The Complete Guide to K-12 School Device Lifecycle Management
What is Device Lifecycle Management?
Device lifecycle management includes the purchasing, distribution, tracking, auditing, supporting, collecting, and servicing of every piece of technology used by students and staff in K-12 education.
Schools have always had devices to keep track of: from Cold War-era mimeographs, film strips, and overhead projectors to rolling carts with bulky TVs and VCRs to laptops, Chromebooks, and iPads, technology in the classroom isn’t new. But of all the things that the pandemic threw at schools, the speed with which schools had to reckon with device management was a big one.
Schools with an existing 1:1 initiative had an advantage, but suddenly everyone else was in catch-up mode. Cars lined up around bus loops to pick up laptops and mobile hotspots for students to use at home. And K-12 technology departments faced the challenge of distributing devices, monitoring who had what, tracking which devices needed to be repaired, and collecting them again at the end of the year. That’s not to mention the issues of reporting, compliance, and funding those devices!
In 2021, the Consortium for School Networking reported that 49% of school districts supported more than 7,500 devices. As education relies more heavily on technology than ever before, school technology departments have an ever-growing responsibility for making sure those devices are in working order and in the hands of the people who need them for teaching and learning.
In this article, you’ll find information on:
- An overview of device lifecycle management in school districts
- Why device lifecycle management is so vital to K-12 technology departments
- How to navigate the school year when it comes to distributing, tracking, supporting, and collecting staff and student devices
- How keeping accurate data can help you prepare for physical inventory counts, device collection, federal audits and reporting, and more
- Best practices for getting the most use out of your devices — saving you money!
- How to manage your assets more easily and efficiently
Device Management Annual Timeline
Each part of the school year brings its own complexities to solve when it comes to managing devices.
Inventory Counts & Audits
Inventory Check — Students Who Keep Devices All Year
Physical Inventory Counts
Federal Inventory Audits
Asset Purchases, Collection & Distribution
Beginning of Year Device Distribution
Lost Returns and/or Fee Payments
End of Year Device Collection
Lost Fee Payments
New Asset Orders Received (Check-In)
New Device Orders Placed
New Asset Orders Received (Check-In)
Technology Refresh Projects
Technology Refresh Projects
Technology Refresh Projects
Beginning of Fiscal Year
Budget Planning & Workshops
End of Fiscal Year
Beginning of the School Year Device Distribution
Distributing devices to all students who need them can be a daunting task, so foolproof practices for distribution are critical. Thankfully, taking the time to prepare can make the process run much more smoothly. As you anticipate the beginning of the year, here are seven key steps to set yourself up for success:
Establish where and when you will hold distribution and who is allowed to pick up the devices.
Decide if you will be distributing during school hours, before school, after school, or at a parent/teacher day. Where will the distribution site be? Knowing the specifics beforehand and properly communicating this to parents, students, and staff will help improve the flow of distribution day and eliminate confusion the day of. Also, establish if parents will have the ability to pick up devices for multiple children at a single location, even if one does not attend that campus.
Decide which devices will be distributed.
Knowing exactly which devices will be distributed is essential to ensuring the right device is assigned to the correct student and reduces room for errors. Clearly communicating to staff and students before distribution day about what they should expect to receive will help avoid confusion.
Ensure each location has enough devices based on enrollment.
It’s essential that each campus has the correct number of devices for that location to successfully perform a device distribution. Not having enough devices for the enrollment at each campus can cause major delays in the distribution process.
Communicate to parents and students any needed paperwork required when picking up their devices.
Most of the time these documents include — but aren’t limited to — acceptable use policies and insurance information. If paperwork will be required, be sure to send this out ahead of distribution day and have copies available on site as well.
Provide the necessary equipment in a centralized location.
This list includes laptops, mobile devices, scanners, tags, pens, and labels. Having all these easily accessible and in a centralized location will ensure the flow of your distribution.
Train staff on distribution day protocols.
