By Michael Tu, Financial Director at Hardware Associates
It's approaching that time of year when school nativities and carol rehearsals take over, the staff Christmas party is in the diary and we start to take stock of the year gone by... including those end of year finances.
For most schools it seems that financial pressures seem to increase year on year – with more demands on time, staff and resource, and tighter and tighter budgets to do it in.
For better or worse, most schools these days rely somewhat on their IT infrastructure – not just in terms of providing a varied and robust ICT curriculum, but also supporting the actual running of the school. But, keeping that infrastructure working quickly and efficiently can sometimes seem like a job in itself. Did you know that some IT experts have started suggesting a two yearly replacement is more efficient for businesses?
For the majority of schools replacing their IT equipment so often will be unrealistic, but at the same time no one wants a slow system that both hinders activity in the classroom and makes you and your team less productive. And of course, no school can afford the risk of old software and systems that are left vulnerable to cyber attacks because the updates just aren’t available for it anymore.
Even under tough budget pressures, keeping your IT infrastructures up to date is a necessity. The key to doing this without draining the budget is to seek out expert advice.
But with so many IT providers to choose from, how do you choose the one that will become your school’s trusted advisor?
Obviously any potential contract will have to go through the your own procurement process – covering cost, quality, warranties and delivery timescales, but it’s also important to consider the following:
- Word of mouth – Nothing is as valuable as a good recommendation – and this is often an excellent starting point when initiating the process. Don’t be put off if smaller companies don’t have as many references as larger ones – it doesn’t mean they don’t provide an excellent service to a smaller client base.
- Are they listening? Make sure that any potential supplier is listening to your requirements and coming up with a solution that will work for your environment – rather than trying to convince you of how much you need their top sellers.
- Point of contact - Knowing who to contact, and being certain that they will know and understand you and your business, can make a huge difference when it comes to arranging new equipment or repairs quickly.
- Make it personal – You should be able to customise equipment to suit your needs – be it increased memory or specific features that may not come as standard.
- Continual improvement – as well as providing timely maintenance and repairs, your IT partner should also be able to advise on how to make cost effective improvements where necessary – perhaps using refurbished machines to keep costs under control.
The right advisor will also help you to find ways to maximise your budget, such as using refurbished hardware rather than buying new, cloud storage, and utilising relevant free apps. They will also provide you with ongoing to support to advise on any training, and resolve any problems should they occur.
People often assume that you need to buy new to obtain the latest technology – but that simply isn’t true. Refurbished machines, done properly, can provide an excellent cost effective alternative, that allows businesses to keep pace much better than if they were always buying new stock.
Many fear also that buying ‘second hand’ works out as a false economy – preferring to buy a new machine straight off the shelf. However, the cost reduction of buying a refurbished machine can be so significant that it is often possible to buy higher-grade equipment – larger memory or processing speed, along with enhanced warranties, and still pay less than when buying new.
As with any significant purchase, it’s important to do your research. Not only into what you need in terms of capabilities, but also into where to make a sound purchase that will go the distance. Make sure any supplier (for new or refurbished equipment) listens to your requirements and goes the extra mile to meet those (rather than trying to offload excess stock or their top sellers!) and – most importantly – offers a robust warranty on all machines.
Using a such a sensible approach will not only help your business overcome any budget pressures in 2017, but will help ensure that your IT systems are ready to tackle whatever the future brings.
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