Guest post from Gerald Haigh: Thinking aloud about cost savings in education

Guest post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald is a freelance writer who regularly writes for the Microsoft UK Education Blogs.

I’ve been doing some preparatory work on a new cost saving eBook (watch this space). The first one came out a year or so ago and already I’m detecting changes, some of them quite radical.


Here are a few, together with some questions that you experienced folk out there may well be able to help me with.

First, there was the change last year in licensing arrangements for schools, with the arrival on these shores of EES (Enrolment for Education Solutions). The move, which essentially means counting computer users rather than computers, has made big savings, to which can be added to other economies that come with academic subscription pricing on a huge array of software. (Ellie Jones blogged lots of detail on this in March 2011)

So there’s one big cost saving already. One network manager, in a big school, reports that his licensing bill was cut by half, and a major supplier, a Microsoft partner, suggested some school customers made bigger savings than that.

What I wanted to know, though, when I talked to one or two suppliers and customers was, ‘What happened to the money?’

It seemed an easy enough ask, but it did tend to throw people a bit and make me feel I was in a scene from ‘Goodfellas’. All I wanted to know, though, was how this unexpected mini-windfall had been spent. Did it stay in IT? Was the school able to embark on a specific project? Did the cash soak away into the subsoil of an already parched looking school budget?

What did happen, surely, was that it was handled in a whole-school businesslike and transparent way, focussed on teaching and learning priorities. If this is occuring, it would be good to get examples of this, and anything you can volunteer on this topic will be gratefully received (leave your feedback in the comments below).

Maybe one impact was that you acquired additional Microsoft software, in an inclusive package perhaps? If so, do you use it all? In that regard I’m reminded of a blog we posted in September last year about Highbury FE College in Portsmouth.

Highbury, too, had lots of Microsoft software, acquired in various packages. On investigation, they found that not all of it was being well used. In some cases another product had been bought in, even though the already paid-for Microsoft package contained an excellent solution. Firm management, applied over time, designed to bring all the College’s Microsoft products into productive use, enabled Highbury to reduce its IT annual revenue budget by £13,990.

Could that be you? Do you have a Microsoft product that you’ve vaguely thought about looking into when you have the time? Could it work for you? Could it replace something else you’re spending money on?

A supplier I spoke to mentioned ‘System Center 2012’ as something that a number of schools have tinkered with but never really properly used. Again, we’re interested in what you have to say – and by the way if you do happen to need guidance on System Center 2012, it’ll be covered, on 6 March, in one of the newly announced series of Microsoft Education Webcasts, listed by Tim Bush here.

Another product that many schools have but are only just beginning to explore is Lync 2010. We’ve done some studies of Lync 2010 in action in higher education, where it’s a real time and money saver.

Schools are different of course, but a look at the university experiences might well throw up some creative ideas of how to use unified communications in the school setting. One school, I know, is considering using it, in combination with Office 365, for ‘Virtual Parent Evenings’, for some of their parents who work and commute long hours and find it difficult to get into school. It’s a very ‘blue skies’ idea at the moment, but we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it. And on the cost saving front, I’m sure that those academy chains that have a central team looking after a far-flung group of schools would find Lync just as useful for saving meeting and travelling time as the universities do. Some must be thinking along those lines, maybe even doing it. We’d like to know.

Finally, just as I go to (virtual) press with this, comes news from Mark Reynolds of a Welsh school where, working with a Microsoft Partner, they’ve been able to transform their ICT infrastructure at astonishingly reasonable cost through the combined application of Windows MultiPoint server and solar energy. There’ll be a blog on that quite soon, and it’s sure to feature in the forthcoming eBook.

All that’s just a taster, of course, but it’s exciting stuff, and we really would like to know more, examples of what we’ve mentioned, and of the many ideas we haven’t touched on. What saves money, what should save it but for some reason doesn’t, what’s the impact on network staff? Please get in touch.

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