Keeping up with new technology poses challenge for campus IT shops


For IT departments on college campuses, business is booming. So are demands from students, faculty and staff who want to keep up with the latest innovations, say IT administrators.

“One of our main concerns is how to continually adapt to new technologies,” said Phil Redfern, enterprise Apple administrator at the University of Nebraska’s 26,000-student flagship campus in Lincoln. Redfern has seen a notable increase in students using Apple laptops and tablets which has brought added demands for software support for products that work on Apple devices.

“A new piece of software or a new service comes around on a pretty frequent basis, and it’s hard to stay agile with an institution this large and be able to meet the demands of students and faculty. Students’ expectations are continuously evolving and we need to keep pace with that. It’s a difficult thing to do.”

Redfern said the effort to keep pace involves regular meetings between the university’s IT team and student and faculty groups. At Nebraska, IT personnel are focused on staying in touch with the campus community to gauge “the desires, needs and frustrations in some cases, looking for areas that can be improved,” he told EdScoop.

“It comes from the other direction too,” he added. “It’s us staying abreast of all the changes and trends, and delivering that information to faculty, saying, hey, ‘there are these new technologies out there, is this something we should pursue?’ It’s a two-way street.”

Another challenge are expectations to reduce overall spending in response to budget cuts while continuing to provide top-quality service, according to Redfern. “This is a delicate balance to manage and is a common set of issues for the majority of higher education [institutions] today,” he said.

For many U.S. campuses, keeping pace means managing the deployment and support of Apple technologies, whose use continues to expand rapidly in the higher-education sector.

According to a recent survey commissioned by Jamf, a company that specializes in Apple-device management, 87 percent of colleges and universities polled saw an increase in Mac and iPad adoption over the last year.

The survey also found that Apple use in higher education is driven by user preference (64 percent). Many college students grew up with Apple devices, according to the researchers.

“The number of Apple devices our students bring with them continues to grow each year,” Redfern said.

The survey was conducted in January 2017 by Dimensional Research, an independent company that specializes in market research for technology companies. The survey was based on responses from 300 information technology professionals, managers and instructional technologies from higher education organizations around the world.

Dave Alampi, vice president of product management and marketing at Jamf, said Dimensional Research conducted the survey using their own database. “It’s a third-party independent research firm,” he said. “This is what they do for living, so we have to feel pretty confident about the data.”

The study also revealed that many higher ed IT administrators find Apple is easier to manage than other operating systems. Among those surveyed, 65 percent said Mac is easier to deploy than the PC; 60 percent said iPad is easier to deploy than other tablets.

Redfern said that Apple’s Device Enrollment Program (DEP), which helps organizations implement and configure iOS and OS X devices, and its Volume Purchase Program (VPP) make it easier to manage and deploy Apple devices to campus users.

“Apple’s DEP and VPP programs, managed with Jamf Pro, allow us to deliver a pre-configured device to our users that is customized to them without breaking the shrink-wrap,” he said.

“We calculated that previously we spent an average of four hours from start to finish to prepare each new device. With Apple, we can pre-configure devices before they even arrive on our campus. That allows us to get the device into our users’ hands quickly while also delivering them a configuration that is unique to them, saving time for IT and the recipient of that device.”

Redfern also said the tight integration among Apple’s products is a factor for IT shops. “The Apple ecosystem itself, the experience you receive from Apple among all of their product lines, is very tightly integrated and solid,” he said. “That’s an experience you don’t get on other platforms.”

The survey found that more than half (51 percent) of IT administrators felt that Apple devices are more secure.

“While Apple devices do tend to be more secure and reliable than their counterparts, the real advantage for Apple lies in how they have integrated that security into their products,” Redfern commented. “Features like FileVault 2 on Mac OS and Secure Enclave make using advanced encryption and security second nature. Most of our users don’t even realize those features are enabled on their devices because they don’t interfere with their daily work. That is how effective security should be.”

Security is the primary focus of IT at the University of Nebraska, Redfern said. “Every service we provide has to be secure and reliable,” he said. “This is something that we take to heart because our users should be spending their time focusing on academics and research.”