Train the staff on specific protocols to follow during distribution and plan out specifics such as: whether students will need to sign into the device, whether fees will be collected, and what accessories will be included (mouse, chargers, cases, etc.). This will help shorten the process (and lines!).
Document and communicate processes in an easy-to-understand fashion.
What are the roles and responsibilities? Are there trainings on how to use your asset management system? What are the guidelines on who gets which devices?
It may be tempting to simply use a spreadsheet or database to keep track of the devices issued at each building, but there is a far better method. Using an asset management system to track devices issued to students and staff will give you an accurate, real-time picture of who already has devices and who still needs them, and it can make distribution day far easier as well. By pre-assigning devices to students and staff, you can generate slips for each device with staff or student ID numbers and barcodes. Then, when someone comes to pick up their device, just scan the barcode and it’s ready to go! That’s far better than passing clipboards around, scribbling information down on a sign-out sheet, and re-keying it later.
Throughout the School Year
Your work doesn’t stop once devices have been distributed. Over the course of the year, there are several best practices to remember, as well as potential issues to be prepared for at any time.
Device Location and Status
Putting devices into the hands of students and staff brings assumed risks for the district and an increased need for accountability. If you don’t track damages, lost items, and fines issued, that could result in financial losses and bad community PR, so a district-wide infrastructure for managing your inventory is essential.
Periodically ensure that devices are where they’re supposed to be. Are there devices in storage that should be allocated to users? Is all equipment in working condition? Is anyone who needs a device still waiting for one? Are there still open support tickets that need to be addressed?
Also, it’s possible there are users in your schools who may lack access to equipment. Consider issuing a survey to users to confirm that everyone has the devices they need.
Device Repairs, Replacements, and Upgrades
Accountability for Damaged Devices
Unfortunately, devices that arrive new and shiny out of the box don’t stay that way. Tablets get dropped, water gets spilled, screens get cracked, keyboards get clogged with dust, crumbs, and cheese powder. (Did you know it has a name?)
Accidents happen. But you want to be able to hold people accountable if they intentionally damage a device. Have students (and their parents) sign a form taking responsibility for deliberate damage — this is much easier to do with digital forms than it is with pen and paper! Hopefully this policy won’t be something you need to enforce often, but it’s an important part of protecting your district’s assets (and budget). You’ll also want to keep track of any loaners issued when a device is returned for repair.
Sometimes, you may see a given device returned for repair again and again. When this happens, it’s possible that the problem is not with the student, but with the device itself. At some point, you’ll need to make the call whether to chalk it up as a lemon and retire it.
If you happen to see multiple devices of the same model returned for frequent repairs or servicing, that might be a red flag indicating the model itself is frequently faulty. (Another benefit to using an asset management system over a spreadsheet or database: it’s far easier to spot issues like this.) Make a note so that when it comes time to purchase new devices, you can decide whether to avoid that model in the future.
Knowing When to Replace Devices
Most people would prefer the latest sleek, lightning-fast device, the fact is that they’ll often need to last for a certain number of years. Yet at a certain point, the returns diminish. Teachers using old computers may find it frustrating to constantly battle tech challenges when their time is better spent on instruction. As for students, older computers probably won’t be as fast as newer ones and might not best to send home for use in remote instruction. And most of us know what it’s like to have a computer crash, losing hours of work on an assignment that’s due tomorrow.
When is the right time to replace a device — or a fleet of devices?
That’s something you’ll need to determine. You may choose to specify a certain amount of time: “Our laptops are replaced every 4 years.” Often a manufacturer may specify when that model’s end of life is and note in advance when they’ll stop supporting it.
Some factors to take into consideration:
- The devices in question — Some laptops or tablets may have a substantially longer lifespan than others.
- Budget — What can you afford?
- Software compatibility — Are your school system’s devices able to run all the systems that you need them to?
- Manufacturer support — When is the specified device end of life? Some manufacturer warranties may only cover hardware for a certain length of time but may continue to offer service updates and maintenance on that hardware for longer periods.
- Your school community’s needs — For example, will every student (as most do today) need to be able to videoconference to take advantage of remote instruction?
