What are you doing about rising EdTech costs?

In the absence of good data, administrators and IT professionals alike often turn to simple short-term solutions to address budget constraints which do not serve their long-term goals, or the overriding mission of the organization -- to teach those who will lead our nation one day.
Written by Marc Wagner, Contributor

Anyone who has worked in Education IT for very long knows that, despite the drop in hardware prices over the years, IT costs continue to rise, but I wonder how many of your administrators have taken the time to figure out why -- or really thought about what to do about it. 

A recent report in eSchool News (Report: Tech-support costs on the rise) reminds us that technical support costs have doubled in just the last four years -- making technical support the fastest growing expense in Education IT.  Is anyone surprised by this?  I am certainly not. 

According to the report, the typical knee-jerk reaction to this trend is that old stand-by:  cut professional development, and cut software spending.  Sounds a little like "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face" to me!  Or is it the noses of our educators and our students that are being cut off? 

Sure using this approach the small "mom & pop" business can put things off, and it can even keep the enterprise going for a year or two -- until the guy at the top gets promoted -- or bails out to avoid getting fired over lost productivity!  But an educational setting is different.  Isn't it?  At least it oughtto be! 

 Whether we are educators ourselves or we are providing tools to our educators, it's our job to train our future leaders -- and that means training our educators as well, not just their students.  So why are our administrators cutting training for our educators and ourselves when, without training, the tools we provide are of marginal value. 

The author of the eSchool News report states:

"Interestingly, few technology directors cited reducing tech-support costs as a way to cut budgets in a more significant way--this, despite the fact that tech support is the fastest-growing cost area for school technology budgets."

So how might we cut technical support costs?  I can think of a few ways, and I'll bet you can too:

  • Replace those old computers.  Most old computers need lots of 'care and feeding' and since most of them were donated and are long since obsolete (most likely they were obsolete when they were donated), you waste a lot of time searching for replacement parts.  Can't replace them all at once?  Do it over three-to-five years. 
  • Have dedicated IT staff.  Not practical?  What's worse?  Taking time away from your students to fix computers which are long overdue for replacement or asking your under-trained over-worked educators to work even longer hours because you've saddled them with outdated hardware and software while your state and federal government load them up with even more "unfunded mandates" while pushing unenforceable restrictions on your students and insisting that they enforce the new rules?  The fact that our educators need to worry about whether the tools their students need will be available or not is the real tragedy.
  • Manage your software licenses.  Maybe you don't need the most recent release of popular software but if you are two releases (or two years) out of date on your software, then it's time to upgrade.  You don't always need licenses for all of your seats but you need sufficient licenses to meet the basic needs of your educators and their students.  Well-scheduled classes can reduce your licensing needs further.  Real-time license monitoring tools can also reduce your dependence upon per-seat licensing. 
  • Manage your software build.  There are many tools available which permit the development and distribution of software based upon build images.  With remote distribution tools, once a build image is developed the number of workstations you are delivering it to becomes irrelevant.  Whether it's 100 computers or 1,000, it's the number of unique images that impacts software maintenance -- not the number of workstations. 
  • Paper and Toner do not belong in IT budgets.  But aren't these real costs?  Sure they are but are they legitimate IT costs?  Not necessarily.  These costs tend to go up, not down, when Education IT budgets are not used efficiently.  Further, the paper and toner costs of one high-speed printer over one year could buy ten to thirty new computers!  Which is the better investment?  By isolating this budget item, the real cost of unnecessary printing reveals itself quickly.

Yeah, I know that I am preaching to the choir but these are the things we need to share with our administrators -- many of whom have little IT training themselves.  

A thorough analysis of how your IT day is spent, and how much time and money could be saved through prudent use of limited resources by establishing a realistic life-cycle funding model with balanced goals based upon the needs of your educators and their students could make a big difference -- to you and to your educators and their students.

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