July 15, 2014

Are your Technology Investments Making the Grade?

While most, if not all, Information Technology Leaders in K-12 School systems are constantly swamped with tactical items in support of their district, they still must provide strategic value to have a seat at the table with Executive Administration.

One such responsibility is to continually evaluate your current technology solutions against alternatives out in the market. We need to keep up with the speed at which technology changes, especially as it relates to major investments that are critical to the Strategic Direction of the District.  Answers like “That is what we have always done” or “We have always bought from Vendor A” no longer hold water.  Capital is scarce and administrations are expecting value from those investments.

You don’t need to evaluate every technology purchase, start with the strategic ones. Because of PARCC online testing requirements that many schools are addressing, I am seeing focused evaluations on current wired/wireless networks, BYOD, and desktop solutions.

See this blog: Chromebooks for Education: Has Your District Joined The Bandwagon?

I have seen multiple schools that where using Moodle as their Learning Management System  (LMS) because they thought it was “free”. Once they performed a data driven evaluation of what they really needed in an LMS and their Total Cost of Ownership, their move to other solutions, including Blackboard and Desire2Learn, happened quickly.

As part of Network refresh / upgrade projects, many IT leaders I work with performed an analysis of alternative solutions versus their current solution. Again they found that based on their evaluation criteria a new solution was warranted, even though they had used the current vendor for years.

While above are examples where changes were made, the vast majority of the time the current solution is evaluated as the best solution. You don’t need to look at this exercise to make a change, but rather to validate what you currently have in a more data drive, objective basis

Here is a simple framework of a data driven analysis that I have often used.

Current Solution Review

Is our current technology solution fitting the bill as it relates to the following:

  • Does it do what it is supposed to do from a business and functional perspective?  If students or staff are not engaged in using it, why not?  Is it a training issue, the application is just too hard to use or are users just not seeing the value in the application?
  • Does it support technical requirements that we expect including security, compliance, scalability, integration/interfaces, and ease of administration.  Do not underestimate the importance of security and compliance requirements in your technology purchases as personal information access rights get more scrutiny from School Boards, and the needs to effectively manage CIPA, PCI, and HIPAA compliance is still front and center.
  • Is the technology based on open standards that allows you to integrate other vendor solutions in with your solution or on a proprietary platform that forces you to use one vendor for all functions?  Do you care?  While everyone has a different opinion, most CIOs would tell you that having a solution architecture that is open and flexible is very important to them.
  • Is the technology solution easy to administer or do you need to hire specific and potentially costly skill sets to manage the overall solution?
  • How is your technology supporting the district’s stated strategic initiatives to improve learning and back-office efficiencies within the district?  As an example, if you have implemented a BYOD program that is not tied somehow to improved learning in the classroom, why are doing it?
  • What is the fully loaded cost of this solution including hardware, software, licensing, vendor support fees, training, and internal support costs?  This is your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and is the cost that should be used to evaluate other solutions, not just the initial purchase price of a new solution.  Vendors may discount the initial purchase price to entice you, but then add on back-end costs that actually make the solution expensive compared to alternatives.

Alternative Solution Evaluation

Once you have completed an evaluation of your current solution, the next step gets fairly easy.  What other solutions are out there and could they potentially better meet your district’s specific requirements?

Other questions you can be asking.  Am I better off with a cloud solution?  Do I lease versus purchase, or do I look at utilizing managed services?  What critical functionality is my current solution not providing?  What is the cost of migrating to a new solution?

Lastly, remember your current solution most often will be the correct solution, so do not assume that you are always looking to change first.  The important piece is that you have done a more formal evaluation of why you have what you have, and if need be, can better articulate an objective recommendation to the administration to stay with or evaluate alternatives.

Do you want to move from a tactical manager that re-actively fixes day to day problems, or do you want to be a proactive IT Executive at your school?  Having a data driven process as described above for evaluating technology investments is a great way to move you up the latter.

About The Contributor:
Glenn MitchellEducation Vertical Specialist

Glenn Mitchell is a Education Vertical Specialist with Extreme Networks focused on helping K12 and Higher Institutions leverage technology to improve learning objectives and drive efficiencies in backoffice operations.

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