NetSupport's Al Kingsley shares strategies to help MAT schools save money with their technology
With school budgets being refreshed, senior leadership teams are looking at how to most effectively make their money work as hard as possible for their schools.
For multi-academy trusts (MATs), this is a challenge amplified. Finances now have to stretch further than ever, so what can schools do to make the best use of their IT?
Whether you are involved in establishing a new MAT or growing an existing one, changes always occur with expansion. Technology is an area that doesn’t stand still; developments happen constantly and it’s particularly important for a MAT to keep up with these for consistency of standards across the group. How can MATs answer the challenges of managing schools with different IT estates, yet save money at the same time?
Here are five ways your MAT can put technology to work to drive efficiencies:
Simplify IT provision as your MAT grows
Bringing separate schools together to form a single entity isn’t easy. It requires time and effort to devise and execute a strategy for unifying schools’ technology solutions. But it’s the only way to go if your MAT is going to ensure consistency of provision and results. Instead of employing one solution for classroom management, another for endpoint security, another for remote support and so on, consider implementing an IT Asset Management (ITAM) solution.
This is an all-in-one product that enables you to have all the tools you need at hand – not to mention reduce licence maintenance costs on individual products. This way, you can more easily streamline your offerings and standardise across the group – as well as being able to compare and contrast data for a single school, a couple of schools, or the entire trust with just a few clicks.
Tighten up the group’s software spend
As a MAT requiring bulk volumes of technology, you may find that you have more power to negotiate on hardware or software licence pricing than if you were just a standalone school. It may also be possible to work with a supplier to test and implement particular custom functionality you require, driving your efficiencies further.
Another saving technology can deliver is via remote support. If your MAT has a comprehensive set of tools to be able to tackle a wide variety of problems from a central location, you’ve already eliminated the time and cost spent on sending technicians from school to school. This, backed up by proactive device monitoring, can help technicians see and tackle issues before they turn into something bigger that would result in costly downtime for staff and students.
Judicious use of device usage data can pay dividends. For example, by monitoring application usage, IT managers can see exactly which software solutions are heavily used and which ones are not – meaning that, in some instances, licences can be redeployed to areas where they will incur more use, thereby saving the cost of simply purchasing more.
Having an easy way to manage software licences is the key to reducing your spend in this area. For example, being able to keep detailed and accessible records means that you can easily see when maintenance contracts are due. This allows you to avoid being caught out by an automatic payment leaving your account if you’ve already decided to cease using that particular solution.
Choosing an effective helpdesk is another way to minimise wasted time when there is a problem – for staff and students alike. One that allows easy reporting of problems by the user, coupled with swift technician allocation and responses, is going to boost your team’s efficiency no end, helping you achieve further cost savings.
Improve network security across all schools
A significant advantage of ITAM technology is that it allows automation of tasks. This is particularly useful to enhance network security, as technicians can be confident that no essential routine functions will be missed. In addition, they can set up automatic notifications to alert them to unusual network activity, allowing them to take immediate action when it occurs.
Another essential part of network security is keeping a tight rein on what students may be bringing in from home to upload onto school devices. An endpoint security tool can really help here.
USB memory sticks are a common way for students to transport data, so being able to control their use is fundamental to keeping a secure environment. Some solutions allow you to allocate different grades of access for USB sticks (eg full access, read-only access or block access from unknown sticks), or authorise certain sticks for staff or by department for a given amount of time. All of these controls contribute to making cost savings by keeping things running smoothly.
To heighten data security (and comply with regulations), using a solution that can log whether the applications your member schools use are GDPR compliant, can make the requirement of maintaining on-going data maps for each product far less onerous. Done this way, the expense of having to divert a member of staff’s valuable time to carrying out a complete GDPR compliance audit on your software is avoided.
Regulate energy use across the board
At home, we’re all conscious of the amount we spend on our electricity bill and switch items off when not in use. Somehow though, in school (where we’re not directly responsible for paying) things get a bit more lax. Here’s where IT asset management technology can assist, by firstly monitoring energy use – and then employing automatic power management policies to ensure that devices are switched off out of school hours. It’s a basic way to make savings, but it works – and those savings mount up over time.
The same principle can be applied to printing, which is another costly area for schools. With technology to put printing restrictions in place, not only can paper and toner costs be significantly reduced, but there will be less waste too.
Gather IT data from the group for analysis and planning
An ITAM solution will gather data from every device on your network and provide you with everything you need to know that will help you make informed decisions on future IT spending. This can be particularly useful as devices progress through the asset lifecycle, for example giving you an easy-to-access window to see where they can be upgraded rather than replaced; or where they can be redeployed, allowing you to choose your spend wisely.
Centralised reporting is especially useful in areas such as safeguarding, where schools have a legal requirement to ensure their students are protected while using school technology. Safeguarding data can be compared and contrasted between schools so that problem areas may be highlighted and a strategy devised to tackle them.
Just imagine trying to approach an area like this without a complete overview of each school’s data; it would be a costly and time-consuming project for a member of staff redirected from their usual role. Many of the cost-saving features detailed above are included in ITAM solution, NetSupport DNA, alongside incorporated Safeguarding and Classroom Management suites.
Al Kingsley is managing director of NetSupport and the chair of Hampton Academies Trust
Many of the cost-saving features detailed above are included in NetSupport's ITAM solution NetSupport DNA, which incorporates 'Safeguarding' and 'Classroom Management' suites