Tablets in Education: Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Guest post by Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the education series of blogs.

In their haste to keep up with the advance of tablets, schools don’t always choose their devices on the basis of carefully assessed functionality. It’s not that they buy duds -- they have more nous than that. No, it’s more a matter of rushing to spend precious budget on tablets that work beautifully on their own terms, but turn out to be less suited to life in their particular institution.

As a result, the leadership, becoming increasingly tetchy, has to spend money and time making the devices settle down, behave, and do what’s really needed, and even then they may still fall short.

The key lesson here that really matters, and this is the case in all areas of purchasing, is to look carefully in advance at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).


That’s common knowledge I guess, but it’s interesting to see research by semiconductor chip giant Intel that puts some actual figures into the debate. Intel’s work on the total cost of ownership (TCO) of various tablets within the enterprise finds, for example, that a Windows 8 tablet can cost 20% less than its Android and IOS rivals over a two year period. That, I’d say, is something that schools considering investing in tablets need to know.

A good round-up description of Intel’s work, with fuller details of the devices being compared, is ‘Consumerization of IT. Evaluating Tablet TCO in the Enterprise’, a relatively brief summary which provides links to more detailed studies and sources. The intended readership of this, and other Intel papers, is broad and business-based, but the issues will be recognizable to teachers and technicians in education.

This paragraph, for example, fully applies to the education sector.

‘Many organisations make the mistake of focusing solely on device acquisition costs, without considering related expenses. And there’s a common misconception that overall costs are reduced when the user purchases the tablet, or when the price of the tablet is lower, but it’s not that simple. In fact, the cost of the actual tablet represents only 20 to 35 percent of total operations and support costs.’

In other words,

  • BYOD is not a free lunch
  • It’s not just about what’s on the price tag

Given that so much of the ‘which tablet for school?’ debate centres on purchase price, these are figures that should be something of a wake-up call.

What makes the difference?

The price of the tablet is only the start. Then come hardware add-ons such as keyboards, docks, and cases. Similarly, there may well be a need for extra software if the device is to do what’s needed in the enterprise environment while ensuring security and privacy. IT support will need to be accounted for, and there will be costs involved in ensuring that devices are used to the best advantage -- staff training is the most obvious example. Clearly, many of these costs remain in place even in a BYOD regime – another reminder of the need to do some forensic costings before taking the BYOD route.

Intel’s argument, is essentially this:

“Because a Windows device fits into the existing IT environment, it cuts out the add-on costs (software, training, support time, lost teaching time) that are incurred in bringing other kind of device into line. There’s seamless access to existing Microsoft productivity software and also to the same management tools already in use for supporting desktops and laptops. In addition, there’s no need to look elsewhere for cloud storage or for collaboration tools”

How much can you save?

Intel looked at the two-year TOC of three kinds of tablet – Windows 8, iPad and Google Android. The figures came out like this – Google Android $2.5K, iPad $2.4K, Windows 8 tablet $2.0K.

Clearly, these can only be ballpark figures, given the number of variables involved. That said, even if the TCO advantage of Windows 8 tablets is only half of Intel’s estimate, there’s confirmation here of what we said at the start – that when you evaluate the cost of tablets, the purchase price is only part of the whole story. It’s pretty clear that in most schools the easy and total integration of a Windows device will give it a running start in the TCO stakes.

Don’t take our word for it

Already, I guess, you have lots of questions. The best advice though, is to hold on to them and read the Intel document.

Also, especially if this is a moot issue for you, study the more detailed sources which are listed at the end. Bear in mind, too, Intel’s final note of caution –

“This snapshot reveals some interesting results, and it’s a great start. However, it’s always best to do your own research. TCO depends on the many factors identified here, as well as additional software required for your business”

The lesson is that rooting out TCO for any projected or actual purchase needs to be done rigorously, a process that takes time and may well call for professional help.

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