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Assessing your ICT Needs - Education Executive

Technology is enhancing teaching and learning and, as resources decrease and workloads increase, it is becoming a major support in the management of our schools. With available finding limited, IT investment is not always top of the priority list, but don't let this put you off! Effective management of your ICT provision can realise significant savings financially and in terms of your schools resources - it just requires a digital leap of faith.

"More often than not, when I ask schools, 'What's your three-year ICT strategy?' they can't answer the question," Neil Watkins, managing director of Think IT, says. Technology is ever changing and evolving; to efficiently manage a school's ICT requires a robust strategy that should be embedded in your school's wider improvement plan. With this in place you can make better financial and ICT decisions. Of course, this isn't as simple as turning your systems off and on again; it requires you to identify the ICT needs of your school in accordance with the long-term vision for the school, procuring the right solutions, engaging the right providers - and then there's implementation, which will require you to have your tech-champions in place - and, of course, continued maintenance. You may ask 'Are you sure it's worth it?' The simple answer? 'Yes!' Here's a look at how, which should answer the why. 

Assessing ICT needs

Managing your ICT assets requires you to be familiar with those assets - and their purpose. Neil recommends a readiness assessment (RA) which starts with a 'visioning session' with senior leaders and other stakeholders. "A visioning session will outline considerations such as, 'What are the outcomes for our pupils, our staff, our parents, our governors and our school?'" Neil explains. "Starting with a question like this will allow you to identify the technologies your school actually needs and the role that cloud-based solutions or new ICT developments can play in delivering those outcomes." It is also important to assess your current IT infrastructure - including connectivity, networks, user devices - such as PCs, laptops, tablets, etc. - and software licenses, Neil advises. This will tell you which areas need to be upgraded or replaced.

Your RA should also look at the total cost of ICT ownership across your school's estate, including the cost of replacing hardware, training staff, consumables - such as printer cartridges -  and energy costs. "This is an incredibly important stage as it will help you work out how much of your total budget needs to be assigned, and to which areas, and how much you can make savings without impacting or disrupting teaching and learning," says Neil. A key aspect of an RA for long-term IT sustainability is that it provides options, recommendations and proposed next steps. This, Neil, tells us, ensure alls ICT is managed competency across the entire school - or across multiple sites in the cases of MATs.

Getting the tech in

Once you know what you need it's time to procure it and secure the right providers. This will require in-depth knowledge and time. Neil suggests considering the pre-tendered frameworks available which can save time, effort and , most importantly, money; they are there to make your life easier. "While there are a number of frameworks offering favourable pricing, terms and conditions and high quality products and services, it's important to select the one that's also able to offer guidance and specific knowledge of the education sector. This will reassure you that your school's needs will be understood and the best solutions provided" he says.

Budget dictates ICT spend, and schools are having to find alternative ways of funding their ICT provision. There are grants available and, in a previous issue, we have considered crowdfunding as a means of generating this necessary income.Another avenue that more and more schools are considering is leasing, John Haslam, business development manager at Stone Group, says. "This allows them to spread the cost of procurement across instalments," he explains. John also highlights the alternative, budget-friendly technologies that schools are considering for example, refurbished devices, which are low cost and come with full warranties.

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