4 min

Higher Education Device Programs Need Holistic, Intentional Strategy

End-to-end assessments of campus device programs can reveal valuable opportunities for improvement.

CDW Expert CDW Expert

The evolution of devices and their role in higher education has been an ongoing process, but nothing has compelled as much change — and as quickly — as the pandemic did. Now, many colleges find themselves with fully fledged device programs but lacking a long-term, sustainable foundation to support those programs effectively. That foundation is essential because, as IT administrators know, managing the entire device lifecycle is potentially costly and burdensome if it’s not well planned.

Some colleges, for example, found that the devices they hastily purchased in 2020 didn’t align with pedagogical needs. Others leveraged the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to acquire devices, but now must figure out how to pay for the next round. And many institutions, especially those with small IT teams or thousands of devices to support, are struggling to handle the significant increase in break/fix needs, configuration, networking, professional development and other areas.

The reality is that device programs require holistic planning that encompasses technological, pedagogical, administrative and financial aspects. As colleges assess their pain points along the device lifecycle, they often decide to keep certain functions in-house and hand off others to external partners. The range of services partners can provide has expanded in recent years, making it easier to craft custom support to meet colleges’ unique needs and challenges.

Review Device Selection, Funding and Supply Chain Issues

Colleges must strike the right balance between device standardization (which simplifies IT management) and personalization for schools, departments or individuals. Neither extreme works well, so tiered models are becoming more popular: establishing required specifications to ensure students, staff and faculty have suitable applications and capabilities within a limited set of choices.

The biggest challenge in device selection is funding, with lingering supply chain issues a close second. Building a relationship with a partner knowledgeable about higher education and working with a deep bench of vendors can help colleges choose the best devices while keeping costs down. Partners also can recommend strategies to ease the burden on staffers, such as custom online storefronts that provide easy access for users and yield valuable data that helps colleges guide future purchasing decisions.

Make Device Deployment as Easy and Efficient as Possible

After devices are in hand, the logistics of unboxing, tagging, configuration and deployment can be significant, especially for small IT departments. At the same time, colleges may want to use device distribution as a community-building exercise. Partners can help by facilitating “device days,” in which students pick up devices branded with college logos, preloaded with appropriate software, enrolled in a mobile device management solution and ready to go.

For colleges that keep deployment activities in-house, partners can often suggest more efficient processes, including zero-touch or cloud-based provisioning. Partners also can help colleges establish the proper IT infrastructure to support devices and deliver the high-quality performance that campus users expect.

Implement the Right Solutions for Device Visibility and Security

Lack of device visibility is one of the most common challenges for IT teams. Typically, staffers may see devices on the network but be unable to determine their location, status or security attributes. As colleges have added thousands of devices to their networks, a problem that used to be limited in scope has become unwieldy and severe.

Here, a partner can help institutions establish an effective asset management program, including the right tools and processes. The visibility derived from proper asset management is crucial for protecting networks and enforcing consistent security policies across the institution, especially on decentralized campuses where individual schools manage their own security solutions.

Similarly, break/fix processes can become exponentially more burdensome as device programs expand. Some colleges enlist partners to handle these tasks entirely, while others use a one-time assessment to gain insights and recommendations for improvement.

Maximize Value Throughout the Device Lifecycle

Even when devices reach the end of life, there may be opportunities to get a final bit of value from these investments, and partners often have great ideas on how to do so. Based on the greater specification of devices in higher education, most devices carry a higher residual value that could be leveraged toward refresh and sustainability. Repurposing devices for loaner and buyback programs or refresh-and-recovery services may also be options.

Devices matter, and campus users have high expectations for their quality, performance and support. As colleges work to mature their expanded device programs, an outside assessment can identify valuable opportunities to reduce costs, increase efficiency and work toward long-term sustainability.

Story by

Michael Durand, the director of sales for Higher Education East at CDW.

Mike Grey, a regional sales manager at CDW.