support policy is communicated well, it will also help streamline BYOD support.

The third take-away is related to the BYOD discussion, but has broader implications. That is to establish a mobility strategy for your students and staff, now, before you embark on additional mobility initiatives. This involves mapping out the many ways that your customers are currently using mobile devices, and also to look forward to how they will be using them in the future. This includes the introduction of more and more social-media applications into your environments.

With input from stakeholders, plan for what types of mobility needs you have going forward. This will help you determine things like the form factor of devices, what information you need to secure, and what apps to support on which devices. The conference presenters suggested establishing a mobile “center-of-excellence,” which is a group that is dedicated to experimenting with mobile devices and helping to advise on issues and strategy. In smaller districts, this can be a role that is assigned to an existing employee. In larger districts, it may need to be a person who is freed from regular support duties, to pursue research into new devices, and their implications.

We have a wide variety of new mobile devices coming to market. They include a new breed of laptops, where the touch screen can fold over so they can double as tablets, like HP’s Envy x360 and Lenovo’s Yoga. There are oversized smart phones, called “phablets,” that perform some of the tablet functions. Tablets continue to try to grow into an all-in-one device through keyboard/case accessories. The consensus from this conference is that the devices types, models and sizes will continue to change rapidly, as they search for market share.  One size does not fit all. The mobile center-of-excellence can add some valuable research to the mobility strategy planning.

I came away from this particular conference with a full to-do list. However, I also felt that I was not alone in the work that needed to be performed. Not only are many of my school district peers working on the same things, but CIOs and IT managers in organizations everywhere are as well. So do not be afraid to look outside of education for tips on solving your IT questions. We are not as far behind as we may think, and we are not as different from other organizations as we may think.  

Craig Williams is the director of information services for Illinois School District U-46 in Elgin, Illinois. He and his team are overhauling the district’s infrastructure and seeding technology into classrooms, to ensure the all of the district’s culturally-diverse students have the opportunity to expand their learning and achievement. His previous work with schools, first as a building architect, then as a technology design consultant, provides him with a broad perspective on planning for improved student learning. Williams currently serves on the Board with the Illinois CoSN chapter - Education Technology Council of Illinois.


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