Standardizing on Windows tablet PCs to simplify device management

The enterprise can learn a thing or two about managing mobile devices from the education industry's standardization on Windows-based tablet PCs.

The enterprise can take a lesson from schools when it comes to device management.

Many school districts and universities have chosen to deliver Windows-based tablet PCs to end users to provide a standard environment that makes it easier for their IT departments to manage end-user devices.

While some technology needs are specific to an industry, each market has its own set of IT managers and CIOs who deal with issues that transcend industry lines. Technology standardization, bring your own device, or BYOD, policies, mobility and security are just a few areas that IT managers and CIOs must contend with in supporting both education and enterprise end users.

These issues have gained prominence as the market for tablets and smartphones heats up, and technology research companies such as IDC have reported that worldwide first-quarter 2013 PC shipments dropped nearly 14%. Indeed, businesses are eyeing tablets as a viable mobile platform, while some educators have already begun installing large number of these devices for students and faculty.

If you want to manage these things centrally and view them as interchangeable parts and support, you're going to have a better and easier experience with the Windows environment.

Stephen Landry,
CIO, Seton Hall University

Businesses have only just begun to notice Microsoft's Surface tablets, but many schools have already deployed Windows-based tablets from Microsoft OEMs instead of Apple iPads. For example, Geary County Schools in Junction City, Kan., and Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., have provided Samsung Series 7 Slate devices to their students, faculty members and school administration.

In the case of Geary County Schools, high school students use Windows-based tablets for their science classes in the field. They also connect the tablet PCs to probeware and digital microscopes for their scientific research. In addition, school administrators and teachers use tablets for recording classroom observations, among other applications.

At Seton Hall University, incoming freshmen are assigned tablets as a notebook replacement, and the devices are then refreshed when the students enter their junior year.

Earlier this year, the Dallas Independent School District, one of several school districts considering tablets, sent out a request for proposals calling for 10,000 Windows 8 tablets to be installed.

Standardization simplifies device management

Using Windows-based tablet PCs provides a standard environment for schools that many businesses can benefit from as well.

Standardization brings advantages to the faculty for curriculum development and a cost reduction for the institution, said Stephen Landry, chief information officer (CIO) at Seton Hall University. It also helps with device management, he added. For example, standardizing in a Windows environment enables the university to provision the devices by pushing out updates of antivirus software in a controlled fashion, similar to the way an enterprise manages endpoints.

Education and business also require users to share computing devices for some applications, and the Windows-based tablet PC makes that possible.

Students can use any tablet because the products can support different logons and passwords, said Jan Pabitzky, CIO for Geary County Schools. Indeed, the school stores its tablets in a mobile computer cart, and students can pick any tablet to log on to their account.

Seton Hall University deployed iPads in 2010 for its medical school to provide specific applications for its curriculum, but encountered difficulties with managing the program. "The way the iPad is set up, it's based on your iTunes account," according to Landry. "It's not easy to share those devices."

Imaging a tablet, however, can be tricky. It is a hurdle that enterprises also will need to overcome if they want to ensure a standard corporate image across devices.

"The one issue we had was -- and this is true of every tablet we looked at -- they ship with their own set of software on them," Geary County Schools' Pabitzky said. His team had to separate the drivers and vendor-specific software to preserve the tablet's full functionality. He didn't want students to access applications such as DropBox or other software that was not needed for the environment.

"Our mobile computing devices ship with a standard configuration and applications," a Samsung spokesperson said. "For business customers, resellers work closely with the customer to support any imaging and customization needs. Samsung provides technical support in this process, including drivers and troubleshooting."

As in any enterprise, Seton Hall University's IT support for end users is critical for the success of mobile device management. "If you have a problem with your computer and it's not fixable in 30 minutes, we'll give you a loaner," said Landry said.

However, tablets can be a more tricky to support because devices are sealed units. "There is a place for Android, iPad and Windows," Landry said. "But if you want to manage these things centrally and view them as interchangeable parts and support, you're going to have a better and easier experience with the Windows environment. You need to weigh the support and use case."

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