IT harmonisation – what does it mean for a MAT?

Steve Smith, Education Director at Capita Managed IT Solutions, looks at how harmonisation applies to IT in a multi-academy trust

Picture a multi-academy trust acquiring new schools on a regular basis, all with varying back end IT infrastructure components such as wireless, servers, storage and networks along with numerous IT providers and procurement channels. Combining these all together can cause a headache for the trust’s IT department in terms of co-ordinating the IT service and managing separate contracts with providers. This can also affect the ability of schools in the trust to collaborate effectively.

IT is not always the top priority for a trust as they establish, and therefore IT harmonisation is not always at the forefront of their growth strategy. However, IT harmonisation can provide the vehicle for supporting the ease of growth and the seamless on-boarding of new schools.

Often IT is perceived as a huge investment – this is not always the case. A cost-effective behind the scenes IT infrastructure can drive cost efficiencies and change the classroom experience, without disrupting teaching and learning as it takes place.

There are steps a trust can take to harmonise their IT infrastructure that will drive the achievement of improved performance and cost savings across the trust. It is not possible for this to occur overnight, however. The first step for a trust is to understand what their current situation is and who the various IT providers from which their schools procure are.  This can provide a clear picture of the level of consistency and where new agreements can be negotiated.

Key questions include what is the wireless capacity in each school, what is the status of the key networking components (servers, switches, storage etc.) in what system(s) is student data monitored.   This ‘back-end’ IT infrastructure is usually transparent to the users, unlike the technology being used in the classroom which is very visible and may not need to be harmonised if it is right for the individual schools.  After all, this end user computing equipment should be capable of connecting to any IT core infrastructure – so why not harmonise if it saves money and makes the estate easier to support?

A proper audit of the entire IT estate will provide a basis to understand what exactly a trust needs to do to harmonise and leads to their ‘how to’ plan in terms of sustainable refresh.

To achieve IT harmonisation, a trust must begin by discussing the following questions:

1. Do we have an effective IT strategy and a refresh programme for on-boarding new schools?

2. Do we have a view of the IT environment in all our schools?

3. Do we have a clear view of all IT suppliers through which our schools procure and is this offering value for money?

4. Are we receiving a cohesive and coherent IT service?

5. Is the existing IT provision supporting the achievement of improved student performance?

Once the IT infrastructure has been harmonised, how IT impacts upon teaching and learning methods becomes apparent. Trialling new teaching technology and software becomes far simpler – and it becomes significantly easier to collaborate across trust schools and share best practice.

It opens a whole new world for students and teachers – and because a reliable back-end infrastructure is in place, there will be very little risk of projects failing or classrooms experiencing connection problems due the IT infrastructure. Technology that is being delivered in one school will work in another without issue.

As a new school joins a trust they will experience huge change, and it is important a trust can support the new school and ensure their transformation is as seamless as possible. Establishing a clear set of guidelines about on-boarding a new school with an IT infrastructure that works reduces the risk for the trust and avoids early disagreements about spending, and as such IT harmonisation means a trust is better prepared for the future.

To be clear, however, not every school in a trust is the same, and IT harmonisation is not about applying a standard IT provision regardless of a schools’ wishes.  It is about applying the same core, back-end solution, whilst allowing schools the flexibility to facilitate learning and enrich teaching with whatever user access technologies that work for them.  This approach ensures consistency in the areas that really matter at a trust level, makes the model far more scalable and ensures new schools that join have the same expectation and opportunity. 

Clearly, consolidating spend and harmonising around fewer suppliers/manufacturers will save a trust money. Money that can be reinvested in support of the all-important goal of education; performance improvement. Put simply, money not spent unnecessarily on ‘back-end’ IT can be used in other ways; on things that directly impact on improving outcomes, whether this be continual professional development, additional staff or new classroom devices.

In summary, then, IT harmonisation means:

1. Harmonising IT suppliers and procurement channels to as few providers or manufacturers as is appropriate, thereby reducing costs in respect of technical support, administration and management of suppliers, as well as gaining economies of scale – freeing resources to re-invest in teaching and learning.

2. Harmonising the behind the scenes core IT infrastructure, so when new schools join the trust they become part of a reliable and future proofed IT infrastructure network that enables them to experiment with new IT rich teaching methods. 

Capita work as an IT partner to support you in your IT harmonisation plans, improving IT services across your trust while achieving cost efficiencies and safeguarding students.