Shopping around for IT

When it comes to our personal bills – such as car insurance, mobile phone contract and utilities – we don’t think twice about shopping around for the best deal. So, why aren’t we doing it with our tech purchases too? asks Royden Gothelf

Three questions have to be answered at each budget review and every time savings are being sought:

  1. What is the ongoing cost?
  2. What are the one-off costs?
  3. How can we manage the costs better?

I often find that the information on current costs is readily at hand from SBMs; however, forecasting costs and finding savings is not so easy. It seems that the longer a technology has been in the school – be it infrastructure or software – the less likely its need – or the price paid for it – is challenged.

Target this area first and find savings by realising what is not needed – replacing it with a newer solution or renegotiating with suppliers.

It is easy to suggest that costs can be managed better by only paying for what is needed, and by getting the best price; in practice, knowing what is being used and what is really needed is hard to find out. The best way is to carry out an audit which can be completed by the technology self-reporting usage and the users (teachers, students, SBMs) stating what they use and the benefits they bring to school improvement.

Big business
I always find something that is being paid for is not being used, or which can be replaced by a lower cost solution. Education technology is a big business and suppliers of IT services to education across all areas – from infrastructure to subject-specific learning tools – are competing for your business.

There are procurement rules for schools that should be followed so you can get the best price. Keep on top of your contracts and do not just renew at the price quoted without shopping around. Just last week, while working with a SBM, we got different resellers to quote for an annual licence for a widely used software package. These quotes allowed the SBM to renegotiate with the current supplier on costs, enabling the school to stay with their current supplier – who they liked for the after-sales service – but pay less.

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How to go about this purchasing process for technology
It is not unusual to find that IT products have more features than are needed, and there are many similar products to choose from. With technology changing so quickly, and with so much choice, the purchasing really does need to match the need. Have a shortlist of the reasons why you want to buy the software. Work with your IT manager on what they will need to do to support this product, week-on-week; it may be nothing – or it may be a lot of work for them.

For IT managers buying infrastructure, make sure you are getting the best price and best warranty – and, if the school strategy is cloud-based services, review the need for local storage and processing power on your PCs and servers.

Watch out for indirect costs – a lower cost solution that requires staff to be trained in how to use it, for example, could end up costing you more than staying with the current solution. Internal support costs and time are not always understood, and the success of any new product is based upon people using it.

The Department for Education have procurement websites and recommended suppliers…although I did hear of one school getting a better price and longer warranty for a device from a high street retailer!

Ensure you know what you want before you buy – know what you are comparing and follow the procurement process in your school.

Royden works as an independent advisor to schools, academy trusts and local authorities. He offers advisory services under the RightICT name.

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