- Repair history — Are there certain models that have a history of needing frequent repairs? If a particular model keeps needing repairs, that could be a clue to avoid that model when purchasing new devices in the future. A tight integration between your asset management system and your help desk system — one that allows you to track tickets and support requests — can provide the data you need to avoid purchasing “problem devices.”
Communication with Users
Every campus has closets or cabinets filled with computers, tablets, and other devices that no longer work. In some cases, they may have simply been stashed there without communicating to the technology department. They may be under warranty (something that’s often not obvious to end users) and could be fixed or replaced. Regularly let staff and students know how important it is to communicate when a device is broken or damaged, and how they can best submit a help request. This is another area where a robust help desk management system can make your life so much easier.
Ticketing and Support
For many school district technology departments, a huge percentage (nearly 75%, according to one district’s technology department) of emails the technology staff receives involve devices — and problems with those devices. That may be fine up to a point. But what if you’re supporting 1,000 devices? Or 10,000? Or more?
Aside from your inbox quickly becoming unwieldy, the challenge with using email to support devices compounds when you’re responsible for servicing devices at multiple campuses. “Which school is that person at again?”
This is where a help desk ticketing system shines: it can automatically assign a particular technician based on the email address of the person submitting a ticket. And if your users just can’t seem to give up email as their preferred call for help? Some help desk systems can turn emails into tickets, so your school community doesn’t need to change the way they’ve been seeking support.
Even better, a help desk system that integrates with your asset management system, like Frontline Help Desk Management does with Asset Management, can share data that lets you see a given device’s repair history in either system. As noted above, that can provide invaluable information to inform future device purchases.
Dr. Adam Phyall
Dr. Adam Phyall, former Director of Technology and Media Services at Newton County Schools, explains how using help desk and asset management data helps him forecast future budget purchases.
View the complete on-demand webinar: “How Your Help Desk Can Transform Device Lifecycle Management”
Physical Inventory Counts
From time to time, you will need to conduct physical inventory counts of your devices and other assets you’re tracking. Don’t stress! With the right planning — and, importantly, the right tools — this doesn’t need to ruin your week.
Plus, taking inventory will help you keep your data complete and accurate, so that when the time comes for you to budget for future technology purchases, you can back up the need for your request with data.
Three types of inventories to consider:
- Real-Time: quick verifications of inventory in one small area
- Situational: conducted based on a change in situation, such as an employee joining or leaving your district, or a group of assets being moved from one school to another
- Comprehensive: annual inventories of every item you track, followed by a reconciliation process to account for missing items or items in the wrong location
- Situational: conducted based on a change in situation, such as an employee joining or leaving your district, or a group of assets being moved from one school to another
Federal Audits & Reporting
And then there are federal audits to consider. Some funding sources such as CARES Act funds, ESSER funds, and E-Rate funds come with certain criteria for how devices purchased with those dollars can be used.
For example, if your district has purchased a set of devices intended for special education students, you’ll need to ensure that those devices are being used for their intended purpose. The ability to generate a report showing that each device is indeed being used in the correct way can make your life in the event of an audit much easier.
“What do I need to do to comply with federal reporting requirements on device funding?”
The simple answer is, you’ll need to be able to quickly show:
- What devices have been purchased
- Where each of those devices are
- How each device is being utilized and for what purpose
- Whether device use has deviated from the intent of the federal dollars used to purchase them
Because every federal dollar has an intent, you’ll need to demonstrate that the intent is being followed. Did you purchase computers with money earmarked for special education devices? If so, can you validate that each device is indeed being used in special education or allocated to a student with a special need, and not in general education? Did funds dictate whether a device is to be used at the student or staff level? Or at a specific grade level? Or that it needs to have certain software installed?
When it comes to federal requirements, device disposal can also be a big deal. In some situations, a district is forbidden from transferring an asset to a different building location, or from selling the device (such as to a 12th grader after graduation) within a certain period. And for certain funds, you may be required to report when a device is lost or stolen, possibly even including the police report number.
