Unbox it and it's good to go: How Brisbane Catholic Education slashed device deployment times

BCE’s 141 schools represent the largest Australian deployment of VMware’s Workspace ONE

Before turning to VMware’s digital workspace platform, deploying a hundred devices to end users would take Brisbane Catholic Education’s IT team days. But rolling out VMware Workspace ONE has meant that it's less than a day’s work, according to BCE senior IT officer Paul Saltmarsh.

That’s significant given the geographically dispersed schools that BCE supports: The Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane stretches as far north as Childers and as far south as the Tweed River.

BCE includes 141 schools, covering prep to Year 12, and half a dozen district support locations, for a total of around 70,000 students and some 14,000 staff.

Currently, Saltmarsh’s IT team uses Workspace ONE to help manage about 66,000 devices running MacOS, iOS and Windows. According to VMware, it’s the largest single customer instance of Workspace ONE on VMware Cloud in Australia.

VMware first introduced Workspace One in February 2016 as a ‘cloud-first’ experience that acted as a successor to Workspace Suite, which brought together AirWatch and Horizon. In August this year the tech vendor revealed a range of enhancements to the platform, including a virtual assistant powered by IBM Watson and a preview of ‘Digital Employee Experience Management’ to help IT teams proactively address issues based on real-time telemetry from end users’ devices.

The BCE tech team effectively acts as a shared technology services function for schools, with its precise role varying somewhat from location to location. While secondary schools and colleges tend to have the budget available to fund in-house tech support teams of two to four people, primary schools will usually lean on a combination of a few contractors and the central BCE team.

The BCE team supplies and supports the wireless and core network switches for schools, as well as provides some guidance and governance around other infrastructure

BCE doesn’t support BYOD. All devices are centrally funded, with schools purchasing what they want. Overwhelmingly, the devices are purchased from the list of recommended suppliers that Saltmarsh maintains. Across schools there’s a mix of Dell, Lenovo, HP and Microsoft Surface notebooks, as well as iOS and MacOS devices.

The impetus for the Workspace ONE deployment was a lack of visibility over BCE’s extensive device fleet, Saltmarsh told Computerworld.

A number of Apple-heavy BCE schools had invested in Jamf to manage MacOS and iOS devices and were happy with it. However, BCE was impressed by the multi-platform support of VMware’s Workspace ONE predecessor AirWatch.

“We did some testing and got VMware involved,” Saltmarsh said. “We already had a partnership with VMware as far as our data centre went, and it kind of just fell into place.”

A pilot kicked off in 2015. “We were pretty happy with the results,” he said. “And even since then the platform has matured significantly.”

The roll out began in earnest in 2016, and by the end of 2017 adoption had hit around 90 per cent

“We had a couple of schools who were dedicated Mac OS and iOS [environments] and couldn't see the value in migrating from their existing MDM platform over to AirWatch and that was a valid point,” Saltmarsh said. “But as the licencing has come up for renewal, they’ve all progressively come over.”

The BCE team maintains a central catalogue of applications that can be deployed to devices via Workspace ONE.

“There’s obvious applications in that like the Office suite, the Naplan locked-down browser is in there. There’s a couple of other things; Cisco WebEx client, Teams, those kind of things are all in that central catalogue,” Saltmarsh said. “The platform is such that schools can add applications to that catalogue at their level, and they do so.”

There’s been good feedback from teachers, he added, particularly when it comes to the ability to ensure that all students have access to the applications they require. If a teacher needs their class to have same-day access to particular software, previously it was “tearing your hair out stuff,” he adds. Now “it really is five clicks of the mouse”.

“That agility is a reality now, whereas before you were a little bit hamstrung by the technology,” Saltmarsh said.

“The biggest and most easily quantifiable impact has been the huge decrease in deployment times for devices, particularly in that iOS space,” the IT manager added, though he said Apple's volume purchasing and device enrolment programme had also helped on that front.

“To roll out 100 devices would take you days previously,” he said. “It's not a day's work now. It's basically unboxing and that’s kind of it.”

Saltmarsh said he’s currently working on auto-enrolment of Windows 10 devices using Windows Autopilot.

The IT manager said his team is “really keen” to get zero-touch deployment for Windows up and running.  “We're a hybrid organisation; we have an Azure presence, we have a massive Office 365 presence, but we also have on-prem and our on-prem is quite complex,” he said. “Our identity management is quite complex, so getting zero-touch provisioning working is a little bit trickier than [it is for] the local real estate office down the road.”

He’s hoping to get a proof of concept in place this year, ready for device refreshes next year: “So January, February next year, I'd like to be able to say to schools, this is how you do it and it’s going to save you a week,” he said.

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