Every cloud has a silver lining

Alex Mawson explains how schools can benefit from the adoption of cloud technology

Cloud technology is changing many industries, and in education, the benefit for teachers and schools on a budget could be transformative. It can improve communication between staff, pupils and parents, enhance the way students learn, and have a positive impact on the work/life balance of hard-pressed teaching staff.

What is holding many schools and colleges back from benefiting is aging IT networks, lack of capital, and access to the right expertise. At Daisy, we have visited many schools and colleges paying over the odds for outdated fixed line telephone systems, or IT reliant on an aging server in a special air-conditioned room, regularly visited by teams of people trying to solve a problem. Cloud technology relies on the convergence of IT and telecoms to open up a world of possibilities. The good news is that solutions are getting simpler and more accessible by the day. 

The key is to start by imagining how a cloud-enabled school or college could work and what it could mean. The benefits start at the reception desk. Whether it’s an emergency or a parent calling to say their child is going to be late, people expect to get through and have their enquiry dealt with.  Parents also expect to be told quickly about things that affect their plans.   

The adoption of cloud-based or hosted telephony makes this simple and can also save money.

Calls are made over the internet (known as VOIP) which means it works with existing computer systems but is also available via apps on smart phones. The systems require very little capital expenditure (if they wish to lease the handsets) and little maintenance. 

Cloud technology relies on the convergence of IT and telecoms to open up a world of possibilities. The good news is that solutions are getting simpler and more accessible by the day. 

Integrated cloud-based IT and telecoms systems also open up lots of possibilities. Once adopted, there are many simple features which can be added with a huge potential impact, such as automatic call distribution. If parents find the phone engaged, then the system will locate an alternative and switch to someone’s mobile. And it’s not just incoming calls. If snow means the school is shut, a few clicks can update the website and social media channels, as well as text every parent. If Class 4B is going to be late back from a trip then the system can let parents know, give an accurate ETA, or let them track the coach in real time. Helping parents in these simple ways can enhance relationships because it makes their busy lives easier.

Adopting this kind of approach means unpicking the old legacy idea of thinking in terms of physical lines and servers when it comes to IT infrastructure. We spend a huge amount of time helping educational institutions get their IT and networks up to scratch, and this rarely involves digging up anything or knocking anything down; it’s about identifying the right solutions. 

Once schools and colleges embrace the cloud supported by secure, reliable networks, there are lots of options for creating a more productive, efficient, learning environment. For example, a good WiFi network means that pupils can download, rather than carry, relevant textbooks; editions dynamically updating, saving schools and parents money. With secure cloud data storage in place, pupils can upload their homework to a portal and parents can see when it was done, or be alerted if it is overdue. If everything is in the cloud, then there is no reason for teachers to be stuck late at their desks, when they can access everything securely from home.

It’s not just data about how pupils are performing that is easier to collect but also how the school is operating. Integration of smart building technology that switches off lights and power sockets when not needed, controls smoke alarms and manages the heating, saves money. Schools can also build a detailed understanding of how pupils move around the buildings helping with timetable creation or planning evacuations. All these elements add to productivity and better budget management. 

Businesses up and down the country are building the networks that support this kind of technology as they prepare for what is sometimes called the fourth industrial revolution. There is nothing to stop the education sector being at the forefront as well. 

Alex Mawson is Product Director, Voice Services at the Daisy Group  


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