Features: March 23rd, 2007

A Pain In Your Assets

By Tim Roots

Schools look forward to auditing about as much as an OFSTED inspection. It’s laborious, time-consuming, frustrating and there’s nothing you can do but accept it’s a pain and get on with it, right? Wrong – in the digital age, you can let the software do the hard work for you.

A couple of years ago, I made a number of school visits to look at how data was being collected. It was clear that many schools didn’t give asset management a second thought until auditing time came around and then administrators frantically wrote things down, poured over spreadsheets and trawled through receipts. Records were often absent, out of date, incomplete and very difficult to compile.

With the amount of ICT equipment in schools nowadays, you need to know exactly what you have and, just as important, where it all is. Laptops, cameras and wireless devices are constantly being moved from classroom to classroom or taken off-site by teachers or students working from home. Theft is a major problem in schools so keeping close tabs on expensive equipment is essential.


Another headache is ensuring that all software used by staff or students is fully compliant to licensing laws. The average PC in schools runs more than 60 licensed software titles, many of which need renewing at different times. If you don’t keep track of this, you could fall foul of licensing laws, which could be very costly and even result in a criminal record for the personnel responsible.

Schools need to record the following information: device type (e.g. desktop PC, laptop PC), date of purchase, serial number, operating system (e.g. Microsoft Windows XP) and software packages (e.g. Microsoft Office XP). That’s a lot of information to record manually – far better to have a system that does this automatically and alerts you when software licenses are exceeded or need updating.

Coping with disaster

But what happens if the worst happens and you have a fire at the school? This is not idle scaremongering – more than 1300 schools in England and Wales suffer fires every year. ? worth of damage was caused in 2005 alone, according to insurer Zurich Municipal. Most schools pray it won’t happen to them, but if it does, the misery will be compounded if you have all your data recorded on paper or on a local PC which goes up in smoke.

This is exactly what happened at Sinfin Community School in Derby last year. In March 2006, more than ?worth of IT and other equipment was destroyed in a fire. Twenty three classrooms, including two IT rooms and the main server room, were burnt to the ground in a blaze which destroyed the school’s stock of PCs and laptops.

The school’s equipment register and IT audit, which were both paper-based records stored on the premises, were badly damaged by smoke and water. It was clear that if the school was to recoup all its losses through an insurance claim, teachers and support staff would have to spend many hours sifting through purchasing files and paper inventories in order to ascertain exactly what equipment and software the school had at the time of the fire.

Steve Monks, Head Teacher at Sinfin Community School explains: “The fire was a huge blow to the school and the wider community. Unfortunately, like many other schools, we were not aware of just how critical a current record of the school’s assets would be in the event of a disaster. At the time of the fire, we had no system in place for tracking where ICT equipment was and no way of knowing what software was installed on each of the school’s laptops or PCs. The painstaking task of sifting through damaged paperwork has been incredibly time-consuming for our staff.”

Steve Monks added: “The students and staff at our school are still coming to terms with the fire. Lessons have been learnt and our advice to other schools would be: don’t think of an online inventory as just a regulatory requirement, think of it as a way of safeguarding the future of your school.”

A year later, Sinfin Community School is still waiting for the insurance claim to be settled. Sinfin’s experience highlights how important it is to have your school’s data stored securely offsite so that you have an accurate record of all equipment.

Automating records

We designed Parago precisely for this purpose. Sitting on a school’s existing ICT infrastructure, Parago automatically scans each PC every 24 hours, collecting all hardware and software assets into one central source.

So that you don’t go cross-eyed looking at spreadsheets, Parago uses an attractive icon-based interface. All assets can be placed in specific locations within buildings, giving a real 3D feel so that you can visualise where everything is.

IT Vision currently has more than 1000 schools subscribed to Parago, automatically recording asset information from more than 100,000 PCs. The software has been particularly well-received by local authorities, including Birmingham and Westminster. If you think auditing is time-consuming for a secondary school, imagine how much worse it would be for local authorities to do it manually!

With the huge expansion of ICT, the focus of asset management in schools has been on computer hardware and software. But it’s not just the ICT equipment that needs tracking. Bunsen burners in the Chemistry labs, kitchen appliances, gardening equipment – it all costs money and it all needs logging. Parago Mobile helps schools keep track of every single item of equipment they own using a bar coding system.

Benefits of a database

Of course, proper asset management is not just about cutting down on time-consuming audits, it also allows schools to plan carefully for the future. Storing all the information in one database makes it easy to see what equipment is well catered for and what is lacking.

Schools have paid out for so much ICT equipment over recent years that it’s inevitable that not everything will be used. Keeping track of what is surplus to requirements allows the school to focus its financial resources on the most useful equipment to facilitate learning. This is the key benefit of online asset management: it takes the burden of auditing away from staff and allows them to do what they do best – teach.

Tim Roots is Managing Director at IT Vision Ltd, designers of Parago, an online asset discovery and license management. For further information, call 0118 9026818, email: tim.roots@itvision.net or visit www.itvision.net.