Oct 01 2021

CDW Tech Talk: Building a Workplace That Meets the Needs of All Employees

In a distributed work environment, remaining connected has become more challenging but increasingly important.

The pandemic sent workers across multiple industries into remote work arrangements and forced organizations to find quick solutions to enable uninterrupted communication. With employees scattered across various locations and using their own devices and internet connections, there were many complications to overcome.

The need for reliable communication was perhaps felt most acutely in education. Students and faculty alike needed equipment, software and security solutions they hadn’t previously required.

Montcalm Community College Director of Information Technology Services David Kohn and Instructional Technology Consultant Kevin Wagenmaker joined CDW’s Tech Talk webcast to discuss some of the challenges their institution overcame thanks to innovative technology solutions.

Innovative Tools Sometimes Require Structural Change

Kohn said that the college made a large investment in cloud-based solutions that enabled them to transition to a remote experience more quickly than other institutions did. When the college went fully remote, Kohn explained, his team took the opportunity to invest in core infrastructure, knowing that the school would eventually return to on-campus learning.

“Our wired and wireless infrastructure on campus really allowed us to — once we brought people back and started offering a live, online type of environment in the classroom — we could give a great experience for students that were in the class and also for students joining remotely.”

Kohn said that during the pandemic, the college was able to offer wireless in its parking lots for students to come to campus and work on schoolwork. “We’re in a rural area of Michigan, and internet or high-speed internet connectivity is very low. We have fixed wireless, but not a lot of true high-speed fiber connectivity for our residents.” The college also invested in mobile hotspots for staff, faculty and students.

Register below for an upcoming CDW Tech Talk, held Tuesdays at 1 p.m., to hear from IT experts live.

Delivering Education in a Hybrid Learning Environment

The changing circumstances of the past 18 months required new technologies and equipment at Montcalm. Wagenmaker noted that the college “added Logitech rally systems to every single learning environment that we had, so that we could deliver this way. We also started to get into digital inking as opposed to using whiteboards.”

“Things like Microsoft Whiteboard were important,” he said. “Microsoft Teams is important for our virtual meetings, scheduling those meetings and making sure that there’s a consistent environment for our students. Canvas is our learning management system, which we use for content delivery. And something that’s really helped us out this year was the Microsoft integration within Canvas, which creates our classes based on our Canvas course rosters and keeps it syncing when students leave the roster or get added to it.”

Kohn noted that the college struggled at the beginning of the pandemic. “Imagine deploying new systems to people who are sitting in their houses, getting them hardware equipment that they needed to function if their systems go down,” he said. “Most of our management of those devices was on-prem at that time. We pivoted during this past year to using a mobile device management solution, Microsoft Endpoint Manager, to manage and roll out those devices. Using their Autopilot product within Endpoint Manager, we were able to decrease the amount of time it took for our staff to roll out new devices.”

Work Continues to Evolve in the Wake of the Pandemic

Education hasn’t been the only sector struggling to remain connected during the pandemic. Kevin Martins, principal cloud solution architect at Microsoft, joined the webcast to discuss some of the ways work has changed over the past 18 months.

“When the pandemic started, I saw people coming home and experiencing this whole new world of ‘How do I make all this stuff work reliably? Where do I get webcams from? What should I get?’ I had all these kinds of questions coming at me. When we think about how things have really changed over the past year and a half, people are now used to working at home,” Martins said.

“As we talk about going back into the office, is it going to be like it once was? I don't think so. In fact, recent studies have said no, it's not going to be like that,” he said.

One type of technology that’s been popular the pandemic is videoconferencing. Martin said he didn’t think the technology itself has changed much, but the way it’s being used has shifted.

Microsoft Teams, the company’s signature video program, continues to adapt to meet the needs of its users. Martins spoke about new features offered with Dynamic View that can make remote meetings feel more natural and inclusive.

Procuring Equipment Can Pose Additional Complications

Even with innovative technology and a modernized infrastructure, equipment needs can still present a problem for some organizations. CDW’s Alex Brown and Michael Sarro, digital integration leads at the company, joined the conversation to discuss the challenges many organizations face when attempting to enable new ways of work.

Brown said the biggest obstacles can be process and inefficiencies. “This concept of BYOD has been growing endlessly. It's been a tech topic for the last decade. Bringing your own devices, making your own technology choices. Our modern systems of acquiring technology have not adapted to that new reality. We’re saying BYOD, bring the webcam you like or the keyboard you like, but what about providing that to the user without having an intermediary person having to procure that product, source it, make sure it’s compliant with your standards— taking those inefficiencies out of the equation to really enable this new type of work?”

Brown and Sarro presented CDW’s eProcurement system, which Sarro said “allows organizations to manage their procurement processes and add automation to the workflows, starting with the items that a company is looking to buy.” eProcurement can help manage all aspects of purchasing, from the catalog to the approval processes in their systems, to cutting purchase orders, getting order confirmations, invoices, shipping notices, as well as tracking and serial numbers.

Sarro said eProcurement takes things even a step further. “Now we have to manage those items. We have to know what we’ve purchased, where they are and how we are distributing them out in this new world where so many folks are working remotely.”

Sarro said eProcurement also creates data that offers value beyond the procurement process. It can be used to track asset management and user experiences, as well as to increase efficiency and lower costs for purchasing, help desks and other departments.

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of the CDW Tech Talk series here. Insiders can register for the event series here.

Getty Images/ SDI Productions