Dell and your school district: When outsourcing isn't a TV show

Dell and your school district: When outsourcing isn't a TV show

Summary: Outsourcing doesn't have to mean job loss. What it can really mean is specialization, which is rarely a bad thing, especially in education, where resources are all too scarce.

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I wrote a piece last night over on Between the Lines asking when we'd start taking India seriously. In particular, I referenced the show Outsourced and its less than savory portrayal of the booming call center industry. Unfortunately, it doesn't take many jobs lost to inexpensive labor overseas or more than a couple first-tier tech support calls to the wrong support center for outsourcing to get a bad name.

Outsourcing doesn't have to be a bad thing, though. If another organization can give you better service for less money than you can achieve internally, doesn't it make sense to let them handle those services for you? We've all had one of those tech support calls to Bangalore or Hyderabad (and recently, more often to the Philippines) that are more frustrating than the problem we're trying to solve.

However, for every one of those calls, we've probably had 50 that were so seamless that we didn't even know the associate on the line wasn't really named Jessica. She just took care of the problem promptly, politely, and efficiently. And since it's far cheaper for Visa or Gateway or whomever to send tech support business to Manilla than handle it domestically, those savings get passed on to consumers (at least that's the idea).

Believe it or not, schools are learning the same thing about so-called outsourced IT services. No, they aren't getting tech support from rapidly developing Asian nations. Rather, they are looking to service providers with a significant cloud presence and software and hardware expertise that most schools can't possibly replicate.

On Tuesday, for example, Dell and the Keller Integrated School District (a Texas district of almost 33,000 students) announced the district's move to Dell's managed IT support services instead of providing their own services internally. Not only are applications and web-enabled services now hosted on Dell's cloud, but email and infrastructure services are also handled by Dell. Dell is also now providing desk-side tech support, remote support, engineering services, and technology consultation for the district.

Given that Dell is based in Texas, this first major effort with a public school district made a lot of sense both for Dell and Keller. If you're a school, after all, and things go wrong, calling someone 500 miles away isn't much better than calling someone 6000 miles away. Being able to access local resources, however, not only keeps jobs in the US, but ensures prompt, quality service. That being said, if Seattle Public Schools wanted to partner with Dell, then there is no reason that local resources couldn't be cultivated in metro Seattle, for example.

According to Dell's press release,

Working side-by-side with teachers and students, Dell took a holistic view of the Keller ISD, then recommended technologies and tools to enhance teaching and learning. Educators and staff now have access to 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week helpdesk and desk-side support, as well as email support, helping to address reduced budgets and helping prevent learning from being interrupted due to technology challenges. They will also have upgraded storage management and network management capabilities designed to increase an efficient enterprise, enabling Keller ISD to focus more time on the classroom.

And there's the key. For about the same amount of money that they were spending before, Keller can now provide highly available, anytime, anywhere services to its staff. Where, as Joe Griffin, CTO for the district, said that they were previously working at full capacity to simply "keep things running," now remaining IT staff can transition to roles that focus on teaching and learning and innovative use of technology in the classroom. Brushfires have been replaced by innovation and improved instructional practices.

Unfortunately, this has also meant some internal job loss. Many simply moved to roles with Dell, while others retooled and took on new roles with Keller. Others moved on. However, if the ultimate result is improved teaching and learning with no increase in costs, then Keller made the right, if difficult choice. This is, after all, about the students, and districts nationwide are being forced to make hard choices across the board right now. If those choices can maintain or improve services to students and staff, then clearly practices like "outsourcing" (I prefer the term partnering, but some would call me out on a euphemism) introduce important efficiencies.

Again, according to Joe Griffin,

“Streamlining our technology infrastructure and improving our support systems with the expertise of our partners at Dell is helping us provide a world-class technology environment that’s bringing improved instructional outcomes while still saving us money. Dell is not only helping us with our short-term needs, but is also helping us look to the future to leverage our technology to meet student and teacher needs for years to come.”

Those are hard words with which to argue when states are facing deficits in the billions and all of us are falling off the ARRA funding cliff.

