Bursars' concerns are greater than ever when it comes to financing IT. So I thought it would be useful to let you know what our current thinking is.
In IT, as with anything, you get what you pay for. A sub-optimal IT environment will ensure that your organisation is less productive, has a parental ‘PR’ nightmare and may even result in your best teaching staff leaving at the earliest reasonable opportunity. IT issues are seen by staff as some of the biggest frustrations, stressors and time wasters. And when all is said and done, time is money!
At Vohkus we think that IT provision is going to be one of the ‘game changers’ influencing whether a school thrives or fails in the future – smaller schools and schools with lower incomes are going to struggle in the future with this one factor alone. Everyone agrees that a fast, reliable IT service is essential in today’s Independent Schools: Indeed, good IT (in all its guises) is no longer something which exceeds expectations; it is a core service expected by staff, pupils and parents alike.
But how to invest in IT wisely? There is no doubt that IT is consuming and will continue to consume more and more of your schools’ resources and debates are increasingly had about whether IT is ‘expensive’ or ‘good value for money’?
The five main problems we come across in schools
Spending too much
The 6 most common concerns of spending too much are:
- Not regularly reviewing and comparing suppliers and contractors’ prices
- Over training internal IT Staff – IT training is costly.
- Under training internal IT Staff and/or employing too few internal IT staff – therefore, having to rely on external consultants and contractors unnecessarily
- Buying software packages and databases that aren’t needed
- Not optimising the fat client and thin client environment
- Putting apple macs in place, where PCs would do;
- Not seeking the best deals or solutions.
- Not being prepared for ‘on-costs’
Spending too little
Long term under spend causes many of the problems we see in schools’ IT. To use an analogy, IT infrastructure, like a building, requires regular maintenance, replacements and upgrades. How long can you put off dealing with a leaky roof until the whole thing caves in causing costly damage (both financial and reputational) way beyond the cost of fixing the original problem? Additionally, as buildings have a projected life span before they need replacing, so does your IT infrastructure. In extreme cases of underspending, we have seen the remedial outcome to replace IT systems costing in excess of 500k in total – yes, the cost of an entire new house. A compliant, safe, secure and effective IT system can cost a lot of money. How do you convince governors and fee-paying parents that this ‘hidden cost’ is necessary – after all, the prospective parent tour doesn’t take in a shiny new server room. But investment in improving IT services is as justifiable, valuable and newsworthy as a new boarding house or dining hall.
Inflexible Budgeting Processes
Many schools’ IT budgets are set early in the spring term following a period of consultation which asks staff what they need/want for the following academic year. For academic staff it’s like Christmas all over again, for IT staff it’s a headache. Why is this routine an issue? Amongst other reasons, it is too long a period between the budget being set and the release of the finance.
- Staff are unable to take advantage of sales and deals as they happen.
- Staff take advantage of sales and deals and don’t need as much money, but it’s too difficult/late to ‘claw’ the excess back.
- Requirements can change rapidly in this dynamic environment – 6 months is an age in IT time.
- This budgeting routine is also symptomatic of lack of IT project management which stops academic staff really thinking about the school’s IT vision and putting together a thoughtful, justifiable ‘business’ case for their purchases.
- With good IT project management, financing IT can and should be fluid, like expenditure on utilities.
No Financial Contingency.
We recommend that the overall budget for IT has up to 15% contingency built in. Although this is not the most popular recommendation, it does hold a strong argument:
- To resolve issues which need money thrown at them quickly – especially issues with business-critical systems
- To experiment – IT is changing so rapidly, staff need to be able to experiment with hardware and software (within reason) which can then be junked if unsuitable.
- To resource new initiatives in a way which gives them the best chance of success.
No project management
Good IT project management should mean that there are few ‘surprises’ when it comes to IT expenditure. Every school should have a costed, timed project plan for IT.
Ensuring project milestones, timescales and budget remain on track requires close supervision and co-ordination of activities. Vohkus project management helps keep costs down and prevents obstacles to success arising.
Request your Free IT Audit
Creating an outstanding and safe education experience for your pupils and staff, underpinned with the right IT infrastructure and processes, is essential for effective learning. Our free holistic IT audits are benchmarked against both commercial best practice and best practice in Independent Schools.
The audit includes a high level technical health check which can encompass: Internet reliability and connectivity, network infrastructure, wireless network, configuration, operating systems, applications, printing, security, backup and disaster recovery.
This, together with discussions with appropriate staff and stakeholders, means that our recommendations are not made in isolation. Our aim is to understand your vision and strategy for IT and also to assess the help desk mechanism for users, review third party support, assess the usage and suitability of administrative and academic software.