Device management strategies Part 3: Maintenance

Once your collection and deployment plans are in place, you must tackle how maintenance and inventory will be managed
Lenny Schad is chief information and innovation officer of District Administration.
Lenny Schad is chief information and innovation officer of District Administration, and former CIO for Houston ISD.

In part 1 and 2 of this series I discussed the impact COVID-19 has had on every school system in the country. There is a new reality all district leaders are facing and that is: Remote instruction and learning is not a onetime reaction to the pandemic, rather, it is something every school system must embrace and adopt.

All districts had to react quickly to the pandemic and as a result, the focus was getting as many devices as possible into the hands of as many students as possible.  It does not matter what start-of-school scenario is put into place as every student will need a device in their hands.  That is why device management processes, procedures, and structures are so important.

As a reminder there are three key strategies for a successful device management program:

  1. Collection (Discussed in Part 1)
  2. Deployment (Discussed in Part 2)
  3. Maintenance

Read: Updated: Free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic

Strategy 3:  Maintenance

It is important to remember device maintenance will begin Day 1 of your student deployments. You will have devices that are checked out and will be broken. You must have your device maintenance process not only defined but up and running.

The campus device maintenance process has three key elements that must be defined to ensure a smooth and efficient day-to-day operation:

  1. Secure Location
  2. Campus Inventory Manager
  3. Warranty – Break/Fix Procedure

Secure Location: Each campus as part of its allocation should have between 5-10% working inventory. This will ensure at any given time the campus has adequate inventory allowing the students to drop off a broken device and receive a loaner on the same day. When deciding on a location to store the working inventory there are a few things to consider. First, the location needs to be somewhere students can easily get to. Second, the storage location must have the ability to be secured when the campus inventory staff are not there. Ideally, this location should have security cameras in place to provide an additional layer of security. Third, the location must be easily accessible for technology support personnel who will be transporting broken devices off-campus for repair as well as returning repaired devices back to the inventory room. Lastly, deciding on the time slots the inventory room will be open and available to students. The most likely times students will be dropping off devices will be before school, during lunch, and after school. Depending on the location I have even seen some campuses allow devices to be dropped off during passing periods. These decisions will heavily depend on the location and the hours will depend on the campus staff identified to manage the room. The main goal needs to be having this location available to students multiple times on a daily basis.

Campus Inventory Managers: I highly recommend identifying at least two individuals from each campus to be trained in operating the computer inventory room. These individuals do not need to be technicians or have in-depth technical expertise. However, if you do have individuals who are skilled in this arena with time available then they can assist in device triage. Once again, technical triage is not a requirement for your campus inventory managers. The primary role for these individuals will be to manage the inventory room as well as inventory in the system your district uses in order to effectively track inventory. These individuals will be responsible for assigning a loaner device to the student and assigning the broken device into the repair warranty process. When devices are returned from the warranty or break/fix process these individuals will assign the repaired devices back into the campus inventory. For this inventory management process to remain accurate the computer inventory managers will need training in the inventory system your district uses.  The district owners of the devices will need to create reports that can be run at a minimum monthly to reconcile what the system shows vs what is at the campus. This monthly check and balance will ensure every campus is adhering to the process defined and the computer inventory for the district is accurate.

Read: How online learning is unmasking disparities

Warranty – Break/Fix

Once a device has been reassigned to warranty break/fix, a process needs to be defined that addresses the following:

  1. Who will pick up and drop off devices from the computer inventory room:
    1. Campus based staff
      1. What vehicles will be used in the transport process?
      2. Do you have enough of the vehicles to support every campus needing this effort?
  • Do you have enough staff to support every campus needing this effort?
  1. Service Provider
    1. How often will pick up and drop off occur at every campus?
    2. If it is a service provider, remember anyone coming to that campus must have adequate background checks completed. This is something that can take an extended period so make sure you are taking this into account in your start of school planning. It could also have an impact on your service provider staffing as they will not have the ability to swap individuals out on a whim.
  2. Where will the devices be taken for repair?
    1. Regardless if the work is done by campus staff or a service provider you must decide:
      1. Where will the devices coming from every campus be taken to?
      2. Do you have adequate space to accommodate the increased volume of devices in your district?
    2. Who will perform the warranty – break/fix repair:
      1. Regardless if the work is done by campus staff or a service provider you must decide:
        1. Do you have adequate technicians to support a repair process in a timely manner?
        2. Remember, these devices need to be returned as quickly as possible back to the campus to ensure student learning is not disrupted due to a lack of devices.
      2. What Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) will be defined and agreed upon to measure, manage and ensure the warranty – break/fix process is meeting the needs and expectations of the campuses and district?

Read: In-person or remote learning? Let each family decide

In wrapping up this series on device management there are a couple of items that should be considered as you get ready to deploy devices to your campuses and students.

The first item is charging stations. Inevitably, students will show up to school with devices that are not charged. I do not recommend having power cords in the classroom to address this as these cords introduce a safety issue and can be considered tripping hazards. Some schools have put charging stations in common locations and that certainly is an option if you have the additional funds. You can allow students to drop off devices at the computer inventory room to be charged but that can quickly become an additional burden for the individuals staffing the room. For some students even a simple thing like charging their devices at home might be difficult. These unique situations should be dealt with on a case by case basis. For the rest of your student population the real solution is to make this an expectation set and reinforced by the campus leadership team. The expectation for every student in our new normal will be to show up to school with a fully charged device, just like it was the expectation for them to show up with a pencil, pen and textbook.

The last consideration needs to be sanitation. Sanitations must be addressed as you begin to think about the start of school and the ever-changing challenges this pandemic is thrusting upon us. The safety of your staff, the campus staff, and all your students is at stake. Make sure you have identified what your sanitation and safety precautions will be and ensure that these measures are communicated to your district, parents, and service providers.

I hope this series has provided some insight into the complex process of device management. It is based on not only my experience but the experience and planning from districts across the country during this pandemic. If you have any questions or are struggling with this issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Best of luck with your start of school.

Lenny Schad is chief information and innovation officer of District Administration, and former CIO for Houston ISD.

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.

Lenny Schad
Lenny Schad
Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration's chief information and innovation officer and technology editor-at-large.

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