With so many options available to modern schools, how can management teams choose the best tech for their budgets? Winston Poyton shares his top tips.
Any growing school will likely have big ambitions for improving efficiencies and student wellbeing. Whether we’re automating tasks or engaging with parents, tech has a huge role to play.
What many schools fail to understand is, a great tech strategy is not about the tech. The idea of shiny new equipment may seem novel, but we need to consider return on investment. When budgets are tight, it’s all about people.
Every good tech strategy starts with the end goals. What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to streamline financial systems with cashless payments, or manage attendance better? Once you establish your key priorities, you can start planning to integrate systems. And they don’t have to cost the earth.
- Save resources by integrating tech.
Money isn’t just capital. It’s about measuring the cost of your internal resource. If you have 10 different systems all working towards the same goal, you’re wasting resources. It’s very tempting to invest in multiple pieces of technology. But if they can’t work together, they’re not serving you.
This is a common mistake between departments, for example HR and payroll. If systems cannot integrate, they can delay other projects like IT upgrades – leading to lost productivity and money. Talk to your suppliers and ask them for the best recommendations on complementary software.
- Consolidate with other schools.
Integration is key once again – but it goes beyond the tech itself. The smartest schools consolidate with one another to get supplier discounts, whether they’re part of MATs or not. Many primary schools assume it’s the local authority’s responsibility to get these volume discounts. In fact, there are many ways you can pool your resources, like referral schemes. If you can give a supplier access to five other schools for a discount, they’ll snap up the opportunity.
You’ll also improve engagement with students and parents, as local communities come together and reap the benefits of their new tech.
- Treat your supplier like a partner.
There’s no reason why the supplier relationship should cease after purchase. To get the best value out of your investment, ask what they can do to maximise your tech’s potential. One service we regularly offer is health checks. These often help to spot any initial problems, saving you money in the long term. Ask about training sessions, too. A little investment in education will save hundreds of man hours learning new processes, which staff can put back into teaching.
Now your supplier is a partner, negotiate with them a little. What’s in it for both of you? You could secure an early discount on a growth basis. For example, they can offer reduced rates on tech for five schools, assuming this will grow to 15 in X number of months. You could even try offering to be a beta tester. This works best for new software rather than kit, giving you access to new tools and letting them iron out any bugs.
- Understand the full project cost before you dive in.
We see this time and again with schools – they invest in tech and think there are no more costs. This is just one part of the tech strategy. You have to consider the cost of rolling out the technology, and the staff resource too. Remember, your teams will have to be trained and there will be ongoing costs like maintenance fees.
When talking to your suppliers, get a fully transparent overview of long-term costs. Consider staff productivity and how you can integrate tech to speed up training and implementation. A good supplier should be able to recommend the fastest and best-value ways to achieve this. It’ll save any nasty surprises in the long term.
- Investigate different pricing strategies.
Tech suppliers generally offer two different types of payment: subscription or perpetual licensing. You need to understand your internal finances before you choose what’s best for you. If your school is more cash rich, you may prefer a perpetual licensing model. This includes an upfront software fee, followed by an annual maintenance fee.
Subscriptions are becoming more popular as government funding is often distributed throughout the year. Subscriptions allow you to spread the cost, but may be more expensive in the long term. It all comes down to your internal assets.
Whatever your budgets, the key to getting the most out of your tech is asking more from people. Encourage your teams to educate themselves, communicate with others and pool their talents. Only then can you make tech work for you and your students.
- Understand your technology needs. This will help you determine the top priority technologies and how you can integrate them with other departments.
- Prioritise productivity. Your tech should be able to automate laborious tasks and prevent duplication across departments. Communicate with teachers, HR, payroll and parents to get the best from your new tech, as well as the suppliers themselves.
- Share the benefits. You’ll get the best deals when you collaborate with others, whether it’s beta testing new software or working with other schools.
- Invest in your own education. You don’t have to be a tech expert, but you can learn how to make tech work for you. Approach buying with a two-pronged mindset – consider how tech will engage pupils, and how it will speed up processes.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Suppliers love volume discounts. Consider how you can maximise volume. Can you work with other organisations? Do you have growth plans?
Don’t consider tech a one-time investment. Technology grows and adapts all the time. Incorporate this into your budgeting, and be upfront with your supplier about ongoing costs.
This piece, commissioned by The Influence Crowd, was a guest blog for Winston Poyton, looking at educational tech for schools.
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