Features: September 28th, 2007

Asset Management Made Easy

By Nigel Pressnell

Our ICT technician was not looking his best. Knee-deep in paperwork, three weeks after beginning his auditing marathon from one side of the school to the other, he still hadn’t finished. We were all agreed – there must be a better way of doing this.

Arnewood is a mixed comprehensive with more than 1300 students. We are proud of our status as a second phase designated technology college and place huge importance on ICT use. The school has invested heavily in equipment and infrastructure, with some 300 PCs, six dedicated ICT rooms and widespread WiFi access. Under the school’s ‘Laptop for Learning’ scheme, all 120 members of staff and some 200 students already have their own laptops. By 2012, every student will have a laptop.

The challenge of auditing

The downside to being so well-equipped has been extremely time-consuming audits. For the annual audit, we needed to know exactly what equipment we had and, just as importantly, where it all was located. Laptops, cameras and wireless devices were regularly moved from classroom to classroom or taken off-site by teachers or students working from home.

Preparing the audit was, to put it mildly, nobody’s favourite task. As well as the technician’s weeks spent logging all ICT hardware and software, Heads of Departments would be tasked with logging the non-ICT equipment – everything from kettles to power drills. We gave all equipment a security tag and staff would have to physically find each item and log the information.

Another headache was ensuring that all software was fully compliant with licensing laws. Our school runs more than 80 licensed software titles, many of which need renewing at different times. We are legally obliged to keep track of this information to avoid falling foul of licensing laws, which could be very costly and even result in a criminal record for the personnel responsible.

We needed 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. We used to record all of this in log books, but even with the best of intentions, it was very difficult to keep everything up to date.

Finding a better way to manage assets

As a Foundation School, we were responsible for our budgeting and accountability – the buck stopped with us! It became clear that, in order to avoid staff wasting hours on time-consuming administration and to ensure proper planning, we needed to find a software package to do the hard work for us.

We researched the options and IT Vision’s software Parago seemed to offer the most complete solution. Parago sits on a school’s existing ICT infrastructure and automatically scans each PC every 24 hours, collecting all hardware and software assets into one central source.

Having a system that automatically tracks all PCs also benefits behaviour management and helps to keep students on task. The ICT technicians are aware whenever any new software is loaded onto a school PC or laptop. Occasionally, students try to install something non-educational – games for example. We are aware when this is happening and a quiet word ensures that the computers are used only for schoolwork. Parago also guards against pupils installing potentially disruptive hacking tools or software that enable them to bypass the schools filtering systems and access inappropriate material. We are alerted to this immediately.

Asset management is not just about keeping track of everything, it’s also a vital part of disaster recovery planning. We were well aware of the statistics – more than 1300 schools in England and Wales suffer fires every year. £80m worth of damage is caused by school fires every year, according to the Arson Prevention Bureau. Logging important data in paper log books would be useless in the event of a fire, so it was essential that the asset management solution we chose was hosted offsite.

We have been very impressed with Parago and the clear potential it offers schools to strategically plan their ICT development in a coherent and timely manner. The easy to navigate interface disguises the underlying complexity of an application that is not only effective as an asset management tool, but also as an expert system guiding school leaders towards sensible purchasing decisions. Storing all the information in one database makes it easy to see what hardware and software is well catered for and what is lacking. We can use this information to make carefully considered decisions on what equipment we need to invest in for the future. But 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.

Nigel Pressnell is Deputy Headteacher of The Arnewood School in Hampshire.

For further information about IT vision, call 0118 9026818, email: tim.roots@itvision.net or visit www.itvision.net.

For further information on The Arnewood School, visit www.arnewood.hants.sch.uk.