In recent years budgets in education have been getting tighter and more strained, leading to serious challenges for IT managers in the sector.
The issue has impacted on most education establishments, from primary through to higher education, with some suffering budget cuts by as much as 80% and capital investment being frozen. I have experienced this process first hand through my time as an IT manager in the education sector and am alert to the dangers. By making the right decisions in the beginning and planning carefully future costs can be managed and minimised effectively.
For many education establishments Information Technology, especially infrastructure feels like a never-ending pit they throw money into, with IT managers and IT staff constantly demanding additional funding to support the infrastructure they have or to strive to improve it. As a senior manager, senior leader, head teacher, finance director or bursar it is hard to comprehend why IT is so expensive and why equipment needs replacing so frequently.
Education is not unique in these challenges but in many other organisations IT is seen as the most critical component of the business after the staff and without it many business know they would simply not exist. Whereas, in education other priorities take precedence not least the education of the students. However, education inherently faces a challenge that many businesses don’t, with the outside world evolving and technology changing the way we operate across the board education establishments must adapt and evolve to include these technologies into teaching and learning, where any other business can wait for a strong business need to change.
This is compounded by the constant battle that is the solution is never finished, you could upgrade all your servers tomorrow to meet your needs of today, but as soon as this is complete you are going to stretch the resources you have and further down the line be forced to invest again to update your purchase for your new challenges. We see many educational establishments doing this on a bi-yearly basis, only looking at the next 12 months and the demands on the system now, rather than creating a robust five-year plan. In most cases this is due to budgetary pressures. An investment of £10,000 is easier to get signed off than an investment of £30,000 based on it lasting 5 years. But this may result in having to spend £10,000 every year for four years and when you reach year five you will likely need to start again.
On their other hand there are an increasing number of educational establishments which have not invested for many years. We are seeing organisations approach us who have not invested in infrastructure for 10 years and are now feeling major pains; as the problems with the slow outdated system they have not only affects the business’s operations but impacts on the educational experience and overall teaching and learning. Not investing in your infrastructure on an annual basis will see you hit with a much larger bill when you must invest, be that due to incompatibility, additional consultancy costs or the sheer volume of work that is required to bring your organisation up to date.
The opposite side of the coin to the lack of investment is an organisation which has just completed an upgrade in the last 12 months and as such has now removed capital spending on IT for 5 years. This can result in just the same effects as not investing at all, as the lack of committed funding will result in shocks to the business when in year 5 you need to invest heavily to refresh your infrastructure and don’t have the capital or the will in your senior management to spend on it, because you haven’t done so for the previous years.
Two other areas I have seen have a drastic impact on an organisations ability to budget properly is where decisions are made to ‘cut corners’ on software licensing and hardware purchasing. This can be as simple as removing upgrade and support from your software or hardware purchase. Many software vendors as of 2018 have started including current release only support meaning if your product is out of date and needs updating you won’t be able to get ad-hoc support from them. If you have opted to not purchase software updates with your product you can suddenly find yourself facing a ‘buy back’ cost where a vendor will charge you anywhere up to 100% of the cost of the upgrades for the time you choose not to purchase them. This can mean to resolve simple issues you could end up being fronted with a c£1,000 bill just to pay for software upgrades you chose not to take. The same risk applies to hardware, for organisations that cut corners by purchasing refurbished, end of life or reconditioned hardware to achieve an initial saving face a large outlay midway through the products life as it fails, falls out of support or is not up to the task you require of it.
With all of the above in mind there are some simple solutions from my experience I can offer to help you not only forecast the costs of your IT to ensure you can budget to maintain it but to also make smart savings where at all possible.
Have a clearly defined IT plan. If you take the time to look at all your systems, including end of life dates and usage, alongside your organisation’s growth and development plans, you can forecast an estimate of when each system will need upgrading and replacing and budget effectively. At Planet IT we will complete this for all our managed service customers and can work with you to help build the road-map. With our teams’ years of experience will can advise on the right products, current trends and genuine costs to ensure you make the right investments.
One area educational establishments can save on their IT budgets is by making smart investments. Looking at hardware vendors, software vendors and technology trends to pick a solution with is not only future proof but will see the right solution placed into your infrastructure. We can support you with this, we can bring vendors to you, who will pitch their solutions and then allow you to make the right choice.
By assessing your current environment, you can make a sensible budget to cover the software or hardware you know you must maintain. This becomes critical when looking at licensing for software such as Microsoft or Adobe who offer annual commitments which do increase year on year, if you’re not careful you can under budget for these changes and thus end the year with an IT budget deficit before any other costs have been incurred.
The most critical aspect of IT investment and budget management in education is looking to lock in capital investment for IT every year. If you can dedicate a sizeable amount of your capital spend to IT, then you will never be left in a situation where a system needs replacing and you don’t have the cash. In many situations after doing this for 3-5 years you will start to see a decrease in the capital required by the IT budget as the constant investment will keep IT systems healthy and supporting your needs.
Do you need some more advice? Would you like to speak to one of our education specialists who can assist your establishment in making smart IT investments and maximising your IT budget? Then call us today on 01235 433 900.
James Dell works as Planet IT’s lead IT advisor to educational organisations. He previously worked in IT in education for 10 years for 4 different organisations, as a dedicated safe guarding lead and IT Manager.