Why partners that offer bespoke intelligent systems are in the best position to capture sales in the education sector
While there are substantial opportunities in the classroom and the back office for new technology, selling to schools and colleges can be tough.
This is a sector that has a wide and complex network of stakeholders to appease with very tight budgets. IT managers, governors and possibly parent-teacher committees need to be convinced that a solution meets the school or college’s needs.
Education procurement is also one of the best examples of a customer segment that’s no longer willing to purchase stand-alone, unconnected hardware.
With a growing propensity to purchase contracts versus hardware, there are a wealth of opportunities in this sector for those firms that are willing to bolt on added value.
Help IT managers deliver
The starting point for reviewing school IT provision must be understanding the needs of teachers and pupils. Solutions must be tailored to meet their needs and work effectively in the classroom environment.
Ultimately, new hardware should always be viewed as a solution to pain points, with the goal either being to increase efficiency or to improve the learning experience, or both.
An initial audit assessing the current IT infrastructure, future objectives, and different stakeholders’ needs should give suppliers the chance to identify the opportunities and risks associated with any new technology introduction, and will help to give both IT managers and wider stakeholders confidence in the end solution.
Ensuring school staff and pupils feel confident using any new technology should also be an important part of the overall strategy. If they don’t succeed here, neither does the technology.
Consider the wider IT infrastructure
As mobile device usage grows, access to enough bandwidth and provision of Wi-Fi in classrooms will become key concerns for more school IT managers.
Tablets are used across schools, and now have an established role in classrooms, and a growing number of schools either provide a tablet for every child or have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy.
This gives channel firms the opportunity to help IT managers overcome the disruption caused by many devices connecting to the internet at once. An audit of a school or college’s internet performance should be undertaken if any hardware or system being implemented is data intensive.
Bandwidth aside, IT managers increasingly recognise that systems that don’t speak to one another are neither cost effective nor do they improve efficiency. This is a result of excitement about new technology in years gone by, which led to many organisations purchasing stand-alone tablets and computers that weren’t fit for purpose for the classroom and didn’t integrate with wider systems.
Now, the focus is on making hardware interact more effectively. For example, School Information Management System (SIMS), is used by schools to improve the way pupils’ records are stored. However, uploading individual scanned documents can be a time-consuming process for teachers and lead to human error. We created an integrated Direct Scan for SIMS solution to automate this process. When scanned, documents are automatically saved and correctly named in SIMS, complete with an audit trail showing who created the record and when – a significant time saver for teachers.
A teacher should never turn up on Monday morning to find a new piece of tech, like a smart whiteboard, in the classroom and be left to work out how to use it without support.
The process for embedding any solution should be collaborative from the outset, with IT managers, teachers and suppliers working together to help demonstrate ways in which new systems can help overcome current IT challenges.
Change management is of upmost importance.
Providing a thorough induction delivered by an expert in the teaching environment will help ensure the tools are used efficiently and correctly. It’s then necessary to provide ongoing support to iron out any teething problems and prevent bad habits from creeping in. The time and training needed to do this must be factored into any budget from the start.
Switch to long term contracts
The broader trend towards integrated technology and services is resulting in an increasing number of schools looking to procure on a contractual basis rather than simply buying hardware as and when needed. It’s moved on from simple price-based purchasing and resellers need to demonstrate that they’re able to offer added value.
IT managers want to get access to resellers’ expertise, and contracts give them better access to solution design and delivery.
For resellers, a contractual model often results in a deeper relationship with the IT manager and stronger prospects for long term revenue opportunities.
Grieg Millar is general manager, sales at Brother UK