Which Door Did You Choose?
- By Glenn Meeks
- October 1st, 2017
The responsibility for acquiring technology and AV systems in schools has shifted quite a bit over the last 25 years or so. In the 1990s, most larger projects were handled by specialty consultants. As technology has become more commonplace, and everyone’s knowledge base has grown, it has expanded into so many different approaches that I do not have room to list them all.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to limit them to three categories; internal to the district, external engineer working for an architect, and external specialty consultant. As with everything, there are pros and cons to any of the approaches, and none are totally right or wrong. The point of this article is to state that different approaches are more appropriate for specific scenarios. Using the same approach for all situations does not always yield the best results.
We will start with the simplest acquisition process. The scope of work to be accomplished in this school year does not exceed your local limit requiring a Request For Proposal (RFP) process. Those projects are handled internally by the district. There are some states where the district can bypass an RFP process if they purchase from a state-approved contractor list or consortium. I do not have room to outline how it happens, but I will state without any reservations that a district will pay substantially more (sometimes twice the cost) than the going market rate when they use that process for purchases beyond box sales.
Commodity purchases; displays, computing devices, etc., fall into the “handled internally by the district” category. Most RFP processes are handled internally by the district with the Technology director leading the charge. My observation is that the Technology director will rely on a contractor or vendor they trust to assist them with the RFP package. What will be missing from the RFP package are what I call “tools and clauses”, that provide the owner with control over the contractor’s quality of work, based on technology industry best practices and federal court rulings associated with construction law.
They will also lack contract administration services and a commissioning process for the systems acquired. However, I must be honest and state that as long as the technology is fairly standard and the project size is less than $250,000 with a one-year time line; there is no reason to change the approach. Keeping it internal outweighs the disruption caused by an outside agency handling something your employees think they are capable of doing. If the internal process consistently yields systems that do not work when they are first turned on, you may want to rethink keeping it internal to the district.
When an RFP is associated with a new construction project, portions are handled internally and portions are handled by the electrical sub-consultant who works under the architect, rolling their portion of technology into the construction of the facility. Similar to the district, the engineer will rely upon a contractor they trust to develop specifications. While the quality-control tools are present in the general conditions of the project, the services fee paid to the engineer by the architect is not sufficient to cover proactive contract administration and system commissioning services once the RFP process is complete. Yes, they will react to resolve issues which arise but it is not a proactive approach.
When the RFP process is associated with a larger construction project or a multi-year, multiple-campus project, the lack of industry expertise and a proactive approach will become more apparent. Securing the services of a full-service specialty consultant who provides the entire package; program requirements, generates specification and manages the RFP process, provides proactive contract administration, and systems commissioning; can minimize the turbulence associated with the project.
It may also help your operating budget. Large technology projects are typically funded from the capital side of the budget ledger. That means the external consultant fees are paid from the capital funding source. Managing the project internally means the district is re-allocating a person whose salary and benefits are paid out of the operating budget to manage the project. That person will not be fulfilling the duties supposedly paid for from the operating budget.
It may be helpful to consider the external specialty consultant as an augmentation service for the Technology department. For the duration of the project, the Technology department has augmented its capacity, and when the project is complete, those resources are simply discontinued.
Which door represents the best selection for your project?
This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.
Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.