When IT leaders at Rainy River District School Board in Fort Francis secured funding to implement Microsoft Intune endpoint management system across the board, they knew it wouldn’t be a typical project for their small team, or for their vendor contacts who had limited experience with the education sector.
“We didn’t know much about Intune, just that it was the right solution, and when we started to install it, our team was running into roadblocks with how we integrate it effectively with other applications within our system,” says Stephen Danielson, IT Manager with RRDSB. He was relying heavily on one member of his team, Network Technology Specialist Nick Mosbeck, to lead the project and they agreed to call in reinforcements when they realized that they needed specific expertise that they did not have.
They considered our options and working with ECNO’s Shared Technology Services group made the most sense because they understand the K-12 environment. RRDSB needed someone who knew their structure and three specific audiences – administration, teachers, and students – and was familiar with the many-to-one environment where members from all audiences need to access the same computer, from remote and onsite locations, and easily get to what they need.
“Education applications can be different to install, with complicated licensing and users with various levels of permission. We needed someone who understood those complexities,” explains Stephen. “Knowing the breadth of their expertise, working with ENCO seemed like a logical step for us..”
He reached out to Ron Plaizier, Shared Technology Services (STS) Program Manager (since retired) to explore what a partnership would look like. Supporting boards through complicated projects such as this is core service for STS and Ron moved quickly to pull a team together to support RRDSB.
Explained Ron, “Intune was a new area of support for ECNO STS, but the whole point of our model is we’re never far away from someone in K-12 IT who has been there, and done that. We pulled in Jason Flannery, an analyst with Simcoe County DSB.” Jason had led deployment of Intune for SCDSB, as well as other similar projects. ECNO STS worked with Jason’s board to arrange for him to be seconded for 3 three months at half time to help lead this project, working closely with Stephen and Nick at RRDSB.
“My job at Simcoe was going full steam ahead, but the board was behind the secondment 100% and ECNO really appreciated that we could make this commitment,” recalls Jason. “I knew it would be a good development opportunity for me.”
Once he was on board, the implementation was ready to roll out within four months, at least a year ahead of Stephen and Nick’s initial projections.
“We still ran into issues every now and then as we get into implementation,” recalls Jason. “We had to troubleshoot issues like, should we go strictly to Azure or go with a hybrid solution. It just took a meeting or two to work through the pros and cons, then we moved ahead. I also had to navigate new changes from Microsoft. It had been long enough since installing Intune at Simcoe that Microsoft had implemented new features, changes or portals so we had to figure these out as we went along. Things can even change as we’re deploying. But we were nimble and overcame those challenges. There definitely was a tremendous amount of learning on my part and it was refreshing to sit down and focus on one thing that helped sharpen my thinking. So much of our day is putting out fires, and this allowed for a more thoughtful planning process.”
Final implementation this past summer went smoothly, and the experience will go down as a terrific example of collaboration across the sector. The costs to RRDSB were similar to hiring an independent consultant, says Stephen, but with the many advantages of working within the education system and the inherent knowledge that comes with that.
“As well,” noted Ron, “this project helped us reinvent our service model for STS, giving us insight to explore other areas of technology support where we can help boards out. This gives analysts an opportunity for professional growth; they go back to their board with more experience and perspective, and can share that learning with other boards as well. There are a lot of smart analysis across the province who can contribute that expertise to other boards, especially smaller ones with fewer resources to lead this. Lending out their star analysts can really make sense for everyone.”