Making money count in a digital age

Rebecca Paddick asks some of the sector’™s experts how you can best manage your spending in these austere times


Gemma Platt, product marketing manager at Casio

James Rutherford, learning environment manager at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London

Shaun Marklew, sales director at Sahara Presentation Systems

Paul Croft, director, Ultimaker GB


Due to budget restraints, schools, colleges and universities have to be increasingly selective in their technology spending. So how can they best manage their budget?

Gemma Platt: With ICT budgets continuing to be tightened, education professionals are under increasing pressure to get more value for money from their IT spend. Unfortunately, and due to the nature of ‘quarterly budget review cycles’ teachers often focus – when allocating tech spend – on the upfront costs of equipment.

When managing ICT budgets, teachers should in fact be thinking about the ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO), considering what the lifetime cost of items are. How does it compare to the initial cost and how will a low TCO help schools pull back budget in the long term. 

James Rutherford: The London College of Fashion is one of six colleges within the University of the Arts London, which has a centrally managed IT service alongside local IT management. Over the last few years there has been strategic change in funding allocation for new devices. Each college has had a top slice applied to their budget which the University retained in order to build up a fund for what is known as the Desktop Refresh programme.

The University audited the entire estate, capturing data on all devices. Then adopting a phased schedule, any machine older than five years would be automatically replaced. The college identified a set of specifications based on local knowledge and the needs of the user and specific facilities. The budget is allocated on a priority basis with teaching rooms preceding IT open access and research spaces ahead of staff devices.

Shaun Marklew: When looking at new technology the school must consider a number of factors including energy management and, ultimately, cost of ownership. The Clevertouch interactive screen is energy efficient, but also, compared to traditional interactive whiteboard and projectors, has a much lower cost of ownership. The ability of new and exciting technology to attract new students shouldn’t be overlooked.

Paul Croft: Since the recession, budgets have been tight for all education institutions. It has become even more significant to be creative in technology spending. This can be best achieved by choosing products that represent great value and not being lured into false economies of cheaper, less reliable products. Looking for open source technology solutions is a cost-effective strategy, for example, using Ultimaker’s free open source software allows everybody to be involved in the process of 3D printing for no cost at all.

Will complying with the new computing curriculum prove difficult for schools on a tight budget?

GP: Again this falls back to who has control of the purse strings and how they are investing the budget. At Casio, we have recently launched a trade-in scheme to offer teachers an incentive for ‘upgrading’ their AV equipment – in return we’ll be collecting, safely disposing of and upgrading AV units in schools, universities and colleges around the country. 

These schemes are designed to help schools and universities comply with the new computing curriculum, so it is important that teachers are aware of these and are taking full advantage of them. 

SM: This may prove difficult for schools with old or out-of-date hardware and software. Updating their technology may put pressure on the schools’ budgets.

PC: It depends very much on the buying decisions schools make. There are more and more options for schools to assess and some commercial organisations are targeting profits from education institutions.

Would you say that most educational institutions in the UK now see installing up-to-date ICT equipment as a priority? If not, should they?

GP: Yes, definitely. Shows like Bett, which gets bigger and bigger every year, are a clear sign of how much technology has infiltrated the education system. With the new computing curriculum geared towards equipping children with the skills they need to become active participants in the fast-paced’ digital world, it is becoming more important than ever for schools to invest in up-to-date tech equipment.

JR: Definitely, ICT equipment is not held in a separate lab anymore; technology is integral to much of the curriculum. I would be surprised if any HEIs are not actively investing in new equipment. The College has set out its strategic plan to provide improved access to mobile digital technologies. This has been a local investment programme with the 1:1 iPad programme. This links to our audio visual plan to incorporate mobile devices in the classroom for improved connectivity for staff and students.

We are also supporting the increased use of online submission and assessment tools, where new technology is essential to enable and support this changing practice. The College digital strategy was introduced two years ago to improve the capability of staff in relation to their digital competency. It is now entering phase two with the distribution of further devices.  

SM: Our experience is that nearly all of the education institutions we come into contact with see updating ICT equipment as a priority. The problems we encounter are budget restraints. This is difficult to overcome, however we have supported a number of schools to help with a rolling upgrade of new technology. 

PC: In my personal opinion some schools are way ahead of others in this area, but overall there is a trend towards ICT becoming a priority. The most forward-thinking schools view ICT equipment as a cross curriculum resource and have reaped real benefits. If I look back to my education and the world I grew up in, there wasnt necessarily the need for my learning to be technology based. 

However, in this modern world, where the rate of development is astounding, I think schools have a moral obligation to prepare pupils for the future,’ whether its 3D printing, augmented reality or any other development, by creating a tech mindset, schools are equipping students for success.

Are businesses that work within the education sector able to offer a high-quality service while staying within budget?

GP: Suppliers are fully aware of the budget constraints facing their customers – particularly those operating in the public sector. As a business with a high volume of our customers in the education sector we invest a lot of time in improving the level of service we provide to universities, schools and colleges in the UK.

Our trade-in initiatives, buy-back schemes and low TCO of products have all been introduced to help these ICT professionals achieve a high-quality service while staying within budget.

JR: The short answer is no. There is considerable variation in the standard of service in the technology industry, whether they are IT or AV suppliers and integrators. This is problematic as what universities need is consistency and cost-effectiveness. We have replaced older computers with iMacs as they offer a dual boot of operating systems and the hardware has proven to be more reliable, offering us greater value in TCO over five years.

In terms of audio visual suppliers, we standardise on manufacturers that offer excellent service, with next-day swap out of faulty equipment and UK-based service departments. The quality of service provided by our audio visual integrator is developed from an honest and open working relationship that has been developed over time to ensure we get what we need as well as what we can afford.

PC: Its not a question of can rather companies must! High-quality service and high-quality products allow businesses to eradicate costly errors and focus time and resources on service delivery rather than complaint resolution.