Business Practices

Assessing Emerging Technologies

Technology represents not only one of a school district’s largest expenses, but also one of the district’s biggest challenges, given the speed at which the technology marketplace changes. Making the wrong decision about technology purchases can be expensive and can affect instruction, achievement and the overall school climate.

When considering any change in technology, school business officials should ask three questions.

  1. What is the impetus for making the change?
    Examine cost reduction, operational improvement, feature improvement, instructional purposes, expiring license and so forth.
  2. Do we have the resources to make the change successfully?
    Resources include staff availability, a reasonable time frame for implementation and organizational support.
  3. What are the value-added benefits of the change?
    Consider the return on investment with regard to better use of staff resources, minimized hardware or training expenses, decreased licensing fees and improved classroom instruction.

The initial purchase price of new technology is only one aspect of the total cost. Installation and initiation of the product, training fees, ongoing maintenance costs, associated electrical costs and depth of staff required to service the technology all need to be carefully examined before purchase.

Enterprise solutions represent the “best of the best” when it comes to functionality and features, but they can be expensive to purchase and maintain. A vertical solution tailored to the needs of the district can be much less expensive and can be a more flexible fit inside an existing infrastructure. A singular, simple user interface can reduce complexity, resulting in a better end-user experience and increased productivity. A unified solution can make deployment, learning, and management easier, while greatly reducing the total cost of ownership of your network.

Saving technology dollars

Sometimes, the best bang for your buck comes with research and with the willingness to adapt to new technologies. By spending time researching new technologies, districts can locate software that may be offered at a deep discount or that may be provided, at minimal cost, to districts that agree to bring value to the product with their insights, knowledge of needs and ability to provide case studies or serve as beta test sites. That “early-user” option can be cost-effective, but it can also be a resource hog if it is not vetted properly.

Look at the current technology services provided to your district to determine whether they are sufficient or need to be replaced. Work with your IT department as well as colleagues across the district to determine what new technology and functionality are important now, next year and five years down the road. A product that balances ease of use and functionality should be near the top of any checklist of new equipment.

Implementing a desktop management tool that can act as a Swiss Army knife — like application will provide integrated configuration, log-on scripts, drive and printer assignment, patch management, power management and remote management — and will greatly reduce the strain on resources. Implementing a remote monitoring system can help achieve the same goal by identifying the exact location of a failure and by allowing staff with lesser skills to resolve an issue.

Overspending on technology takes resources out of the classroom. The overriding objective is to assess the effect of technology by critically appraising its ability to improve student learning or teacher quality.

— This article is excerpted from the April 2014 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials — www.asbointl.org.

Total Cost of Ownership

School business officials (SBOs) should pay close attention to the total cost of ownership (TCO) of technology for three reasons. TCO is (1) an effective way to manage organizational resources, (2) a means of quantifying the costs of increasingly complex systems and networks, and (3) a better approach to understanding the costs of systems and networks.

TCO can encourage collaboration on technology decisions and can instill budgetary oversight and control with the SBO, who is a key player in the approval process. TCO can ensure that resources are directed to the true educational needs of the district.

By understanding the underlying direct costs (the physical hardware, licensing fees, and maintenance) and the indirect costs (end-user participation and end-user upgrades and acquisition), an SBO can implement a better fiscal plan for maintaining up-to-date technology for student learning.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Chris Beyne is the director of business development for Atom AMPD, Volo, Ill., and the manager of the Educational Vertical Market Channel.

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