Using a program called Absolute Manage has helped the district streamline the deployment and management of thousands of PCs, Macs, and mobile devices
The Lewisville Independent School District in Texas manages nearly 70,000 computers, laptops, and other mobile devices with a technology staff of fewer than 60 people.
Each technician is responsible for around 1,300 machines, and yet the district is able to deploy new devices, provision eBooks and other digital resources, keep software up to date, monitor compliance with software licensing, and much more—with remarkable efficiency.
A few years ago, Lewisville ISD reorganized its technology team to create a more efficient operation. The district also invested in Absolute Manage, a program from Absolute Software, to help its technology staff provision, track, and manage devices running on a wide range of platforms.
The results have been phenomenal, as Lewisville ISD has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and staff hours on these tasks.
Mark Bulthaup, the leader of Lewisville ISD’s Desktop Management team, explained the district’s keys to success in a recent webinar hosted by eSchool News and sponsored by Absolute Software.
Creating ‘sustainable, scalable processes’
As part of its IT reorganization, Lewisville ISD moved all of its technology staff under the control of the central IT department, no longer hiring and managing these employees separately at each school. This enabled the district to provide a higher, more consistent level of training for its IT staff, Bulthaup said.
The district also expanded its help desk and created a five-member Desktop Management (DM) team, tasked with the remote management of ed-tech devices.
The DM team launched in July 2012 with the goals of standardizing the district’s technology, making it easier to support various devices; ensuring compliance with software licensing and updates; and reducing the need for on-site support.
“We wanted to create sustainable, scalable processes that limited the opportunity for human error,” Bulthaup said. “We also recognized that the more we could do remotely, the less our technicians would have to do in the field.”
But while the DM team was hoping to standardize on a single platform, the district’s instructional team wanted something very different.
“Instruction is really what drives technology for us, and adapting to their requests is vital,” Bulthaup said. To create a student-centered, project-based learning environment, Lewisville ISD began purchasing iPads and MacBook laptops to supplement its Windows-based computers.
So rather than standardizing on devices, “we looked to standardize on systems and processes instead,” Bulthaup said.
Finding the right solution
As the district prepared to integrate 2,000 MacBooks and 2,200 student iPads in three of its schools, the DM team contracted with a third-party vendor for setup and deployment of the devices. But using an outside vendor proved “very cumbersome,” Bulthaup said. “[It] really left us with little control of the deployment process.”
Because the devices were imaged offsite and then shipped to the schools, “it was very difficult to make changes” or correct errors on the fly, he said. “It took, in all, three evenings to deploy about 650 machines at our model high school campus. … It really didn’t seem like the streamlined, error-free process we were aiming for.”
What’s more, the district was paying “a handsome price” to this third-party vendor for setup and deployment. “We thought we could do better,” Bulthaup said.
On the Windows side, Lewisville ISD was using Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) to manage its PCs; Symantec Ghost for system imaging; and an unreliable, manual installation process for software updates. “This made for error-prone installs,” Bulthaup noted.
The DM team wanted a “device-agnostic” management system that could support a wide range of devices and platforms. After evaluating many systems, the team discovered Absolute Manage and adopted the program in early 2013.
Results speak for themselves
Having a single management system that works with any computing environment has enabled the district to streamline its deployment and management of devices, Bulthaup said—saving both time and money.
The console is the same for managing both Mac and Windows devices, meaning “there is a familiar interface for our technicians, no matter what device they’re working with,” he said. This has made training the district’s IT staff much easier across all environments.
And, the software’s mobile device management functionality allows for easy provisioning of iPads and other mobile devices. “Absolute has really become our one-stop shop for BYOD, MDM, OS X, and PC device management,” Bulthaup said.
Lewisville officials had what Bulthaup called a “light bulb moment” in deploying eBooks to the iPads of students enrolled in AP World History. Using Absolute Manage, “we were able to deploy the eBooks in a secure and more efficient way than we were able to do in the previous semester,” he said.
Currently, Lewisville ISD is using Absolute Manage to manage more than 27,000 PCs, 12,000 Macs, and 30,000 mobile devices. Using the program, the district has set up and deployed more than 24,000 iPads and 9,000 MacBooks in the last year and a half, saving from $30 to $45 per device by not needing a third-party vendor for this service.
“We’ve saved an untold number of man hours as well,” Bulthaup said. He estimated the district has pushed out more than half a million software packages using Absolute Manage. That means “several hundred thousand touches of a machine were not needed, because we did that work remotely.”
To top it off, the district has found many uses of the program beyond deploying and managing devices.
“We [use] Absolute to monitor usage of our machines … so we can monitor software compliance,” Bulthaup said. “We’ve used Absolute to resolve discrepancies in other inventory systems that we maintain, and we’ve implemented Absolute’s power management features to help the district limit unnecessary electricity usage and save money.”
[Editor’s note: To listen to the full archived webinar, click here.]
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