Technology doesn’t come cheap. Thankfully, there are ways to make your tech dollar go further. Greg Adams finds some practical ways to ensure your ICT spending is worth every cent … and more.
Money’s always tight in schools and it pays to make the most of what you have, especially when it comes to your ICT budget. But how do you know what’s a saving and what’s a false economy? Well, INTERFACE is on the case. We’ve asked around and found some simple steps you can take to help make your money go further.
Have a plan for your ICT
Buying a bit here and a bit there is probably the costliest thing you can do. Have an ICT vision and strategy, and then ensure that all expenditure is in line with this. Having a plan in place removes ad-hoc purchases and ensures all spend is justified. To help you achieve this try:
- Working with your team to establish a vision for ICT;
- Agreeing on your priorities, with budget in mind;
- Designing your plan following best practice methodologies;
- Checking the budget and revisiting the design if need be;
- Obtaining a guarantee as to the outcome from your IT partner or service provider.
Consider the ‘total cost of ownership'(TCO)
The cost of technology is often based around the ‘box price’ of the equipment being purchased. However, this can be a dangerous way to budget, as it’s probably only the first in a long line of costs that will be incurred throughout the life of the unit (and the longer its life, the greater the ongoing cost). To maximise the value of any ICT solution, it’s necessary to understand and control TCO. Some of the things you need to consider are:
When you add these into your initial calculation, the ‘cheapest’ box price deal may end up costing the most.
Lease or buy?
This is a subject we’ve looked at before. There are pros and cons. Generally, buying should be considered for equipment with long life spans, such as interactive whiteboards and screens, and low-cost items like webcams and minor peripherals, as long leases would be expensive on both counts. Leasing comes into its own for individual computers, when there’s no money in the pot for a big purchase, or when the purchase is large enough to make leasing financially viable. Leases also normally come with insurance warranties, support and maintenance as standard, so if something goes wrong, you’re covered.
Customer service and support
Don’t underestimate the value of a helping hand, not to mention a knowledgeable one. You may have staff you can turn to. If you have to look outside the school, you may find companies with specialist education knowledge offer the best value (even if it’s in the things you don’t have to tell them because they already know how schools work).
When you’re looking for a vendor to do business with, ask yourself what sort of service and support do you need? Are you happy if the company you’re dealing with simply flogs you a piece of kit and then buggers off? Or do you need someone to stick around and provide ongoing support and management of the solution? If you can’t be without your laptop, something like Toshiba’s Onsite Service will have it back in your hands in a matter of hours.
Increasingly, the actual kit you buy is only the start. Many companies offer valued services, from general support through to specialist content that’s only available to their customers. In the interactive whiteboard space, for example, if you buy an ACTIVboard you get access to Promethean resources including, come July, content creation tool ActivInspire; Mimio offers Mimio Connect.
Saving money by saving power
Much of today’s ICT equipment comes with power saving features, from simple ‘standby’ to low-power modes that kick in after a specific period of inactivity. According to HP’s facts and figures, power-management features can save up to 381 kWh for a monitor and 294 kWh for a desktop PC each year, which is enough energy to power a 75-watt light bulb continuously for one year. CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors typically use more power than flat screens.
Interestingly, Solid State drives have no moving parts, so use far less power than a conventional ‘spinning’ hard drive. Computers also boot faster using these drives – but they’re more expensive.
As well as improving energy efficiency, you can save money by adopting environmentally-friendly practices. You can reduce paper consumption by encouraging teachers to use email to distribute worksheets, put assignments online and complete activities on an interactive whiteboard. Check out this CBS report on a paperless classroom in Florida – http://xrl.us/paperless.
Using videoconferencing can cut costs, save time and improve productivity – not to mention reduce carbon emissions – by reducing the need to travel. The FarNetSchools cluster is combining videoconferencing with LMS MyClasses. This is providing a shared online resource across nine schools.
“I’m able to gather resources which teachers and students from other schools within our cluster can access,” said e-Principal, Carolyn Bennett. “For example some schools do not have a careers advisor, so I have created a Careers Corner where students can go for information about different careers, training options or scholarships.”
