The Chicago Public Schools’ unique governance structure –all schools are given full autonomy over how they spend their technology budgets–poses some significant challenges for the district’s Office of Technology Services (OTS). For instance, how can it ensure the equipment each school buys meets certain minimum standards and will work together? How can it ensure each school is getting the best value for its dollar? And, how can OTS meet each school’s support needs?

To solve these challenges, OTS has created a program called TECH|XL. The program aims to help school leaders procure the right solutions in a cost-effective way, while also serving as a single point of contact for anything they need to know as far as technology is concerned.

“Even though we don’t control the purchase of all machines, we do control their deployment,” says Anthony McPhearson, director of TECH|XL Services.

Undoubtedly, one of the most important elements of the TECH|XL program is that it allows schools to lease Apple or Dell computers, printers from CDW-G, and various support services at an affordable rate. All contracts are handled through the TECH|XL program, which can procure the machines at a reduced rate through large-volume discounts.

“We recommend this approach to schools, because it offers the best value for their money,” McPhearson says. But schools aren’t required to lease their equipment through the program. If they don’t go through TECH|XL, they are still required to meet certain minimum standards in the machines they procure on their own. These are spelled out in a 75-page document created by the TECH|XL team. Besides minimum tech specs, the document also specifies how each machine should be identified on the network, what software it should contain, and so on.

Though TECH|XL has been in place for only two years, about 60 percent of the district’s schools that acquired new hardware this year leased their equipment through the program, McPhearson said–and one of his team’s goals is to increase this number.

But that’s not all the program does. TECH|XL also monitors and tracks network and software licensing compliance within CPS, so the team created a special Network Compliance Site to help track the district’s 100,000-plus computing devices. This is a unique, self-created, web-based interface that gives the TECH|XL team a single reference point for all the computers in the district. They can look to see the details of each individual machine– what domain it is on, whether it is an instructional or administrative computer, its IP address and serial number, whether it is a Windows or Macintosh computer, whether it’s connected to the network, whether there are any viruses or spyware on the machine, and so on. A green icon means compliance, and a red one means there’s a problem–the machine might be offline, for example, or it might contain a virus.

Authorized personnel from each school, such as principals or technology coordinators, can use the interface to check the compliance of their own school’s machines. “It’s fully automated, because not all schools have a technology person,” says McPhearson. “So we made it really easy for a non-tech person, such as a principal or appointed tech person, to go in and make sure they’re in compliance.”

Besides viewing network compliance and software vulnerability reports for each machine, authorized personnel can use the site to run Windows or Macintosh maintenance utilities for any machine with a single click. The interface is linked to the district’s security software programs, such as DeepFreeze and Trend Micro, so users can remotely lock down certain desktops, eradicate viruses, and so on.

Schools that lease computers via the TECH|XL program enjoy several benefits. Leasing provides schools with an efficient and affordable way to acquire technology equipment and to manage their cash flow. Leasing allows them to choose a lease term and annual payment that fits their budget, while the annual cost to lease three computers is less than the cost to purchase one computer.

Leasing, then, helps schools acquire all of their needed technology without a large upfront expenditure, McPhearson says. Leasing also allows the schools to refresh their hardware with newer and faster technology every three to four years–and it removes the risk of ownership and costs associated with the maintenance and upkeep of outdated equipment.

Finally, the warranty coverage for all equipment matches the life of its lease. Flexible leasing options are accompanied by a full three- or fouryear warranty that includes coverage for most parts and labor.

Schools leasing computers through TECH|XL receive help from the Service Desk, a team that serves as CPS’s single point of contact for resolving technology- related issues.

The Service Desk is responsible for defining, prioritizing, referring, tracking, monitoring, and escalating end-user problems and technology requests.

The TECH|XL team also works with schools to advise them on whether they’d like to select highend, mid-range, or low-level machines, and whether they want them mainly for instructional or administrative purposes.

“Our goal is to deliver the best possible services we can in the schools, to help them work smarter and more efficiently,” says CIO Robert Runcie. –JN