2018 was an interesting year for myself and Lourdes IT, as we settled into the role of being not aligned to a particular school, and being managed centrally within the academy company. I have also taken a more strategic role within another MAT as well as our own.
Our biggest challenge, and for that of our schools is of course budgets. Not only in terms of having funds available to develop IT use, but now just to keep it going. Of course, IT in schools has suffered a long term decline in investments. We have seen how this is manageable in schools where there have been long term plans in place, and equipment has been specified and purchased with a long term view, however in schools where this hasn’t been the case – and when there was money it hasn’t been effectively invested in the basics before flashy stuff – these are the schools we have seen that have had to significantly invest to get the basics right, when they cannot afford to.
But now, even those schools who have well managed their budgets are struggling. For many, the promised little extra money from the government is being spent on IT, but not on ‘little extras’ – on the fundamentals required for schools that haven’t moved forward as the edu-tech landscape has done and to allow networks to provide the reliability required as many more systems are IT based to save money, and an ever younger crop of staff who have never not used IT, usage is at an all time high.
Whereas before maybe 40-70% of staff used IT, now it’s expected for 100%, but maybe 90% are using it for everything, not just the enforced tasks, a growth in use that is often overlooked.
With schools needing to save money across the board, more and more are turning to IT based solutions to realise those savings, especially where MATs or MACs are involved.
This means that more then ever, reliability of IT is critical, and the support given is efficient.
With such little investment, however, many are asking support teams to perform more, with less, in terms of hardware, software and the actual support teams in place. In addition, where support teams are outsourced – these are seen as easy ways to save money, but, with less days support, the requirement for support and management of networks doesn’t decrease, teams are just expected to deliver more.
And, with the high expectations comes high demands, many support requests falling outside of working hours, systems are not expected to ever go down.
These new pressures, are something that school IT teams have never really had to this extent before, with so little investment and staffing levels. That’s why centralised teams are making more and more sense and why so many are having success in this area, but how will this pan out?
Well, centralised only, remote support teams are not the solution. I can point out many many times when we have done things on site that have given a bigger and better impact then what is possible from a central helpdesk. Don’t get me wrong, a central helpdesk, and a central team of experts is effective and helps schools in many ways (shared expertise and experience, faster response times etc) – it doesn’t replace someone on the ground.
If the cost cutting gets to a point, this will be what is going to go, because providing a managed helpdesk is cheaper.
Long term, this is simply not good for schools. If onsite days are reduced, this has a big impact in visibility and relationships which are key to IT being successful, and problems resolved and understood in the context of that schools requirements. Relationships between schools and service providers will diminish, especially if schools regularly change from supplier to supplier due to cost savings.
In addition, it is incredibly hard for service providers to provide schools with long term solutions and implement long term (3-5yr) strategies if they don’t know if they will be there for that long!
So, over 2019 it will be interesting to see how this develops. We are incredibly lucky that we have had long term relationships with all our schools, but, going forward they are not immune from these pressures and I have several things to continue to implement ways in which to make the best of the financial situation (group procurement and implementation of solutions as a collaborative of schools) whilst still ensuring that schools get their individual needs met.