Technology Replacement Planning: How Refreshing!

STRUGGLING TO COME UP WITH AN AFFORDABLE TECH REFRESH PROGRAM THAT MEETS THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS, FACULTY, AND STAFF? TAKE SOME CUES FROM THESE SCHOOLS, AND PLOT A PROGRAM THAT DELIVERS.

Tech Replacement PlanningFor the 105 faculty members at Hartwick College (NY), new equipment is as cyclical as the seasons: Every three years, faculty members receive a new laptop computer; departments are divided into three groups, and each year a different group receives the new machines. This past year, for instance, teachers in Computer Science, Physics, Mathematics, Philosophy, and English got new machines. Ellen Falduto, VP and chief information and planning officer, says the program is a fair and balanced way of providing faculty with the technology they need to do their jobs well. The price tag, she says, is about $100,000 per year, and hasn’t changed in 10 years.

The Hartwick program also provides new technology for students. All 500 freshmen receive new laptops from Hewlett-Packard when they arrive on campus, and keep the computers until they graduate. Because all students are on the same machines, Hartwick tech support representatives don’t have to waste time learning new systems. What’s more, Falduto says that because the student body pays for the laptops via roughly $800,000 in annual technology fees, the IT department has a guaranteed line-item in the budget that it can count on when it comes time to plan for future expenditures in other areas. “Our refresh program makes technology expenditures somewhat predictable, which is great for our bottom line,” she says. “In the process, we’re giving our students and faculty members great technology, year after year after year.”

Hartwick isn’t the only institution of higher ed embracing tech refresh. At a time when colleges and universities are struggling to plan the mobile campus of the future, many of those with laptop programs have found refresh programs to be their key to success. Planned well, these efforts establish a strategy to rotate the latest laptop products into the campus technology portfolio, ensuring that schools stay up-to-date. In addition to hardware that can perform at maximum levels, the programs also help universities minimize help desk expenditures and improve total cost of ownership (TCO) figures across the board.

Nationwide, higher ed institutions such as Seton Hall University (NJ), Coppin State University (MD), and Minnesota’s Walden University (affiliated with Laureate Education) are embracing regular refresh programs as a critical component to extend and amplify their existing laptop efforts. While some of these programs present logistical challenges in the sheer number of laptops to be distributed in an often short time period, technologists in the trenches report that the bene- fits far outweigh the drawbacks, and offer institutions a viable method of controlling tech adoption moving forward.

“Refresh programs can be challenging, but they are critical,” says Stephen Landry, CIO at Seton Hall. “The only way to stay ahead of the times is to constantly refresh the technology you have.”

‘Hall’ of Fame

Mobile computing at Seton Hall is nothing new. The school launched its current laptop program back in 1997, and has been tweaking the program ever since. Today, Seton Hall charges students a mobile computing technology fee of $650 per semester, covering the cost of the laptop, insurance, software, network infrastructure, and support services. University officials also have been able to survey users about the impact of ubiquitous computing and where the effort needs to change. As part of this survey, all users—faculty and students alike—have the option of refreshing their equipment once every two years.

Tech Replacement Planning

INCOMING FRESHMEN at Hartwick College
receive new HP laptops, thanks to $800K in
annual tech fees collected from the student body.

The most recent technology refresh was held this spring. Beginning April 18, and for the three weeks after that, the school replaced roughly 900 laptop computers for current sophomore students who are registered for the fall. Most students received a ThinkPad T60 laptop from Lenovo, but approximately 125 sophomore students in the physical and biological sciences got Lenovo ThinkPad X41 Tablet PCs instead. Approximately 45 students in the graphics and visual arts received Powerbook G4s from Apple.

According to Landry, the goal of the student refresh is to keep things current. “Our laptop program is that much more powerful if students are using the latest technology,” he says.