Topics: Mobility, CXO, Data Centers, Dell, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Outsourcing, IT Employment

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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14 comments
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  • So we are teaching our kids to be unemployed

    Chris, here's the kicker - you're happy (even encourage it) that the school district outscourced to Dell/India, so these people will just have to move on. To were, India?<br>And when our kids graduate, where will they work, what will they do?<br><br>It's not like you're teaching them anything usefull they can do here.
    Will Farrell
    • RE: Dell and your school district: When outsourcing isn't a TV show

      @Will Farrell - did you even read the article? They contracted for IT services which are provided by LOCAL personnel. NONE of these service have gone overseas.
      gavin142
  • How much more cost cutting will they need to do...

    to reach a point where the unemployed and underemployed can afford these "services"?
    FrankInLA
    • RE: Sea of cubicles - today's enterprise

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      drumandyou
  • My condolences - Dell = Junk

    In everything they do so I'd imagine no less than utter crap for this union.
    itguy08
  • Yep, that's going to work out great

    What a great lesson for the students - study hard, get an education and become a skilled worker, so you can grow up to no jobs because you'll expect more than a third-world salary.

    Good luck with Dell. The caveat is they are only interested in your money. They are not vested in the districts success or the well being of faculty or students. I pity the staff calling around the world to have someone read a binder to them while they are assured their call is important. But hey, you saved a buck, right?
    crazydanr@...
  • 33,000 school districts

    "On Tuesday, for example, Dell and the Keller Integrated School District (a Texas district of almost 33,000 school districts)"

    I guess they really do thing bigger in Texas!
    P-Bass
  • Joe Dawson should be fired

    Anyone who thinks buying Dell junk is going to save them money has a screw loose. In education, it's been proven time and time and time and time again that Apple computers are much much more cost effective.

    On top of that, Dell is a POS company as proven by there business practices here:

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/projectfailures/dell-lawsuit-pattern-of-deceit/10165
    ShazAmerica
  • Clarifcation on Dell and Keller Outsourcing

    Keller ISD has 38 campuses serving 33,000 students. This is not Dell consumer tech support. This organization services state and local governements, hospitals, and universities with local suport in Plano, TX. We have Apple, HP, and Cisco hardware.
    jpgriffin
  • RE: Dell and your school district: When outsourcing isn't a TV show

    At Dell, my colleagues and I are working with schools around the world to help them look at technology as a way to help meet the unique needs of each student and teacher. We believe our partnerships - like with Keller ? being done locally with them to streamline infrastructure & offer increased 24/7 services support ? is just one way we can do that. We?re continuing to listen to and implement feedback from school leaders and staff every day.
    karisherrodd
  • RE: Dell and your school district: When outsourcing isn't a TV show

    Get real and stop being selfish, whiners. If Dell IT is cheaper and effective, 33,000 students and their parents benefit. Your worthless, selfish @ss is not worth more than their savings. Didn't you see that many of the old workers were now TEACHING the kids??? Obviously, some of you would not be among that crew.
    dwilde1
    • How Many IT Peole Dp YOU Know With Teaching Credentials?

      @dwilde1 "many of the old workers were now TEACHING the kids" I did see it and but did NOT see any numbers to back it up. One does not need a teaching credential to work for a school district, other than teachers. In the school district here, an entry level "microcomputer" tech starts at a higher pay level than new teacher, but doesn't need a college degree or a teaching credential. So HOW did these "many" old workers morph into teachers?
      Lazarus439
      • Simple,

        @Lazarus439 - In Texas, if you already have a degree, all you have to do to qualify for a teaching position is to pass a background check, and sit for a teaching certificate within the first 12 months of your employment as a teacher.
        gavin142
  • RE: Dell and your school district: When outsourcing isn't a TV show

    Its all a matter of how the contract is written and expectations. A few years ago, a new superintendant here got into onto the outsourcing bandwagon until it was realized that K12 IT often is asked to do alot more and for very little compared to what corporations do. The quotes he got back were far higher than districts total IT budget (and probably still are).
    dog15bert