Updating regular reports on IT operations can help manage systems.

Scott Farmer, IT director for Virginia Tech, says getting campus officials who know nothing about technology to understand his department’s needs was one of the key challenges keeping him up at night.

“If you really don’t have the buy-in of the people who control the purse strings, and they really don’t understand what’s going on, you’re going to get questions like, ‘Well, shoot, why do we need to upgrade this?’” Farmer said during a recent webinar.

Farmer isn’t alone. According to an analysis done by IT systems management software maker Kaseya, a lack of alignment between school business and IT departments leads to several missed ed-tech opportunities.

Communicating your ed-tech needs clearly to decision makers who don’t understand technology was No. 10 on a list of the top 10 challenges in IT management, compiled by Kaseya as a result of its analysis.

Farmer was speaking at an eSchool News webinar sponsored by Kaseya earlier this year to highlight the findings of its analysis. During the webinar, speakers discussed how the top 10 ed-tech pain points as identified by Kaseya apply to them—and how they’ve used a combination of technology and smart policy to solve these challenges.

Translating ed-tech problems into plain English will go a long way toward improving school IT staff’s communication with decision makers, Farmer said: “When you try and explain all the various things in the IT realm, you’ve got to be able to put it in layman’s terms. If you start talking shop, … you’ve lost them.”

Another thing that helps is having a summary report of your IT system capability, panelists said—data that can help you make a case for investing in necessary upgrades.

Drew Lane, IT director for the Derby Public Schools in Kansas, said creating and distributing frequent IT summary reports has reduced the number of meetings he’s had to attend to “explain the mundane.” Kaseya’s software has an easy-to-use tool for generating such reports, he added.

Another top ed-tech challenge is what Kaseya refers to as “IT hobbyists,” or users who try to perform system-related tasks on their own—either because their school or campus IT staff are too busy to help, or because they like to maintain control over their machines.

Tinkering with IT systems when you don’t know what you’re doing can lead to further problems, which could affect the reputation of a school or district’s IT department, said Gerald Beaulieu, IT automation expert for Kaseya.

Lane said his department’s staff have developed a three-pronged approach to solving this challenge.

First, they’ve established an ed-tech policy that spells out exactly what users can and can’t do on their machines. Second, they rely on a report that Kaseya’s software generates automatically every day, showing what changes have been made to applications and systems. Third, they’ve written a script in the program to uninstall any rogue software that is detected on a system.

“If we can’t figure out a fix in 15 minutes, we just go ahead and reimage the machine,” Lane said.

Frequent user turnover is another common ed-tech challenge, Kaseya’s analysis suggests.

Managing variable staff is the new “norm” for schools and other employers, Beaulieu said. He added that deploying new computers, software, network accounts, passwords, and privileges for temporary employees and recent hires can take a lot of time.

Farmer said his IT staff keep a “golden image,” or a standard set of applications, for each campus department. This golden image can be loaded quickly onto each new machine as necessary, he said, making system setup easy.

Lane said his district uses the “ticketing” feature in Kaseya’s software to automate and streamline the workflow process necessary to get new hires up and running. New hires fill out a ticket requesting a computer and a network account, and this request is routed automatically to district IT staff to fulfill. When these tasks have been completed, the ticket is sent to a human resources employee, who closes it out.

Other top ed-tech pain points discussed during the webinar included software virtualization, data backup and recovery, “invisible assets” (missing laptops, unknown users), and the need to do more with less.

(Editor’s note: eSchool News is offering this webinar again to readers, free of charge. The webinar will be held Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 2 p.m. Eastern time. To register, go to http://kaseyanovember.eventbrite.com.)