The problem with technology

Back in the day, you mentioned the word ‘technology’ and much of the education world would clam up, says Jerry Brand

By Jerry Brand, Founder of The Facilities Collective (www.facilitiescollective.com)

Back in the day, you mentioned the word ‘technology’ and much of the education world would clam up. But as new technologies have filtered through into the education sector on a wider scale, it is clear that some things have changed; more people are receptive to how technology can improve daily processes for the better and fears of trying something new are reducing somewhat; but some things haven’t moved on. Confidence in newer technologies is still relatively low for some in this sector – and for very good reason.

In the past, new technology caused problems for many schools, namely because any kind of change is always a concern – that ‘fear of change’ lives inside lots of people across many industries (not just limited to education). But education is a sector, like others, that is renowned for inheriting legacy systems which may be archaic or out of date and it is likely that the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ analogy often crept in at the point of deciding whether to look into new options. 

Lacking in ‘fit for purpose’ systems

A fear of change combined with the comfort blanket of backward technologies does mean that some schools are continuing to use old systems and are not benefiting from new technology and the modernisation of workflow that this can bring. Older systems are slower, they aren’t integrated and they are often admin-intensive and expensive to maintain in terms of manpower. But there is light at the end of the tunnel because that reluctance to look into new technology is fading and the education sector is starting to investigate and listen to new ideas.

However, some reservations towards newer advances in technology (of which there are still some), can be forgiven. Unfortunately education is a sector where there are not enough ‘fit for purpose’ systems actually doing what the school needs them to do. There is nothing more irritating than clever marketing campaigns that lead you to believe a piece of technology will do what you want it to, only to find out later on down the line that you are back to square one and a few thousand quid lighter! But why would Headteachers and Bursars get animated about a new piece of software or a new gadget? Because they are ‘tech hungry’ and know they need to invest in the future. But this is also where the headaches begin.

Lack of confidence for good reason

The truth is most of us aren’t really interested in the nuts and bolts of how technology works; we just want it to work. We want it to make sense in our world and have a purpose for being there. We don’t want complicated, we want easy; we don’t want something that looks good but doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Good technology is expensive, it’s never a nice-to-have, it should always be a must-have – otherwise what’s the point in its existence? 

The only way that schools can feel confident that technology will do what they want it to do, is to get involved in the process and the development of the software or system themselves. At first, this might sound a little alien to most. ‘I’m not a software developer’ I hear you cry. And you don’t need to be. It goes back to why we want and need technology – it’s not about how it works it’s about what it needs to do to make our lives easier. You might not know how to write a piece of code to get your system to work in the best way for you, but you can certainly tell those who are equipped to do this, what you need. As an industry, the technology sector really needs to get under the skin of its audience to understand exactly what they need – and this is an evolving exercise too. The more we understand about the day to day running of a school for instance, the more relevant the technology will be – and the more ‘fit for purpose’.

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Costly mistakes

Rather than being all about a fear of change, for many schools struggling to control costs on a day to day basis, it’s also about investing in the right places. Schools simply can’t afford to make mistakes on IT investment. They need to get it right first time. With public sector cuts continuing to dominate the headlines and news of some independent schools dropping their fees in attempt to increase admissions, everyone is in the same boat when it comes to reducing overheads and controlling spend.

So when we talk about the right technology, there is one thing that should always ring true. Technology should always be the driving force behind improvement because it has the power to actually make it happen. If technology could help schools to control their spending for example, in a dynamic way which is both logical and automated it would be working for a purpose and towards a common goal (which schools can resonate with) to regain control of costs.

The way forward

Technology has changed massively even over the last two years. Advances in online technology is undoubtedly the way forward for schools but like everything this stuff takes investment hence why the older, legacy systems are trying to hang on in there. It’s also true that there is a tendency to think about technology in isolation to the environment it is designed to operate in. This is why schools need to get more closely involved in the technology they use from a developmental perspective because they stand to gain so much more if they do.

Technology-driven concepts like collective purchasing are also making big waves in the education sector at the moment, and although the technology is the driving force behind transforming the idea into a reality, the purpose is really all about how schools can purchase collectively to make savings and reduce spend. If something works for a real purpose, it simply works. So when it comes to the problem with technology, perhaps the message is – look at the problem from another perspective (i.e. we are overspending, our suppliers have increased their costs – these are issues that need addressing) and then consider what you need the technology to do, to improve the situation. Then leave the ‘techie folk’ to do their job. 

About The Facilities Collective (www.facilitiescollective.com)

The Facilities Collective Ltd is an operating division of Caternet Ltd. As the system launched officially in April 2014, up to 20 Founding Partners (Oundle, Kimbolton, Harrow, Portsmouth Grammar School, Millfield, Wellingborough, Box Hill, Edge Grove School, RGS Newcastle, Bedales, Milton Abbey, Walhampton and St John’s College currently), will become the control group to help Caternet ‘tune-in’ the software specifically for Independent Schools. Coupled with a professional purchasing management team, Collective Members are expected to sustainably reduce their current facilities spend by at least 5% (the average savings that Caternet have made on catering costs over the last four years).

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