Once you have identified the current reality of your technology, identified growth plans for the department, and determined the total cost of ownership, it’s time to review solutions to see what is available on the market. Overall, the field of technology is rapidly changing. Current solutions you are using may be obsolete or the products/services provided could be bundled into more integrated systems. Review products and possibilities so that you have a full view of the solution landscape.
Collaborate with others who use the solutions you are looking for or are willing to pilot the solution you’re considering. This provides a user experience free of vendor bias. Collect pain points and victories, both to ensure a thorough consideration of the solution, and to build future support systems around this solution. By leveraging others’ experiences and lessons learned, you can avoid unnecessary expenditures of time and money.
Learn more about product review: Purchasing and Preparing Devices and Software
Surviving the funding cliff
Keep district sustainability plans top of mind during times of budget windfalls because once the additional funding you’re receiving goes away, you do not want to expose your department and whole technology plan to large and painful cuts.
Some general rules of thumb regarding surviving the technology funding cliff:
- Do not spend additional money on hiring additional personnel if you do not have a solution for how to fund the positions once the budget windfall has subsided. Salaries and benefits increase yearly, and any new positions require realistic plans for continued funding sources.
- Make one-time purchases that will last a long time. For example, replace data projectors that have short lamp life with display screens that have a longer life expectancy. By doing so, you extend the lifespan of the solution, plus maintenance or replacement is moved farther down the road.
- If you invest in software, commit to keeping it for three or more years. The vetting and testing process is essential to ensuring that you have chosen the best long-term solution.
- Look for software or hardware bundles that offer solutions to multiple issues, and consider multi-year contracts for longevity.
- Purchase solutions that provide backside analytics that show the use of the tool. For instance, can you access how many times each software application is opened, how many logins take place into the system, or when the applications are used? This kind of solution will assist down the road on deciding which solutions need to be purchased when funding shortfalls arrive. If funding is significantly reduced in the coming years, the district will have to determine which priority solutions it will continue to support and which solutions need to be dropped. The use data will be invaluable at that time.
- Build key performance indicators (KPIs) early in your windfall program and maintain emphasis on these original indicators when funding declines. You do not want a decline in performance as funding wanes. Documentation of the department’s high performance can be used to justify future continued funding.
- Use your windfall time to build a network of collaborative problem-solving leaders. Develop a monthly meeting with job-alike technology leaders from area school districts to serve as thought partners. Leverage the time for colleagues to act as thought partners for each other. Leaders who share their pain points and solutions will benefit from others’ experiences. There also may be opportunities to work together in professional learning for technical staff or consortium group purchasing.
Uneven technology funding between schools creates an imbalance in the technology available to students from school to school in the district and could potentially cause large technology inequities between schools. Districts should establish an equitable baseline feature set of the required technology and software each grade level will need to support learning. They should ensure that the district-supported baseline of technology is present at every school in the district. After it is established what is district-supported, additional technology items can be supplemented via Title funds. Using this method ensures Title funds are used appropriately to supplement needier schools and do not supplant what should be purchased by the district. The IT department needs to work closely with other departments such as Student Services to ensure adaptive technology and special education needs of the school are considered and accommodations are made for the individual learners of the school.