If you’re paying for an ICT support contract or if you are thinking about doing so, you’ll want to be in the driving seat. You will need to make sure you control what you’re paying for rather than your contract controlling you! For staff in some schools – in particular – technical staff in schools, working with an external ICT provider will require a mindset shift. Rather than keeping management of your ICT completely in-house, you may need to trust an external company to do some of the work for you. That might be taking the simple mundane tasks off your hands or strategising and defining a plan for the future of your school’s ICT.
Embarking on a journey with an external ICT support provider will require both flexibility and control from both parties. It’s just a case of making sure you get the balance right – and also see the benefits of the service you are paying for of course. Take a look at the following points that should help if you are reviewing an ICT support contract or thinking about switching providers.
One size does not fit allOK, this is where flexibility comes in – mainly on the part of the ICT support company. Most will package up a number of deals for you to choose from. However, this might mean you are shoehorning your requirements into a solution they have offered to you, without even getting to know your specific needs. If a packaged solution doesn’t cut it with you and you would prefer to pick and choose the service elements you need, they should be able to provide this for you – all schools are different after all.
Book a reviewTo get a good idea of the people you might be working with, one of your first jobs is to meet them and ask them to come in and review your ICT. If they are really keen and from a well-established company they shouldn’t charge you for this initial meeting. Just from this one discussion they be able to give you some good ideas to move forward with and share examples of best practice in similar education environments.
Tell them your challengesTalk to your chosen potential external ICT support providers and list out your challenges to them. When they’re back in the office working out the best solutions for you, they should be able to cover these off with ideal solutions in their proposal to you. Any they might have ignored or skimmed over means they haven’t really understood exactly what you want – and your challenges could remain as sticking points in the future even if you are paying for external support. These might be technical challenges such as some hardware, backup or cabling that is not functioning as it should be or whole school challenges such as collaboration, student engagement, teacher training and consistency across school groups.
Budget and rolloutRegardless of the procurement model you use, making sure you see value for money and can identify areas for making cost savings is always a priority. Your ICT support company should be able to advise you on areas where you can save money and also where you should invest your ICT spend. From print management to hardware, to the cloud, they should have a good idea of the best, most cost effective solutions and products for schools.
Service level agreementsNow you’re a bit further down the line with working out if your potential provider knows what they’re talking about, it’s time to examine their service level agreements (SLAs) and response times. The hard facts should be there available for you to read through. See what they offer within the agreement and typically how quick they can respond.
Contact and escalation pointsIt’s likely that the person selling you the support contract won’t be the person you speak to when you need support. There’s no harm in asking more about this. Find out if you get one single point of contact, or a named escalation point if you need extra support. It’s better to learn this up-front rather than finding out as a surprise when you call looking for urgent assistance!
From the horse’s mouthThere’s nothing better than speaking to your potential ICT support company’s existing customers. See what they have to say about them on both a day-to-day management and a strategic level. The ICT support company should have no issue with you talking to their customers, as long as they have cleared it with them first.
External ICT support allows schools to transfer the risk of day-to-day mishaps and any other risks associated with ICT to their support company, as well as providing cover for sickness and holidays. It also minimises any disruptions from technology, as IT partners providing managed services to schools can run proactive checks on the schools’ systems throughout the day to instantly pick up and rectify issues before they become a problem.
Yet with any contract, flexibility and control is required from both parties. As you navigate your way through the specific challenges involved in both ICT and education, you will want to ensure you have the very best partner by your side, who offers enough flexibility to just get the job under control, no matter what.