In each case, you’ll need asset-level data to prove that each item is being used in the way federal funding dictates.
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
“Expect the unexpected” might sound a bit simplistic — but having a game plan for surprises can make a huge difference. In March 2020, one district kept an eye on the headlines and anticipated a shutdown. Knowing they would need to provide each student with a device, their asset management system helped them see which users had the oldest machines that might not have lasted for an extended time and deploy new devices to those individuals. They were also able to identify any staff who needed devices to take home.
That foresight paid off, and they finished their preparations with no time to spare. Three hours after they finished issuing new devices, the health department closed the district. The date? March 13, 2020. Throughout the pandemic, their system enabled them to maintain an accurate record of student devices, even when work was done remotely 99% of the time!
End-of-Year Device Collection
As finals week is looming for students, the big test for you will be to see that all those devices they used throughout the year — in all their smudged, dented glory — are collected. Or not! Some districts may choose to let kids keep their laptops to use again the following year. There are benefits to this, including greater equity for students who don’t otherwise have access to the internet away from school. But there are risks as well: if your students return in the fall with a slew of no-longer-working laptops, you could find yourself in device repair purgatory.
Let’s say you do choose to collect all those devices at the end of the year so you can refresh, repair, clean, and/or replace them, then list them in your device inventory as available once again. This can be an overwhelming task, but with some preparation, you can make the process easier on everyone — staff, students, and parents.
End-of-Year Device Collection Checklist
Here’s a checklist items you should consider before you begin collecting all those devices:
Prepare for Device Collection
- Establish collection locations
- Identify roles and responsibilities of team members
- Create the device drop-off schedule
- Design a traffic flow plan — you might consider one-way lines for cars, for example
- Determine team member training requirements on processes and procedures
Develop Device Collection Processes and Procedures
- Choose workflows for statuses and notes (i.e., damage, storage)
- Decide on the receipt delivery method — will they be printed? Emailed? How will you capture signatures?
Communicate Device Collection Process
- Email parents and guardians your collection process plan and schedules for drop-off
- Communicate the process and schedules to team members
Prepare Device Collection Equipment
- Gather and test barcode scanners
- Determine any hardware and accessories needed (computers, chargers, extension cords)
- Send containers for device storage or transportation
- Label devices for the start of school distribution (i.e., label devices with student names if issuing the same device next school year)
Device Collection Wrap-Up
- Reimage devices
- Prep end-of-life assets for disposal or e-waste
- Conduct physical inventory
- Run required collection reports
Real-world Tips for Device Collection
Nicole Barnett, Director of Distribution Services at Spring ISD in Houston, TX, and Tammy Spicer, IT/CTE Support Technician at Dickson County Schools in Dickson, TN have a wealth of experience distributing, managing, supporting, and collecting devices in schools. They offered the following best practices for ensuring device collection goes smoothly:
Over-communicate. Starting months in advance, provide clear instructions for how and when devices will be collected, and what is expected to be returned.
“We made sure to highlight that we expect that the device will be collected with the accessories, which we track as well.”
— Nicole Barnett
If you’re using an asset management system, require schools to check in all devices using the system, not pen and paper.
Ensure each campus is staffed properly, with at least 1-3 people on hand at each location. It’s also helpful to ensure that one of those people is from the Technology Department.
Have a list of students and teachers on hand, by grade level, with barcodes printed out that you can scan if they don’t have their ID with them. This will help keep things organized if a student turns in the wrong device or provides incorrect information.
Keep a pallet or carts available to stack devices on (not a table!) to avoid having to move them twice.
Set dates and/or times for smaller groups to drop off devices. It’s far easier to collect laptops from 30 students at a time than the entire school at once.
Bonus tip: at device distribution time, issue each student a receipt for their parent/guardian to sign, listing what was issued to them, and any financial liability in case of loss or damage.
Blog Streamline End-of-Year Device Collection
For your technology team, now is the time to prepare for an orderly, efficient, and successful device collection process at the end of this school year.
