Billings Public Schools is the largest school district in Montana, supporting over 16,800 students across 33 schools, including 4 high schools, 6 middle schools, and 22 elementary schools. Over time, Billings Public Schools accumulated a complex assortment of devices to support their district-wide STEM program, including 16,000 Chromebooks, 7,000 iPads, 3,000 Macs, and 2,000 Windows devices.
With the support of yearly technology levies, the district has been investing $1 million of new technology into both the high school and elementary levels of the district. Several years ago, the district began deploying iPads and Macs that were managed with Apple Configurator and an Apple management platform. Over time, as student and teacher needs and device options expanded, the district invested in Windows and Chromebook devices, creating gaps in endpoint management and visibility.
While their IT support team remained the same size, they found that device management became more complex with the addition of more students, schools, devices, and operating systems. They struggled with unique processes to manage Windows and Chromebooks devices, as well as the different tools for managing Apple devices.
“We had to literally touch every device, which wasn’t a good way for us to update devices or to add software.”
- Deana Elder, Technology Support Coordinator
“We needed our device information in a very organized manner where we could pull up an exact list of which devices needed to be rotated so we could give it to our principals and tell them, ‘Hey, these are devices that won't work for you anymore. We can't support them because Apple's not supporting them,’” said Christian Massie, Computer Technician. “I think another part that was extremely crucial was that application deployment needed to be simplified. It needed to be quick, optimized and understandable. FileWave did match that.”
Billings Public Schools now leverages FileWave for comprehensive multi-platform support to improve oversight and to support student learning and teacher efficiency across the district.
In pursuit of digital equity throughout the District, Billings directed their funding so the technology made it into every classroom and into the hands of every student. “Some of the schools had more money, leading to kids in one school having more technology and access to it than others,” noted Deana Elder, Technology Support Coordinator for Billings Public Schools. “We needed to improve our visibility over deployed technology to ensure students have equal opportunity.”
Multi-Platform Visibility & Reporting
Billings Public Schools didn’t have IT staff numbers in each building to know exactly what devices were present, whether those in use were best-suited to support learning, or if each device had all the software required to be effective. The IT team at Billings Public Schools chose FileWave to provide greater transparency over the devices in use. During the migration to FileWave, the IT team uncovered devices that should have been phased out years before.
“We would assume most of the district was Apple-based, but we found there were more Windows machines than we anticipated,” noted Massie. FileWave has helped quickly compile reports on older iPads so they could be removed from inventory and replaced thanks to a buy-back program.
The continuous insight and monitoring available is so useful to Elder, she has one screen fully devoted to FileWave at all times. “I live and breathe FileWave during the day,” Elder said. “I need to know what’s going on, with devices and my techs.”
During the day, Elder references FileWave to monitor what tasks and updates her IT team is completing and to answer questions or push out apps when requested. FileWave’s MDM capabilities also ensure that she can track device inventory to ensure devices are where they need to be, with alerts and geo-tracking if devices go missing.
FileWave’s robust inventory and asset management capabilities also help Elder plan for device and software purchasing decisions to prioritize spending. These reports have also been useful in IT staffing planning.
“I give these reports to our principals and to my boss, to let them know what kind of IT support we need and where,” said Elder. “For example, one high school has 4,000 devices and only one tech. I can take these numbers and make the case for why we need another tech.”
Leveraging FileWave’s profile-based permissions, Billings Public Schools configured their iPads so students can’t delete required apps from devices or add unapproved apps. Classroom teachers are also able to use Apple Classroom to lock students into the required apps for their classes to ensure they stay focused on their work.
Smarter Software Delivery
Beyond assisting with visibility, Billings Public Schools leverages FileWave’s Smart Groups to target software distribution by device type, operating system, school, or classroom. Before FileWave, management and software distribution was often handled manually, so not all devices would see the required updates or receive the necessary apps.
From the moment a device is purchased to the moment it is decommissioned, it can be managed within FileWave. When teachers upgraded their devices, FileWave helped ensure each device had the right account, security certificates, software, and peripherals set up in under two days. For specialist teachers traveling between school buildings, Smart Groups ensure they automatically have the right setting and access needed within that location.
Billings Public School District leverages FileWave to manage Apple VPP and DEP for both Mac and iOS devices, adding visibility to correct and maintain what is installed on each system.
Additionally, Custom Fields have made it easy for IT techs to gain visibility into device health, including battery and hard drive health, or to query software in use. “We’ve created simple scripts to bring us the information we need,” noted Massie. “It helps us check if a device has a required app and, if not, to automatically install it on the next time the device checks in.”
With FileWave, IT teams are able to manage devices en masse. “Changes don’t take a few days anymore,” Massie said. “We can make a mass management change across the whole district within a snap of a finger.”
The Billings IT team is also able to simplify patch management and software deployments with minimal impact to network load. FileWave Booster technology caches applications and makes delivery faster and more reliable.
Remote Configuration & Support
In their previous system, troubleshooting a single problem could take hours or days. “It was so difficult to figure out where the problem was,” said Massie. “With FileWave, it takes me 20 minutes or less to pinpoint the issue.”
“The ability to write our own scripts to pull the information we want to know, or to send a script to automatically fix the problem, is extremely powerful.”
- Christian Massie, Computer Technician
In addition to faster resolution time, it’s important that IT admins have the tools needed to provide critical support wherever they are. Remote control functionality allows Billings’ IT techs to provide critical support no matter what location they are working from, reducing downtime and improving learning outcomes. “We have some techs that are assigned to three different buildings,” noted Elder. “The fact that they can work remotely is a huge benefit.”
Billings Public Schools has a team of 31 IT techs to support 33 schools and over 28,000 devices. “Without FileWave, I would need four to six more computer techs,” Elder said. “The cost of a person in a building versus what FileWave costs is significantly different.”
From the start, FileWave has provided Billings School District with the hands-on support they need to succeed. Three days of hands-on training helped techs feel confident in their new system, but it was the reciprocal support from FileWave that has helped Billings Public Schools improve their own troubleshooting processes. When problems escalate, FileWave is there to help. “I like to be able to call with a problem and know I won’t be met with someone asking me to turn a device off and back on again,” Elder said. “FileWave’s engineers work with us to figure it out.”
When Elder and Massie attended the FileWave Alliance user conference, the quality of support was clear. “People knew who we were and could remember what we were dealing with,” said Elder. “It felt like we were a family,” Massie added.
“It felt like we were a family.”
- Christian Massie, Computer Technician
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