Managing the ICT magic

The successful use of technology is about more than just procuring the right tools; it requires efficient management to ensure that everything runs as cohesively and effectively as possible. ICT encompasses a variety of areas – from the hardware and software used to connectivity and security, networks and infrastructure.

In the May issue of Education Executive, we explored the importance of a robust ICT strategy

Technology is enhancing learning and teaching and, as resources decrease and workloads increase, it is becoming a major support in the management of our schools. With available funding 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 school’s 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 everchanging 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 the how, which should answer the why.

Assessing IT 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 we want 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 licences, 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 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, ensures all ICT is managed competently 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 will be provided,” he says.

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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.

Network cohesion and security

Schools are becoming ever more tech-savvy and cloud infrastructure is gaining in popularity for both management and teaching purposes; for example, digital platforms such as SharePoint are used to share documents between staff, or learning resources between teachers and students. Connecting via the cloud, as John points out, means that the same computing experience is delivered, no matter the device that is being used, with unlimited storage and the added benefit of GDPR compliance.

Of course, managing such a far-reaching, easily accessible system across your school requires what John terms, ‘network cohesion’. To support this, schools need to ensure that the same programs and collaboration software are being used across the site – or, in the case of a MAT, across all sites. “It’s important that these systems are ‘glued’ together,” John says.

As technology grows, so too does the need to ensure security and e-safety. “Ensuring that your IT infrastructure and devices are compliant, with the most up-to-date programs, is imperative to keeping IT security running efficiently, John says.

All aboard the IT train

No matter how impressive your IT provision, if your staff is not on board – equipped with the right training and support – then it just won’t work. How do you engage them? Simon Wilson, UK CTO of Aruba, suggests making them a part of the journey. Where previously IT decisions were led by IT directors, finance and business managers, educators are being looked to more for input. “Many educators are concerned about pace – which is exacerbated by the volume of pupils they are teaching – and will need to be consulted to discuss the technology that could help them navigate these difficulties,” Simon explains. The role of the IT manager in this, he says, is to encourage, train and plan effectively, ensuring this cultural and technological, challenge runs smoothly. Training and support are essential to successful ICT implementation and effective management and, Simon says, require you to demonstrate a solid IT infrastructure and understanding of the need to teach habits, procedures and process.

Your ICT provision is a supporting force in your school; getting it right – from implementation to management – is essential to optimising the role it plays. So, how robust is your ICT strategy?

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