How to choose the right IT partner

  • How to choose the right IT partner

Schools in the UK spend £900m a year on education technology (Gartner). The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) says schools have £619m in budgets for ICT, with £95m spent on software and digital content. That’s a lot of money being spent on computers in the classroom, then – but one thing you can be sure of, no matter how much is spent, is that at some point all of these systems will require maintenance and support.

Educators are specialists in many things, however, unless they are teaching ICT, it’s unlikely that they are IT experts. That can mean that when faced with the inevitable technology related hiccup, things can grind to a halt – disrupting not just teaching, but also lesson plans, and the students. Additionally, in many schools, once an investment has been made in IT equipment, it will be some time before this is replaced – making timely, and thorough, repairs even more critical.

This makes finding the right IT partner integral to providing consistent, high quality, IT supplies to both staff and pupils. But with so many IT providers to choose from, how do you choose the one that will become your school’s trusted advisor? One that will become part of your team?

Check the list

Obviously any potential contract will have to go through the school’s own procurement process – covering cost, quality, warranties and delivery timescales, but it’s also important to consider the following:

Word of mouth

Nothing is as valuable as a good recommendation – and this is often an excellent starting point when initiating the process. Don’t be put off if smaller companies don’t have as many references as larger ones – it doesn’t mean they don’t provide an excellent service to a smaller client base.

Are they listening?

Make sure that any potential supplier is listening to your requirements, and coming up with a solution that will work for your school – rather than trying to convince you of how much you need their top sellers.

Point of contact

There is nothing more frustrating than having to go through a switchboard number and wait in a queue – particularly when you need an issue resolved as soon as possible. Knowing who to contact, and that they will know and understand you and your school, can make a huge difference when it comes to arranging new equipment or repairs quickly.

Make it personal

You should be able to customise equipment to suit your needs – be it increased memory or specific features that may not come as standard. In all cases, your supplier should be happy to take the time to come up with a bespoke solution for your school.

Continual improvement

As well as providing timely maintenance and repairs, your IT partner should also be able to advise on how to make cost effective improvements where necessary – perhaps using refurbished machines to keep costs under control.

Chris Stankus, Software Development Manager at Carmel College, Merseyside, believes his positive working relationship with his IT supplier has been key to Carmel achieving its ICT goals. “When it comes to the IT provision at Carmel, our aim is that students have a positive experience and are able to go about their work in a frustration-free manner where we actively try to maintain the best possible availability for our users,” he explains. “That means reliable machines, but also a quick turnaround on resolving any issues. Because we have now worked with the same supplier for some time, we feel confident when making any purchases from them that we will receive the necessary support in a timely manner. It’s reassuring to know that the support is there when you need it.”

Knowing you

Making sure you find an IT partner that will take the time to ensure they fully understand your school’s requirements, and that means getting into the guts of how the equipment is used, by whom, and for what purpose, will pay long term dividends. Only by doing this, can they be in the best possible position to advise on how and where improvements can be made in the most cost effective manner.

Using refurbished equipment is also an excellent way of keeping costs down, particularly when it comes with a warranty, rather than always buying new. Contrary to what some might think, refurbished machines do not mean lower quality. In fact, it can often mean that you are able to afford better quality, more reliable machines at a fraction of the ‘new’ price.

Chris Stankus agrees.“The IT systems that we use at Carmel are integral to the learning experience for our students,” he points out, “using the best possible and most up to date software on a good hardware platform. Some schools might be put off buying refurbished equipment – feeling that they always need to buy new. For us however, using refurbished machines has directly contributed to our goal of achieving academic excellence.”

About the author

Bill Champness is managing director at Hardware Associates.