The most important commodity in education ICT is not hardware, it’s not software, it’s trust. How do you know that what you’re spending you precious, limited budget on will work and you’re not getting ripped off? At a time of squeezed budgets, our experience shows that schools are facing 4 big challenges when it comes to buying technology. Overcoming those challenges is important, not only to get value for money, but to ensure that what you’re buying enhances teaching and learning, helps not hinders, and makes sure you stay on the right side of the law.
Challenge 1 – Compliance
In our experience, lots of schools just don’t understand the law when it comes to procurement and spending public money. At a meeting of Heads recently I was surprised to learn that many of them didn’t know of the EU procurement rules whereby any contracts over £164k (which a three year IT contract for both primary and secondary schools can easily exceed) have to be correctly tendered. Part of the challenge is that Heads delegate responsibility down to a Business Manager or teacher who just doesn’t have the experience required. And there are increasing reports of theft and fraud, including contracts being let illegally to friends or family.
Challenge 2 – Complexity
The pace of change in technology is frightening. As a simple example, the first I-Pad went on sale in May 2010. Only seven years later now there are estimated to be over one million tablets in English schools. So how can a school Business Manager or ICT Technician keep up with the latest cyber-security threats, wifi, networking, e-safety, teaching apps, devices, connectivity and cloud solutions. I would argue that they can’t. They need help from experts. And how do you know that when you ‘plug things in’ they will work first time, every time? Or how do you know that the latest product really will solve that efficiency problem as the salesman said it would?
Challenge 3 – Capability
I’ve already mentioned experience and expertise as a problem. Schools just don’t have the skills in house to scope, define technical requirements, go out to tender, evaluate responses, effectively interview potential suppliers, negotiate contracts, run effective contract management and manage service level agreements. It’s time consuming and complex and important to get right. Without the right expertise schools often make reactive or poor buying decisions. They buy when things go wrong and they have no choice, or when they have some budget left at the end of the year, and that’s just not a smart way too approach buying school ICT.
Challenge 4 – Cash
Every school is looking to save money wherever they can. But because many Heads don’t really understand technology they often see it purely as an expense, rather than the necessity it really is. You can’t effectively run a modern school without good ICT. You therefore need to be very focused on the outcomes you want from your ICT and getting value for money.
So, what can you do about these challenges?...
There are three simple things you can do. The first is have an IT strategy. It will help you budget, plan and ensure you spend wisely. If you don’t have one, here’s one you can have as a starting point for free. The second thing is to use DfE compliant frameworks. They will help ensure value for money from quality suppliers. And the third thing you can do is spend time talking to suppliers. Trust is only built over time. You might not think you have time for such things, but the rewards will be worth the investment because when things go wrong (and they always will because technology and people are involved – things break and people make mistakes) you need to know that you can pick up the phone and get it sorted straight away. That’s much easier to do when you’ve built up trust, which is why it’s the most important commodity in education ICT.