Balancing school budget against new investments is a common challenge across many sectors, and education is no different. With a host of events and publications available that showcase the best and brightest technology available in the market today, it can be slightly intimidating when trying to understand what edtech you should be investing in and when – particularly in the face of stagnating or shrinking budgets.
So, to help schools with the challenge of ‘investment vs budgets’, we sat down with two of our Directors to ask them their thoughts on the current landscape of technology in education, what schools should be looking out for, and how this could impact and potentially support their budgeting.
Alastair Price is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of iSAMS. Launching in 2005, iSAMS was the first school management information system that was entirely web-based. They are now the leading MIS supplier to UK Independent Schools.
Jamie Reid is iSAMS‘ Sales Director and has been working with the company since 2006. Dedicated to meeting the needs of our partner schools, Jamie has been instrumental in iSAMS’ growth as the trusted MIS partner of over 850 schools around the world.
Q. I’ve got a limited school budget. What technology should I be looking to invest in?
JR: From a commercial perspective, you want to be able to offer something sophisticated and exciting enough that it attracts new students and parents, but practically it must also be able to problem-solve over the long-term for your school. Bearing this in mind, I would be looking at technology that answers the questions to some of your most critical needs. A strong management information system (MIS) is always going to be an important investment, as it manages essential data from just about every aspect of school life and its accessibility is relied upon by key stakeholders across the school community. I truly believe that a good MIS can be the answer to a lot of problems surrounding efficiency, administrative processes, financial management, staff performance, the day-to-day running of a school, and more.
AP: This really depends on what your school’s overarching goals are. There are numerous challenges facing the education sector at the moment – from staffing shortages and budget cuts, to student wellbeing and data protection – and if you can find tech that supports you in overcoming some of these challenges and achieving your school’s goals, then that’s definitely worth considering as an investment. When budgets are tight, I don’t think it’s necessarily the newest and brightest tech you should be looking at, as tempting as it may be. I’d be looking for something more holistically reliable that you feel confident will be able to support your school.
Q. How can I save money and keep up-to-date with new technology on the market?
JR: I would suggest listening to your colleagues and other schools when it comes to something like this. We set up our iCommunity platform because we know how valuable it can be for schools to have the opportunity to network and share knowledge and new ideas with one another. Over the years we’ve seen some fantastic advice and useful tips shared between colleagues who’ve faced similar challenges.
AP: Whilst technology is an industry that moves phenomenally quickly, getting approval to invest in and implementing technological changes in your school can actually be a reasonably long process – this doesn’t have to be “dead time”. My top tip would be to keep an eye on edtech developments whilst you’re searching for the right tech for you, and keep touching base with your school’s essential needs. Once you’ve got an approved budget, you don’t have to invest immediately; you never know when that near-perfect solution might present itself. We are continually seeking to improve and develop our software to ensure we meet the existing and emerging needs of educators in the UK and around the world. So, make sure you continue familiarising yourself with the edtech space so that you know when the right software comes around.
Q. How can I make sure I get the most value for money from technology?
AP: There’s that saying that you have to spend money to make money, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be true. We often find that the schools we work with have existing systems in place that are eating up their finances and yet not fulfilling their fundamental needs. To truly get the most out of any edtech investment, it has to do what you need it to, and if it doesn’t then you should stop investing in it and filter that money back into your budgets. For me, it all boils down to finding something that has the ability to support you in the long-term.
When it comes to something like an MIS, it takes time and money to move from one system to another, so you ideally want to get it right the first time. There are several ways you can try and ensure this:
- Know what you want and expect from a system before approaching a supplier,
- explore different suppliers until you find the right one for you,
- make sure you have the initial time set aside to commit to a new investment through the set-up/installation process, and
- assign an ongoing point of contact between your school and your supplier.
In our experience, this latter point is particularly important. Many of our partner schools’ needs change over time and, if we’re made aware of this, we can flexibly adapt our MIS to better support their new requirements, saving them from having to go through another potentially expensive and time-consuming migration.
Q. Is there anything I should watch out for when investing in technology?
JR: Be wary of large upfront costs and the potential hidden costs of new tech. Involving careful calculation, budget planning is a hugely important exercise at every school and investing in something that impacts these figures in ways you didn’t anticipate can leave you in a financially precarious position. It’s for this very reason that we offer no upfront fee, and will frankly and transparently discuss all costs of our software with you before you purchase anything – this way, you know exactly what you’re investing in, for how long, and how much it will cost, and can factor this into your financial planning without the worry of any nasty surprises.
AP: Before investing in something, make sure you have resources in place to manage it over time – whether this includes existing systems, an individual to act as a point of contact with your tech supplier, or something else. Whenever you spend money on something, you want to make sure it’s going to be cost-effective. As with many things, whilst technology is designed to make your lives easier it will only be at its most effective when you invest both money and time into it. So, I’d liaise with your IT department or other staff members to ensure they have time set aside at the crucial touchpoints of installation and reviewing tech if nothing else. You’ll also need a designated individual to manage support processes should anything go wrong.
Q. I don’t have room in my budget to invest in new technology, but how can I avoid missing out on future opportunities?
JR: There are a number of very attractive tech companies out there, offering top of the range products and features that are easy to get excited about. What I would advise is taking it back to basics and ask yourself what it is you really need from your technology. Why are you looking to invest? What do you want to get out of it? Consult your teachers and staff members on how technology could practically fit in with your existing processes and support them on the day-to-day. Spending time doing exercises such as this will help you develop a clearer picture of what it is you’re looking for, which will then be very useful when you enter the tech space and start looking for a supplier. It may seem like a lot of work to begin with, but it will save you from investing in something that may look fantastic at the time but won’t actually support you in the ways you need it to.
AP: The only thing I would add to that is to look for technology that’s future-proof. They say these days that technology is developing at such a rate that in 18 months it will already be outdated; interesting, but not very useful when you’re looking to make a cost-effective investment that will support you long-term. To avoid spending money on something with an expiration date, that may then restrict you from making future investments, look for something adaptable enough that it can evolve both with you and the changing edtech landscape. We built our MIS using a modular approach because we know nothing’s ever static; technology is always progressing, and your school will grow and change. So, we wanted to create something scalable that will continue to cost-save for you over an extended period of time.
Q. Is there any technology available that could help me balance budgets more easily?
JR: Your budget will essentially be the deciding factor in any investment you look to make, so we understand how important it is that you get it right. It can also be a very time-consuming exercise, often involving juggling data across multiple systems used at your school. This manual input of data, and more than once, has two major flaws:
- The duplication of data is not a very efficient way of managing budgets, and
- the more manual processing involved, the greater the risk of human error.
To help support this, we developed iFinance. Fully integrated with our MIS, this unique solution brings together your academic, wellbeing and administrative data with a powerful accounting and finance platform, for improved efficiency of your financial planning and reporting. Through software such as this, balancing the books and managing budgets is much easier and more convenient.
We hope you enjoyed this Q&A with our Directors.
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