Special rates and deals
The Ministry’s used its bulk buying power to get some great deals on software, laptops, projectors and others. Don’t be afraid to take advantage, as these can offer huge savings. You may also consider grouping together with local schools or your cluster group to get better deals.
A number of companies are now offering special deals in the school space, like HP’s Desktops for Schools programme. In our last issue, Panasonic had a projector-whiteboard combo just for our readers – this time round your school’s invited to become a Panasonic Platinum Partner.
CallPlus and Slingshot are running their Better Schools Programme, which promises reductions in telecommunications costs from 25 to 40 per cent – and gives parents the chance to raise funds for their school of choice.
Free software and tools
There’s an amazing range of free stuff on the Internet, if you know where to look and what to look for. We already identify many resources in File Share – check out page 22 for some great and powerful tools … all of which are absolutely free. Many names you’ll be increasingly familiar with, like Moodle, Elgg, and SketchUp.
You’ve probably been doing it on a personal level for a while now, but free hosted services, such as Google Apps and Gmail, are being adopted by schools. One thing to remember, however, with ‘paid for’ commercial software, the vendor has an obligation to assist you in a timely manner, especially where security bugs are involved. You may find an annoying bug in an Open Source application that you need assistance with, but you may not get it without paying someone to fix it.
We’re not talking magic, but rather taking advantage of (or at least being aware of) the latest innovations and services, for example:
Server Virtualisation – this is a long word for something that seems a simple enough idea. Essentially it’s a piece of software that allows operating systems (such as Windows) to run together on a single server in a ‘virtual’ environment, hence the name. Traditionally, it’s been one system for one server. The advantages are looking after less hardware, improved performance (as server resources can be allocated as needed), lower power consumption (fewer servers to run … and keep cool). However, on the downside, the kit’s more hi-spec, therefore more expensive, it doesn’t work for everything, and it’s important to do it properly as server architecture can easily get out of control.
Desktop Virtualisation – this is where you can increase the number of computer terminals by running more than one screen and keyboard from a single PC (essentially tapping into unused processing power). One such solution is NComputing, which claims to deliver 50 per cent savings on purchase, 70 per cent savings on maintenance, and 90 per cent savings on electricity costs.
Do it yourself
If you’ve got the skills and determination, anything’s possible… even building your own ICT equipment. In our February issue we reported on Te Puke High School, which has built its own low-cost, electronic whiteboards systems using a Wiimote and $2 whiteboard markers. Papatoetoe High’s done a similar thing. Touchless (www.codeplex.com/touchless) is a fun, webcam multi-‘touch’ object tracking SDK project – an alternative approach to Microsoft’s Surface). Here are a couple of videos showing how these things can be done: http://johnnylee.net/projects/wii/ and http://xrl.us/touchless
A few other ways to reduce costs
Reliability and Durability – As we’ve already said, cheap upfront costs don’t always mean savings in the long run. Let’s face it, technology that is prone to breaking down or needing constant care will only serve to interrupt classroom learning. Always consider the reliability and durability of equipment.
Standardisation – Try to minimise the number of different systems and providers in your school. Having the same technology throughout can be cost-effective, as staff only have to train for or maintain one solution. And they can share; even something as simple as having common power adaptors will reduce hassles.
Multi-tasking – If computers are powerful enough to run a range of programs simultaneously, users can work more quickly without having to open and shut programs.
Protect your equipment – taking care of your technology, preventing damage and theft will reduce the amount you spend. Security surveillance is one way to safeguard property (and possibly bring down premiums). If you don’t want or can’t afford 24/7 cover, something like the new Mi5 range of cameras offer a reduced-cost alternative to CCTV.
Ultimately, the best value ICT solution for your school is one that allows you to do what you want and more. But budgets aren’t limitless. Next time you’re planning a purchase, remember there are plenty of ways to make your money go further.
Greg Adams is Editor of INTERFACE Magazine.
© INTERFACE May 2009
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