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Managing ICT - finding your way to the promised land!

24 May 2021 | by Jo Marchant

Martin Luther King Junior said in his iconic speech back in 1968, “… I’ve been to the mountaintop and I’ve seen the promised land.”  Trying to provide an efficient and effective ICT service at my school has certainly felt like climbing up a mountain most of the time and although I haven’t made it to the top of that particular mountain yet, I have caught a glimpse of the promised land!  I don’t need to tell you of the critical role that ICT has played over the last 14 months in schools’ quest for continuing to be able to deliver education in a lockdown.  But let’s not lose that momentum to keep leveraging the benefits of ICT when we finally reach the stage when lockdowns become only a memory and not a reality.

In the past, I’d always been under the impression that it was always better to employ your own ICT Manager rather than go for an outsourced ICT managed service.  Well, I have to say that I’ve been converted!  Last year as part of a systematic examination of all my school’s significant costs, I decided to do for a value for money exercise on our ICT support.  My special school has 200 pupils and 115 staff, and we employed an ICT Manager for 48 weeks of the year.  The drivers for looking at an outsourced service were cost, efficiency, effectiveness, level of knowledge and the fact that relying on one person meant we had a single point of failure if that person was suddenly unavailable.

Now ICT isn’t my area of expertise and what I was looking for wasn’t a company that could deliver a managed ICT service but an ICT consultancy company specialising in schools who could advise me objectively.  As luck would have it (because there aren’t many of them out there), I found one through my network of contacts.  Their first role was to document our ICT systems which meant that this knowledge was now accessible to me instead of being in my ICT Manager’s head.  Then they undertook a total ICT review which covered a number of key areas.  The technical review covered 32 different areas ranging from remote teaching to internet filtering, to systems management, and everything in between.  Summaries of how each area was currently operating were documented together with a RAG rating status and recommendations/ costings for improvements. 

Their operational review assessed the efficiency and effectiveness of our in-house ICT support, listing the different areas of service that the school should expect to be receiving (such as performance against KPIs) against what we were actually receiving.  The consultants’ assessment also indicated that if we were receiving an efficient and effective ICT service, we should only need to employ someone for 20 hours per week based on the size of our school, and not 37 hours a week as we were currently doing. The clincher for me though in terms of remaining with our in-house ICT support or moving to a managed service was my consultants’ advice of the need for a joined-up approach to ICT activities as shown in the following graphic:

This was starting to look like the promised land, but this wasn’t something that you could expect one person alone to be able to deliver.  So, the decision was made to go out to tender to find a company specialising in ICT support for schools who could deliver this joined-up approach to ICT.   The whole process took 6 months and there were times with the whole coronavirus scenario going on when we were tempted to shelve this project.  But I was determined to get to a point where our students and staff were receiving the best ICT support available and that’s what motivated me to keep driving this process. 

So here we are 6 months on from appointing our ICT managed service.  Have they delivered what I expected, or do I wish I continued to listen to those people who said you’re only going to regret outsourcing your ICT support?  My expectations have been so far exceeded that I could almost get evangelical about it!  We have a dedicated technician on site 0800 to 1200 Monday to Friday with remote telephone support outside of those times.  Staff can log their ICT issue via a portal enabling them to receive an e-mail with a status update in accordance with agreed response times.  As manager of the ICT support contract, I can log into the portal to see how many issues are outstanding at any time.  I have a weekly meeting with our dedicated technician to discuss priority areas such as renewing our mobile phone contract.  Every month I receive a service report detailing the highlights and lowlights of what’s happened during the month, planned activities for the following month, and an analysis of logged issues.  And that’s not all!

Twice a year we have a visit from our dedicated School Development Manager to go through our ICT School Development Plan.  This is when we sit down together (that’s a virtual sit down of course!) and discuss the school’s priority areas for ICT.  This is where we can really start to see the impact of having access to a range of different ICT professionals who are able to ensure that ICT is really working for us on a strategic, technical and operational level.  This is also when we start to see what a really efficient and effective ICT service looks like and what impact that can have for our students and staff. 

So, what have the benefits been for my school in moving to an ICT managed service?  We’ve saved 50% on our ICT support costs, we have a 5-year agreement with known costs making budgeting easier, all ICT issues are logged and tracked, we’ve never without ICT support, we have access to high level ICT expertise and procurement options advice, and we’re in a partnership that’s helping us to drive ICT forward to really reap its many benefits.  On a personal note, I’ve learnt a considerable amount about ICT in the past year, both in terms of what my school currently has and could have in the future, and how to run our ICT managed contract in the most effective and efficient way.  What’s not to love?!

 Jo Marchant MA, MBA, FISBL