By Randy McLeod
The Pittsfield Public School District, which serves the community of Pittsfield, Mass., operates eight elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, an adult learning center and several special educational programs. Our IT team provides support to all these establishments, as well as to bus operations and our administrative and food services staffs.
More than 1,200 staff members and 6,000 students rely on our small IT team of three support technicians, two data specialists and one director of technology. In addition to supporting these users, we have adopted a range of device types distributed over large geographic areas for users who have varying levels of technology expertise.
In the summer of 2005, our team was tasked with the distribution of applications and patches to 150 Mac and Windows laptops across the district. We had no asset management tool in place, so this task involved physically installing the images on each device.
Our team would complete a cycle of imaging and return to the office to hear our director utter, “Oops, we forgot this one thing!” This became a running joke as that simple exclamation meant hours of the team’s time travelling to do another round of updates to every single machine. It was a frustrating summer.
When the school purchased 1,200 Apple iBooks, the team flinched at the prospect of manually imaging each device before the start of every school year. Our existing method was simply not sustainable. We needed a way to configure devices and push out applications and patches remotely.
We needed an asset management solution that supported both Apple and Windows devices, but there are very few on the market. We eventually chose Absolute Manage by Absolute Software.
Investing in this type of asset management solution was a great decision. One of our technicians left the organization in 2008, and we didn’t need to backfill the position. Even though the number of devices increased, we didn’t need as many hands to provision them since we could manage the work remotely from a single tool.
Today, we have installed Absolute Manage on 3,000 devices, including 1,200 iPads. The biggest benefits to our team are:
· We can locate devices easily, regardless of user or location.
· We gain resource efficiencies by pushing out apps and profiles remotely from a central location, saving approximately $275,000 in staff costs over the past five years.
· We can keep track of licenses and content, while ensuring that everyone has what they need, when they need it.
The Next Hurdle: IT Service Management
After solving the asset management nightmare, we faced yet another impediment to our team’s efficiency. In 2013, the volume of support calls became too much for our team to handle. A lot of queries fell through the cracks. On top of that, we found ourselves answering the same types of questions and providing the same fixes over and over again.
“Did you turn it off and turn it back on again?” became the usual clichéd response. We thought about starting a swear jar for every time one of us issued the common response. We could imagine the eye rolls at the other end of the phone line, and we wanted to do better for our users.
I knew that Absolute Service integrated with Absolute Manage. This was important because we wanted to avoid layering yet another application onto our servers—and our users. Our FileMaker database had no reporting or emailing capability, but with Absolute Service, we can see the status on any issue and whether there have been updates since it was last reviewed.
The tool has built-in reports for all the data we care about. Information flows seamlessly, and we’re able to assign and allocate resources based on the overall load of the team.
Our IT staff keeps customers and team members informed on ticket status, provides self-service options, and supports easy task allocation and reallocation. It has made a huge difference and was something we needed for a long time. It’s also easy to use, and we’ll soon have teachers entering their own support jobs, which will result in huge efficiency gains for our team.
The integrated asset management and IT service management solution we have now has eliminated so many inefficiencies from our department. When a support ticket comes in for a software request, we can distribute it directly from the service console. It definitely beats our old “phone call and Post-It” process.
Randy McLeod is the technical services coordinator and network manager at the Pittsfield School District in Massachusetts. He is responsible for all district technology assets, package creation and deployment, supporting more than 1,200 staff members and approximately 6,000 students.