The benefits technology can bring to schools from improved parental engagement to better management of school meals is clear, but how do you make your tech budget go further?
Before investing in anything, it’s essential to review your overall strategy. You may have a member of staff who has discovered a great tool that they are keen to use, but is it useful to several of your team?
What are the challenges that are holding your school back, is technology the answer and what would make the biggest impact to your colleagues?
Do they need better pupil tracking, a reliable payment system or an easier way to communicate with parents? Knowing what your biggest challenges are, makes it much easier to prioritise where to invest your money.
Once you know this, there are a few ways you can make savings before you part with your cash.
Understand the full project cost
Buying the technology is only the first phase, it’s important to ensure your supplier is being completely transparent about user licences or about how easy it will be to get your staff up and running with the new technology.
If it’s going to require your staff to spend time getting up to speed with new attendance software or processes, this is also a cost to you. The best suppliers will offer you ways to train as many staff as possible and will give you a clear view of the long-term costs.
It’s good to talk
Having a limited budget to spend on technology can make cutting corners to save money attractive. However, the adage of ‘if it’s too good to be true then it probably is’ certainly applies when buying software or hardware.
Sometimes what seems like a good deal can cause a host of issues when trying to integrate new technology with a school’s existing systems. Make sure your supplier has a clear plan for integration with legacy systems and what will happen should any problems arise.
There’s also no reason why the supplier relationship should cease after purchase. To get the best value out of your investment, find out what other services and support is on offer.
For example, we provide a health check service for schools. This means we can help our customers spot or iron out any initial problems or we can predict complications that might arise in the future. Perhaps a parental engagement app was working fine but a few parents start to report problems with accessing it.
Highlighting these niggles as soon as possible can save money and frustration.
Another smart way to get a discount is to partner with another school, and you don’t need to be part of a multi-academy trust (MAT) to do this. While your local authority can secure volume discounts, there’s nothing to stop you asking a supplier directly for a deal for a larger order.
You could also investigate whether the supplier would be open to a referral scheme. Technology providers are always more open to discussing a price reduction, if you can recommend other schools who would be interested in purchasing their products.
If you are part of a trust, you may be able to secure an early discount on a growth basis. For example, they might offer reduced rates on technology for five schools, assuming this will grow in a few years.
Freebies for feedback
Your knowledge and time is valuable for a supplier. When new technology is being developed, providers are keen to hear the views and experience of the people who will be using it in the future. By offering to be a beta tester, a school that trials the product before it is released, can secure you some very attractive discount.
However, this works better for software rather than hardware. But it can be a good way for your school to access the latest software tools in exchange for letting the supplier know of any bugs or improvements that can be made.
Yet, this requires a willingness to try out a system in the development stage and time available to communicate with the supplier.
Investigate pricing strategies
Generally, there are two different types of payment: subscription or perpetual licensing. If your school is more cash rich, you may prefer perpetual licensing, which includes an upfront software cost, followed by an annual maintenance fee.
However, subscriptions are becoming more popular as government funding is often distributed throughout the year. This allows schools to spread the cost, making it easier for them to budget.
At a time when demand for technology in education has never been greater, it’s important to have an open relationship with suppliers to see if they can help you make a tight budget go a bit further.
Five tips for investing in tech on a budget
- Define what your school needs from new technology – this will guide your strategy and will ensure you get the maximum benefit for more of your staff.
- Partner with your supplier – find out what additional or ongoing service or support they can offer.
- Share the benefits – get better deals by collaborating with other schools to secure volume discounts or negotiate referral deals with your supplier.
- Put a value on your time and expertise – cost savings can be had if you test new technology.
- Secure the best pricing strategy for you – do you want to pay for the tech up front and be able to use it indefinitely or would a subscriptionbased license suit you better?
Winston Poyton is senior product director at IRIS Software Group. Find innovative software designed for the education sector at iris.co.uk/sector/education-software.