Asset-Tracking Technology Helps Lockdown, Recover Laptops at Bryant University

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The ability to dynamically connect to information from anywhere, at anytime has become a standard practice with the use of mobile computing in today’s corporate environment. Laptops, PDAs and wireless technology are not only changing how we access information, but also how we develop, communicate and collaborate on daily business processes.

Innovative Notebook Program

To better prepare students for this technology adaptation, Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., has initiated a program that outfits all incoming freshmen with new IBM notebooks for personal and educational use. This innovative program not only provides a laptop to incoming freshmen, but also calls for the laptop to be replaced during the student’s junior year. In addition, the program allows students to keep their laptop upon graduation as a parting gift from the university.

The strategy in developing this plan was to ensure that students are equipped with the latest technology throughout their educational experience, as well as assist them with transitioning into their careers with a new laptop. Providing a standardized system for each class helps the IT department offer a higher level of support to students, while also reducing faculty frustration by ensuring consistency of technology in the classroom environment.

Each laptop provided by Bryant is equipped with a wireless network card and a standardized software image created by the technical staff. In addition to the laptops, students also receive a carrying case, laptop lock, theft-tracking software, an insurance policy and a 256 MB USB key for data storage.

First introduced in 2002, Bryant’s Laptop Program was, and continues to be, enthusiastically accepted by students and parents for its quality, value and campus support. University surveys show that both parents and students view the mandatory laptop program as an important tool in their educational development. With the utilization of the campuswide wireless network, students are now gaining the experience of learning and collaborating from anywhere on campus. Group studying is also becoming a common sight in many areas on campus because of the laptops and the wireless connectivity offered.

Implementation Issues

Since the program’s inception, Bryant initially faced a higher than expected number of laptop thefts. Within the first year of the program, more than 30 of the 750 distributed laptops were reported stolen with a zero recovery rate. This equated to over $60,000 in insurance claims, not including accidental damages and associated administrative costs. While the causes of the thefts varied, many were a result of student carelessness such as not properly securing the asset and leaving it unattended. Others were a result of break-ins and students filing fraudulent theft claims. In the fraudulent claim cases, the $500 insurance deductible was just too tempting.

With an unsophisticated means of tracking stolen laptops on campus, and few measures made for encouraging user responsibility, asset management quickly became the laptop administration team’s top priority. “We were concerned that if we did not get the situation under control, we would be exposing Bryant to escalating thefts as our program increased, as well as the threat of increased insurance premiums for being a high risk,” says Academic Technology Manager Ph'ebe Butlin, who oversees the laptop program at Bryant.

In response, Bryant implemented an advanced asset-tracking technology from Absolute Software (www.absolute.com). “Additionally, we hardened laptop policies to put more responsibilities on the students and increased the insurance deductible to $1,000 per incident,” says Butlin.

Locks were also provided to students, and an increased effort was made to create awareness about the policy changes regarding students’ accountability for the loss of or damage to a laptop. These policies also included the legal ramifications of making false claims. By the second year of the program, and with the implementation of these key policies, Bryant’s efforts resulted in a 30% decrease in thefts and a 60% increase in asset recovery. Of the 1,500 laptops distributed during the program’s second year, only 10 were reported stolen, of which eight have been recovered to date. According to Butlin, we’ve even had success in locating a laptop in Cape Town, South Africa.

Laptop LoJack

When researching solutions for tracking and recovery technologies, Bryant University did not have to look far since their help desk team had already been using Absolute Software’s Computrace product for tracking faculty laptops. Based on the university’s success with Computrace, Bryant decided to provide a two-year license on all new laptops distributed to students.

Computrace works in a similar fashion to the well-known auto security solution LoJack - the stolen laptops are tracked by a code embedded in the computer, which is monitored by Absolute Software. Specifically, Computrace acts as a beaconing device when connected to the Internet; therefore, once a laptop is stolen, it is reported to local authorities and to Absolute by
the university.

Absolute then flags the computer information in its database and when the laptop is eventually connected to the Internet - unknowingly to the user - the client silently reports back to the database. Once connectivity is established between the stolen laptop and Absolute’s monitoring system, the tracing begins. Absolute works with the Internet service provider to locate the origination of the Internet connection, as well as with local law enforcement agencies to track down and recover the stolen property.

“This product has been an essential tool in our efforts of managing laptops,” says Butlin. “Advertising the product on the laptops has also helped to discourage would-be thefts. Recovering laptops is more than just saving money and time; we are providing a service to the students by being able to recover their data.”

Currently, the use of Computrace has allowed Bryant to recover the majority of laptops stolen, with the possibility of more surfacing during the life of the license period. The more time they save from having to manage and track their computing assets, the more time Bryant educators will have to focus on their priority: teaching students and preparing them for the future.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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