Classroom tech: comparing apples with pears?

By Ian Curtis, Head of Western Europe, Africa & ANZ, Promethean

The popularity of Interactive Flat Panel Displays (IFPDs) has grown exponentially in the UK market over the past couple of years, with many schools choosing to upgrade legacy IWBs to the latest and greatest IFPDs. This notable increase in demand has not surprisingly brought with it the launch of a number of new players into the market, many of whom have either very little trading history and minimal experience of the education market.

Moreover, with purchasing decisions broadly currently driven by technical specification and system performance, important factors such as software licensing, product warranty and after sales care are tending to fall by the wayside – a somewhat dangerous position when considering the adoption of IFPD technology is a long term investment.

Essentially, the growth of the IFPD market has changed the classroom technology landscape and brought a number of issues to the fore. In terms of product differentiation, general functionality and overall capability are often very similar across all the IFPDs available, with the number of HDMI inputs or HD quality providing a pretty reliable benchmark. Instead, the true markers of quality and making a sound investment are now determined more by the ‘peripheral’ factors such as whether a supplier will be in business long enough to honour standard warranties or even their ability to fulfil an order (given IFPDs require a solid financial base to fund the importing of these products into the UK).

Even when these basics have been verified, which can easily be done by consulting independent financial reports from credible sources such as Dun & Bradstreet, there are further commercial avenues to explore when evaluating the IFPD proposition beyond technical specification.

At present, extended warranties are a major point of differentiation for IFPDs. As a minimum, schools should be looking for a five-year warranty and should not be afraid to ask the reseller to interrogate the financial stability or longevity of the IFPD provider. During these unprecedented times there is a real risk of IFPDs becoming a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ marketplace, which will only leave schools exposed and left ‘holding the baby’, so to speak.

In short, IFPDs are something of a game changer for classroom technology procurement. The investment decision goes much further than the technology specification and into wider commercial considerations. This means that ‘like for like’ has to evaluate the substance that sits behind and actually supports the technology; because when you scratch beneath the surface you need to make sure that you are not comparing apples and pears…