On-Demand Webinar Streamline Your End-of-Year Processes
A conversation about end-of-school-year processes and best practices for asset management, with Tammy Spicer, IT/CTE Support Technician at Dickson County Schools, and Nicole Barnett, Director of Distribution at Spring ISD.
Annual Device Servicing
After collecting devices, inspect and sort them into categories: what needs to be serviced? Cleaned? Refreshed? Disposed of? Reimaged or updated? This is when you’ll update hardware and software alike, install the latest operating systems and software versions, ensure all devices have the needed accessories like power cords and chargers, and confirm they’re in good working order for the coming school year.
Some districts recruit student volunteers to help repair broken computers over the summer: a win-win for both the district and the students who learn technical skills through the program.
Preparing for Next School Year
Your work doesn’t stop once the school year ends, of course, though hopefully you can find time for a well-deserved, but probably quick, nap. Even though the summer months are often the busiest for school technology staff, investing some of that time now to prepare for the coming year can save you a lot of time later on.
Just as students can lose the achievement gains they made during the school year if they don’t stay engaged in educational activity, the same can happen to your inventory management program if you don’t keep up your positive momentum.
- Update your policies and procedures. Collect feedback from staff (and even parents) about what went well and what didn’t.
- Discuss any new initiatives. Will you launch or update your 1:1 program? Will you be purchasing new devices that come with additional accountability standards?
- Talk to your vendors. Have a wrap-up and planning session with vendors to consider what should be changed for the coming school year around asset tagging, deployment, repairs, record-keeping, and collection.
- Plan your staff trainings. What trainings will be needed in the coming year? What goals or processes should be recommunicated?
- Find your missing inventory. There are plenty of reasons why devices might not be where you think they are. Summer is a great time to locate them and clean up your records.
What Devices and Other Assets Need to Be Managed and Tracked?
While laptops, tablets, and other devices tend to spring to mind first, schools are wise to consider including other kinds of assets in their inventory management efforts as well. From kitchen appliances to maintenance equipment and special education assistive equipment, you can serve virtually every area of a school district through thoughtful asset management.
Want to print out this checklist? You can download it here.
There’s a Better Way to Manage Your District’s Assets
If you’ve been managing assets with spreadsheets, a home-grown database, or pen and paper (or worse: if each school in your district has been doing it their own way), you probably already feel some of the effects.
Even if you’ve been working with spreadsheets in the past, you’ve probably seen the limitations. Different campuses might manage things differently. People may not always use the same annotation to log when a device has been collected, leading to a lack of coherence. Information may be recorded in multiple places — and that means you can’t trust the data, nor can you use it effectively in planning.
A database or a homegrown software system might seem like a step up — but many technology departments have found these to be suboptimal as well. One technology director shared how difficult it was to request reports and would need to wait until the person who managed the system found time to pull the data.
“We had an Access database, it was homegrown. The front end was developed by someone who just tinkered and built it. It was extremely inaccurate. The system would lose records and didn’t communicate with our student information system. It wasn’t really functional from a reporting, tracking, or management standpoint.”
— Director of Technology
What about a mobile device management (MDM) system? While MDM systems are useful for managing the security protocols, applications, and content on the mobile devices issued to students and staff, an MDM system is not a substitute for an asset management system.
The Best Option: An Asset Management System
Consider some of the benefits a dedicated asset management system can provide:
No more wondering where you saved that spreadsheet, trying to decipher someone’s handwriting on a beginning-of-the-year sign-out sheet, or trying to reconcile records that are kept in a different format in each building. With an asset management system, you can know with pinpoint accuracy where each asset is, who is using it, and how it’s being used, plus how many spare devices and replacements you have.
“The biggest thing is getting away from paper-and-pen processes. There is huge potential to lose things — you lose not only the paperwork but the knowledge when you have employee turnover. The person who is the [subject matter expert] or is accustomed to keeping the records or doing the manual collections, they leave and they move on, and then you’ve lost some data. So [with an asset management system] everything is available for those persons who are administrators in the system to see where we are at any given time. And then, of course, the reports that we can run are invaluable to be able to immediately see what’s outstanding, what has been returned that’s damaged that needs to go into repair, what needs to be looked for that has been marked as ‘lost’ in the system.”
