When considering enterprise technology, most of us look to
large companies, occasionally considering their smaller brethren as we look for
lessons we can apply to our own companies. It’s easy to forget that there are “enterprises”
that lack the cubes and profit motive of most companies, yet have technology
challenges that can be equally or more complex.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida is one such organization.
With 345,000 students, more than 40,000 employees, and more than 400 locations
spread over 2,400 square miles, MDCPS is an enterprise in every sense of the
word. Facing a similar decision on which mobile computing platform to adopt for
students and staff, MDCPS recently standardized on Windows-based tablets and
laptops. I had the opportunity to speak with staff from the school about the
decision, and it was interesting to see the parallels to the decisions the
average company must make when selecting a strategic technology, as well as
some of the unique challenges faced in an educational environment.

An Apple for the

Once considered the sole domain of artists and students, Apple
has made amazing inroads in the corporate space, with the iPad the undisputed
leader in most boardrooms. With a long history in education, I was somewhat
surprised that a major school system would select Windows for its tablet
deployment. MDCPS took a pragmatic approach that would make any corporate CIO
and CFO smile: “We took a number of factors into consideration. We looked at
the content and resources that we already owned. We also looked at our
infrastructure. Technical staff is already familiar with managing Windows
devices and will be able to troubleshoot issues more effectively.” Rather than
succumbing to the latest trends, the school system’s approach considered
current tools and skills, as well as future-state functionality.

Another interesting point in Windows’ favor was its
availability on different devices. The school system plans on issuing laptops
to its elementary students and providing tablets for secondary students.
Windows is unique among tablet manufactures for its “split personality”
strategy, whereby the same operating system runs on desktops and tablets, with
dual interfaces optimized for each style of use.

Reading, writing, and
most importantly, arithmetic

When considering costs, MDCPS took a holistic approach that
some enterprises miss. While tablet pricing has stabilized, and most brand name
tablets are +/- 10% for the unit, MDCPS “looked at the content and resources
that we already owned. Some were not compatible with iOS or only provided a
fraction of the functionality, and purchasing iPads would have meant purchasing
additional resources to replace incompatible content.” The school system also
considered everything from teacher training costs and support costs to
keyboards and plastic cases, building a comprehensive cost model for their
deployment—a task that’s just as important to a dozen-employee small business
as it is to a school system with a user count that rivals the world’s largest


Like most businesses, education comes with its own
challenges, from government mandates to student distraction. When I asked how
equipping every student with a device designed to distract would affect
student-teacher interaction, the answer was a great marriage of technology and
old-fashioned change management. MDCPS plans on investing in classroom
management technology, so if the teacher wants all the attention of all
students, she can use the classroom management tool to black out all screens so
that students won’t be able to use their devices.

Rather than just throwing
technology at the problem, the school system also plans on investing in teacher
training that will provide strategies on using the devices effectively so that
students are more engaged, monitoring student behaviors, and keeping students
on task. Too often in the enterprise we forget that merely sending out tablets
with all the right tools won’t change behavior or fix a broken process. At the
end of the day, the people also need to change to best leverage the enabling

Like every enterprise investigating tablets, the school
system hopes for small, more powerful devices that can easily last through an
entire school day. When asked what enterprises can learn from MDCPS, staff
noted that, “it is important to take into consideration the resources already
owned by the organization and look at all costs with deployment, not just the
device itself.” There is obviously something to be learned from Miami-Dade County
Public Schools.