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This district's tech upgrade yielded some valuable lessons about how to navigate what can be a relatively complicated process.

7 strategies to help you navigate a district tech upgrade

With 53,000 students, 6,500 employees, and buildings spread across 88 square miles, our network refresh at Klein ISD taught us a thing or two

Several school district officials have told us they want to embrace our philosophy of empowering students and teachers through technology innovation, but lack the right infrastructure to support this vision. After our district completed a three-year, district-wide technology refresh cycle, we wanted to share our top takeaways to help our peers get more educational benefits from your network infrastructure.

Lesson #1: Organizational structure matters

Like many districts, in the past our IT department delivered products and services as a separate entity from our curriculum and instructional development staff. Now we’re all organized under the same leadership and our joint team is headed by a chief learning officer.

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This reorganization resulted in a strategic shift to giving our curriculum staff the voice that drives our services. In other words, they provide the curricular vision and then we meet their expectations by delivering the right technology. Having a strong and collaborative relationship is critical for determining the infrastructure our district needs for the personalized learning and user experiences that support our district’s mission: “Every student enters with a promise and exits with a purpose.”

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Lesson #2: Stay close to users during a tech upgrade

In addition to our curriculum and instruction teams, we maintain good communications with building principals, teachers, staff, students, and volunteers. We provide them with a clear understanding of our technology vision and the capabilities of our district infrastructure. This information allows our users to consider what classroom and operational innovations they can introduce to leverage the technology we provide to enhance classroom experiences.

Lesson #3: Pursue an ongoing refresh strategy

Instead of undergoing a massive infrastructure refresh once every five years, pursue a rotational schedule to tackle parts of your network every year. This enables you to meet new demands as they arise while also smoothing out capital budget cycles and staying focused on mission-critical tasks by eliminating the inherent distractions caused by major upgrade initiatives.

When pursuing this strategy, keep an eye on technology innovations to determine which ones to adopt immediately, because they add value and are cost-effective, and which to delay until a later date.

Lesson #4: Partnerships are key to success

Strong technology partnerships are invaluable, such as the one we enjoy with wi-fi innovator Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, for successful user-experience outcomes. As mobility and wireless become table stakes for successfully educating students, it’s imperative that your technology partners have an innovation pipeline and roadmap aligned with your needs. In addition, solutions you purchase should include the flexibility to evolve your infrastructure, rather than requiring you to rip out and replace technology every three to five years.

Lesson #5: Get an intuitive network optimization tool to manage the load

In addition to the demand for high-performance connectivity by desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones, whether district-issued or BYOD, it’s likely you’re also experiencing escalating demand from IoT devices. These range from webcams, VR/AR solutions, and digital signage to wireless operations systems like HVAC sensors, bus-diagnostic systems, irrigation systems, and security solutions.

That’s why we advocate for intuitive network optimization tools, which anyone on your IT staff can use, to effectively manage infrastructure performance across all of your campuses. With such tools, you’ll uncover existing and emerging bottlenecks via visual dashboards, with drill-down granularity, enabling you to determine the best course of action before teachers and learners are affected. The most innovative tools are now incorporating machine learning for proactively identifying where you should make improvements.

In addition to managing performance, use your tools to continuously track usage trends. Doing so enables you to provide intelligent answers to district officials, school board members, and, if you’re taxpayer-funded, the public. What’s more, you can stay ahead of new demands because you’ll know how many devices your network can support.

Lesson #6: Ensure your network security solution is value-add

With ever-more devices come added security concerns that make it imperative to adopt a scalable, user-friendly network access solution. The best tools automatically build a database of every device that connects to your network, allowing you to quickly establish appropriate device profiles and policies. For example, a wireless webcam doesn’t need access to your email server, but a teacher’s laptop does.

Further, we advise taking a detailed approach to profile mapping. For instance, differentiate between various types of IoT devices to give smart TVs fast access to the internet while restricting plumbing sensors to communicating with a specific internal application.

For us, after establishing device profiles, our network access control solution automatically assigns the proper permissions and provides smooth experiences for thousands of connections—with no further manual intervention. What’s more, we’re considering options for adding intelligence with machine learning to detect suspicious device behavior faster than humanly possible.

Lesson #7: Think about user experiences wherever you are

Last, but by no means least, we pay attention to how technologies are used outside of K-12. For example, during the recent Aruba Atmosphere conference, we heard about the new mobile wayfinding and location-aware technologies at large football stadiums and shopping malls. Among other things, these innovations give users turn-by-turn directions and can detect where users are within a facility, based on the device they’re carrying.

This discovery led us to discuss how everyone can relate to being in unfamiliar surroundings, such as finding a seventh-period history class for the first time, locating an elevator if you’re a wheelchair user, or attending a district-wide event at a building you’ve never visited before.

We also considered location-aware technologies from a safety and security perspective, as they can enable quickly grabbing the nearest automated external defibrillator or, if there’s an HVAC situation, show maintenance staff where the valve is that they need to shut off. Externally, by providing an app and maps to local emergency personnel, we can help our first responders navigate quickly during an event.

What’s more, our facilities are used by the community during off hours, which typically requires printed maps and someone’s time to direct traffic. Wayfinding technology can eliminate such waste and inefficiency by enabling people to get where they need to go.

In other words, truly empowering our district goes beyond providing wireless and wired computing access. It’s about thinking in broader terms and envisioning how innovations deployed in other industries can improve user experiences and educational outcomes while also contributing to safety, security and operational efficiency.

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