BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) is a 40,000,000 pound freight training rolling into every K-12 across this country. Whether you are dealing with inline assessment mandates, BYOT as a budget stopgap or just want to offer the kids in your classes the latest and greatest, everyone is jumping on the BYOT train. According to a recent survey by the Software and Information Industry Association (SIAA), 75 percent of elementary schools and 83 percent of secondary schools plan to allow BYOT within the next five years.

What’s more, kids in our middle schools and high schools don’t bring one iPad to school; they bring their phone, their tablet and a laptop.

The challenges don’t stop there – once the kids are on the net, who polices where they go?

There is no question the challenges of BYOT is headed straight for us, but as with all new and exciting technological leaps, we have a few brave early adopters we can look to for guidance and best practices.

If you are like most institutions you are working on your BYOT deployment right now and the noise in the industry is deafening. We explored the country to find a couple of shining examples of early adopters who can help the rest of us stay on a solid ground as we go about our virtualization and BYOT implementations. We realize one size does not fit all, but these modernizers are creating technology playgrounds where kids can play, learn and grow safely with the power of the Internet. We wanted to share.

North Carolina’s Innovation Center (iCenter) is the first Technology Playground we’ll explore.

Opened in October 2013, the iCenter is a working lab situated in downtown Raleigh where state employees, students, agency chief information officers, private industry and citizens can collaborate on information technology solutions. By modernizing its IT technology systems and embracing a design architecture with combined networking, computing and storage infrastructure, the iCenter is not only transforming the way students from K-12 schools deliver services to its students, but it also provides government agencies, community colleges and universities with distance learning opportunities and hands-on experience. The iCenter is a shining example of cross departmental collaboration and a testament to the magic that can happen when budgets come together.  “The Innovation Center is about connecting people and technology in a way that allows our state agencies to deliver more projects on time and on budget” said Chris Estes, NC State CIO.

Next we head west to Ohio for another shining example of collaboration. The Ohio Collaborative Services Consortium, or the Ohio CSC.  In 2012 Tri Rivers Education Computer Association (TRECA) and Northwest Ohio Computer Association (NWOCA) were just your average IT center looking to support their schools by allowing their students to bring their own technology to school. Problem was, like many schools and districts today, to do this IT upgrade right was going to cost them. Here is where the IT professionals at NWOCA and TRECA made a decision which made them anything but ordinary.

Their IT teams decided to come together, pool their resources and create Ohio CSC, a state of the art combined service management and delivery center. The center allowed both NWOCA and TRECA to give their customers with better resources. Together they ultimately broadened their offerings and strengthen the services portfolios they gave their members. Because they joined forces, they were able to improve efficiency and effectiveness of operation and offer an operational structure open to participation by other educational and public service organizations.

Together TRECA and NBEC/NWOCA currently provide services to 86 school districts and an additional 99 public and non-public school agencies that instruct over 244,600 students in Northwest, Central and Southwestern Ohio.

Neither of these innovative centers came into existence without challenge. They had uphill battles with internal politics – change is never easy but ultimately both of these organizations benefited from the effort.

“The creation of the Ohio CSC will allow us to bring additional resources and services to our member base, to focus on our core strengths and to expand our market reach. This shared service; shared resource approach will allow us to best leverage the public resources we have been provided and is absolutely the most effective and responsible way to serve our customers” stated Marc Robinson, Executive Director of the Northern Buckeye Educational Council/Northwest Ohio Computer Association.

“The Innovation Center is about connecting people and technology in a way that allows our state agencies to deliver more projects on time and on budget” said Chris Estes, NC State CIO.

Beyond what these two leadership examples, we wanted to give you a few breadcrumbs to follow on your path to BYOT. Here are six solid recommendations from the recent report from the Center for Digital Education, pulled from the brave souls who have been there…done that.

  1. Consider a Converged Infrastructure – it delivers lower hardware costs and much greater flexibility for mobile devices; It allows for the provisioning of capacity and computing power separately, assuring schools  do not over purchase hardware;
  2. Offer validated architecture choices – it reduces strain on internal IT resources and reduces deployment risk;
  3. Whatever you do, design your IT Architecture to be Flexible– One thing is for sure…this will change, so do yourself a favor and make it easy to scale up and scale down capacity;
  4. Embrace Hybrids – Being open to a hybrid solution gives you the best of both private and public cloud environments. You’ll keep some of your gear near, but you’ll also have the option to temporarily obtain additional performance and capacity when you need it;
  5. Bake in Flexible Support – If you only pay for support when you need it, you can
  6. Free yourself with multi-tenancy – You can have multiple customers share the same application, running on the same operating system, on the same hardware, with the same data-storage mechanism. True multi-tenancy allows you to lever resources and still keep things separate and secure.  Silos mean extra work, extra money and extra headaches – they are not efficient or necessary – we say get rid of them.

BYOT gone wrong can create more headaches then you thought were possible. BYOT done right can give your IT folks their day back – to do even more creative IT innovations. The dream of 52 weekends off a year is here. The days of data access and portability are here and we can deliver them 24/7/365.

It’s easier than you think; just follow the tracks of those who have gone ahead of you and your path to BYOT will be less rocky. You can create a technology playground for your students, parents and teachers that won’t break the bank or the back of your team.