Identifying ways that you can contribute to budget savings in your school is important to me. Which is why I've written 35 separate ICT Money Saving articles on this blog. The definitive article, Top ICT Money Saving Tips, identifies a series of strategies to save a secondary school up to £350,000 over three years. To put that in perspective, that's a saving that's twice the size of an average secondary school's ICT budget over the same period. And these Money Saving Tips aren't just about reducing your ICT spend, but about the considerable savings that a school can make using the ICT you already have in place (such as reducing the 1-2 million sheets of paper a typical secondary school uses every year).
So I noticed that the North West Learning Grid (NWLG) published a report on saving money in ICT budgets at the end of last week. The basic premise is "switch to Open Source to save" - which means it's a re-heated version of Miles Berry's Open Source manifesto - which Miles said was originally inspired by my Top ICT Money Saving Tips list.
Whilst there are some obvious inaccuracies in the report (such as Page 6, where it says "most of your students use Open Office at home", which simply isn't the case), my real issue with this kind of report is that it simply says "change product X for product Y which is free" (eg switch Office for Open Office), as though that's an answer. It doesn't get to the fundamental of "how can we use ICT to make this school more effective and efficient" - whether that is about reducing cost, or about improving the processes. (And as a small aside, Becta found that the software cost accounted for around 5% of the total cost of ICT, so simply switching to cheaper software isn't going to make a big impact)
Any contribution to the ideas of cost savings in schools budgets is a good thing, but I think the work I've done already goes way beyond simplistic savings about product purchase, and instead looks at the money saving value that ICT can deliver right across the school - which is why it has identified much larger savings that are possible.
A lot of the cost savings that I've identified - from saving IT budgets, energy budgets, staffing costs or paper costs - are supported by case studies from schools that have done exactly that (you can see all of the examples on this page). Over the next few months you will see more case studies from us, as cost savings projects carried out this summer deliver savings this school year.
Really save money in school budgets
But let me be absolutely blunt - I do not believe that exclusively using free software is a strategy to deliver long-term cost savings, or effective ICT, for schools. Sure, it might save a bit on the ICT budget, but it's likely to increase costs elsewhere (for example, in staff time and training). I think that the answer is to decide what ICT solution is best for the job, and then using it.
Because my cost saving work has been supported by case studies, from real schools doing real projects, then let me support my argument with a quote from a school case study published on the same day as the NWLG report, from Bailey Mitchell, who is the Chief Information Officer for Forsyth County Schools:
|When we returned to Microsoft Office after our experience with OpenOffice, you could practically hear a collective sigh of relief, across the entire district.|
You can read the full case study on our worldwide case studies website. And if your head teacher rushes in waving the NWLG report, and telling you to cut your budget, then you might want to share it with them, along with the Top ICT Money Saving Tips article, and the 35 other ICT Money Saving articles. And then offer to genuinely - and positively - save the school money.