— Nicole Barnett, Director of Distribution Services, Spring ISD
Whether it’s your time that you no longer need to spend tracking down information from the high school about the state of student laptops, or the time a teacher can spend on crafting engaging lessons rather than fighting with an aging Gateway desktop, imagine putting those hours to better use.
Greater compliance (less stress!)
Quickly generating a report to show that devices are being used according to the correct funding source criteria may seem minor at first glance, but somehow, your shoulders might feel a good bit lighter — and you’ll be able to withstand audits more effectively.
Ransomware attacks cost schools and colleges upwards of $3.5 billion in 2021 alone — and that’s not even factoring in issues caused by viruses and other malware. Keeping staff and student devices regularly updated is vital — and an asset management system makes it far easier to keep track of which devices are up to date and authorized for use, and which are still at risk due to outdated hardware or software.
Greater financial stewardship
With the increased visibility and greater collaboration between technology and finance departments that an asset management system can help facilitate, numerous benefits arise. Not only are financial reports easier to pull, but you’ll be able to get the most use out of the devices and other assets you already have, saving not just time but also real dollars as you increase staff and student accountability, allocate devices more smartly, and plan your budget more strategically.
Integration with your SIS and single sign-on
If the idea of typing student and staff personal data into a system gives you the cold sweats, you can relax — a good asset management system will integrate with your student information system, so you can focus on everything else your technology team has to get done over the summer. With everyone’s information tied into the system, students who are enrolled or leave the district can easily be added or marked inactive as needed.
Frontline’s Asset Management pulls updates from your SIS on a nightly basis, so you can be confident that the data you’re looking for is up to date. This also can help identify areas where staff are entered in the SIS incorrectly and make your SIS even more accurate.
And yes, both Asset Management and Frontline Help Desk Management work with many single sign-on tools, increasing security there as well.
Better education for students
Like anything in a school district, technology and the systems you use to manage it exist to further students’ education. Providing quick access to the devices they need — and quickly addressing issues if that equipment becomes unreliable — is critical. With an asset management system, you’ll be able to see who needs devices, which devices need repair, and how to plan for device needs in future years as well.
Questions to Ask Vendors About Asset Management
If you see the advantages of managing your district’s assets with a dedicated web-based system, you may find yourself asking, “Which one? And how will I choose?”
Fear not. Here are several key questions that will help you choose the system that will best serve your district:
Is the solution provided designed specifically for the K-12 educational environment?
What do asset inventory records look like? How do we know where each item currently is, or has historically been?
How do I add newly purchased assets to the application?
Can I customize reports by device, location, funding, and/or custom fields with Excel export options?
Does the solution allow for district, building, and department level asset management oversight?
How is inventory tracked to students, staff, rooms, and buildings using a handheld scanner and barcodes placed on each asset?
Is there a way to track student damages, fees for equipment’s use, and payments received?
Does the system support both barcode and RFID?
What is the process to perform an inventory audit of assets?
How are assets transferred between buildings?
Is it possible to track untagged items like adaptors, batteries, cords, remotes, and protective cases?
Is it possible to group assets together like a mobile charging cart and 30 laptops for faster transfer and assignment?
What other types of system integrations can be offered to reduce manual data entry and increase information transparency across assets?
It’s Time to Make Your Life Easier
Your days are already packed with problem-solving and ensuring that every student and staff member has the technology and equipment they need for a successful school day. You shouldn’t have to spend hours tracking down devices, sorting through spreadsheets, or hoping your data is accurate.
Made just for K-12, Frontline’s Asset Management simplifies how you manage your inventory — so you can be confident that students have what they need, and you can avoid overspending.
Over 550 school districts trust Frontline Education to help them manage the technology (and other assets) needed to make school happen. Want to see how Asset Management can work for you?