But students aren’t the only ones who get new laptops on a regular basis: All full-time faculty members are eligible to have a university-issued laptop or tablet PC. The laptops are replaced every two years, and about 200 of 400 faculty members will refresh this summer. While Seton Hall d'es not offer data transfers for students, Landry says the university’s faculty refresh has a more personal touch: Faculty members sit down for one-onone consultations with PC technicians who work with them to transfer data from their old laptop to their new machine using an external USB hard drive. Faculty members also get to keep the external hard drive so they have a backup of their old drive. Even adjunct faculty members are eligible to receive laptops every two years—used ones. The university recycles old student machines to adjuncts, giving these faculty members the option of getting a different, more sophisticated piece of used equipment every other year. This summer, for instance, Seton Hall is recycling old student ThinkPad R51 laptops from IBM.

Generally, those laptops the school can’t reissue, it sells. This has proven to be a valuable source of income; as Landry explains it, the university has found that the overall cost of the program is minimized by purchasing the computers and selling the used stock after two or three years. He notes that the program also has inspired a number of academic departments to undertake a technologyenabled redesign of their required, largeenrollment courses. “While a few parents and students do complain about the fees, most regard the education and technology at Seton Hall as a good value.”

AT A GLANCE

At Seton Hall University (NJ), students and their parents cough up a mobile computing technology fee of $650 per semester, but it covers the cost of a laptop, insurance, software, network infrastructure, and support services. Both students and faculty have the option of refreshing their equipment once every two years, and even adjunct faculty members can receive laptops every two years—recycled student machines.

Helping Out

The tech refresh situation at Coppin State is very different. Because the university is an inner-city institution in the heart of Baltimore, an overwhelming number of its students receive extensive financial aid and cannot afford the technology tools they need to help them succeed. With this in mind, Ahmed El- Haggan, VP of IT and CIO, explains that in 2002 the university launched a laptop refresh program whereby (based upon the financial needs of each student) the school pays up to 50 percent of the costs of a personal laptop from Gateway, giving students four semesters to pay off the balance.

At the end of the two years, a student can purchase the laptop permanently, if desired, for $50, or remain in the program and get a new laptop to use over the next two years. Coppin also purchases threeyear warranties on its laptops, so that if a student in the program chooses to refresh after two years and keep the new laptop after graduation, the computer will still be covered under warranty for another full year. El-Haggan says the refresh program empowers students and makes them feel as if they have options.

“Coppin also is able to help address the digital divide,” he says, “as students can take their laptops home for their studies, and to share with their families.”

Still, with all of the program’s benefits, the university has faced challenges. Some students simply are unable to support even the reduced costs involved in the ownership program. To address this issue, the institution developed a loaner program of used computers from those students who have chosen to refresh. El-Haggan says this program still allows financially strapped students the opportunity to have access to laptops on campus. He adds that faculty members also benefit from the loaner program if they do not own a laptop or if they require one for travel.

Tech Refresh Q & A

TECHNOLOGY REFRESH is nothing new at Creighton University (NE), where Brian Young, VP of IT, oversees an annual program through which the institution refreshes hundreds of Lenovo laptops and tablet PCs.We recently caught up with Young to chat about the effort.

How would you describe your school’s approach to refresh?
Many campuses look at refresh as a deferred maintenance program. Typically, these schools have been left to fend for themselves instead of aggressively figuring out a university-wide solution. But it d'esn’t have to be like that. Here we have built in cycles for a four-year refresh program and priced the technologies aggressively so that students don’t go out and buy their own things. We’re now hearing that individuals would like to refresh their equipment every two years, so we need to be flexible.

What do you do if students want to refresh more frequently?
At Creighton, students can refresh sooner than four years, but it’s at a cost to them. If they’d like to sell their computer to a particular individual, they can, and then they can buy a new one from us. Still, there really is no need to refresh any more frequently than every four years here.We’ve built our machines to accommodate all sorts of new hardware; they’re flexible enough to accept added memory, disk drives, and other options. Truthfully, only the high-end users want to refresh regularly.

How do you handle it if something g'es wrong with a machine?
Maintenance is included in the cost of the laptops, and generally runs about $1,500 apiece.We also have accident protection built into the purchase program, which means that students can come to us with a computer in pieces and we make sure they have a loaner. That’s all at no additional charge. Very few places will provide four years of on-site warranty, but we do. In the long run, we feel that kind of service is worthwhile, to keep students happy with the program we offer.

How will the release of Microsoft’s Vista impact the refresh cycle?
Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 are due out in January of next year.We’ll probably roll them out in March, and then include them on machines that we buy as part of our refresh later that fall. We’ll be flexible for other options, though.We’ve seen some campuses work out a refresh program where schools can buy back computers to distribute something new. That could be a possibility for us as well, provided the demand is there.

Another big problem for Coppin has been usage. In recent years, IT officials noticed that some students in the ownership program were not bringing their laptops to campus. Program administrators spoke to students and faculty to find out why this was the case, and discovered that many students found it cumbersome to carry around both laptops and textbooks/ class materials. To make it easier for students to lug around equipment and materials, the university began offering a specially designed backpack with one compartment for a laptop and another for books. Today, 65 percent of the more than 400 students in the laptop ownership program use the backpack.

“We’ve received great response [to the backpack program],” says El-Haggan, who notes that the total cost per year for laptop and backpack equipment is about $130,000, including costs covered by grants to the institution. Overall, he adds, “the laptop [refresh] program has changed everything about computing on campus.”

New Beginnings

Tech refresh is a relatively new concept at Laureate Education, an international network of accredited campus-based and online universities which includes Walden University and the NTU School of Engineering (MN), to name two. For several years, Laureate had no real tech replacement policy; it was up to department managers to plan for replacements in their budgets. When these folks inevitably hit budget crunches, tech refresh was often one of the first areas cut. And when machines crashed, these departments were hit hard because they didn’t have the budget to replace or upgrade them.

Tech Replacement Planning

THIS SPRING, 900 sophomores at Seton Hall
got a laptop upgrade; 125 of them received a
Lenovo ThinkPad tablet.

Grappling with such realities, university system officials knew they needed to make a change in order to support administration and faculty members in an effort to keep technology current. That change came in the form of an enterprise-wide plan to replace more than a third of all machines across campus; that included those used by staffers both in operations and in academic areas, and by deans at the organization’s Baltimore location. According to Barbara Von Lienen, Laureate’s director of technology services, the refresh impacted 500 machines in all, and has helped the organization ensure computing efficiency in the ever-changing world of technological innovation.

“Computers and other technologies are improving all the time,” says Von Lienen. “Without some form of refresh, academic organizations can fall behind.”

Laureate’s refresh was carried out over a single weekend this past June. During the event, the organization migrated users by business vertical from their old desktop machines to new laptops. Roughly 90 percent of new users received HP’s NC6320, while the other 10 percent received the NC4320 model. In addition, because Laureate is in the midst of rolling out wireless capabilities on many of its campuses, the technology team received HP tablet PCs so that they can serve internal constituents more effectively. As wireless matures, says Von Lienen, the organization will include more tablets in future refresh efforts.

AT A GLANCE

At Coppin State University (MD), based upon the financial needs of each student, the school pays up to 50 percent of the costs of a personal laptop and gives students four semesters to pay off the balance. After two years, students can either purchase their laptop permanently for $50, or refresh; those in greater financial need can get the replaced machines as loaners, and all students can purchase special backpacks to help them lug laptops, texts, and other gear.

With this more recent refresh, Laureate partnered with CDW-G, to pre-image all new machines. The image included popular user apps such as Lotus Notes, and a number of standard office apps from Microsoft. The new machines also were imaged with the organization’s proprietary student information system, ensuring that no user will experience trouble logging on to the network. Von Lienen says this move should make the transition to new machines easier, but notes that the biggest challenge surrounding the rollout of new technology remains getting users to learn how to use it.

“Our users come in one day and find a whole new look and feel to their workstations,” she says. “We are changing their entire work environment, and so this project is important. But,” she adds, “if our users don’t understand their own role in making this successful, to some degree we’ve still got lots of work to do.”

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