Information Technology is often one of the top three areas of expenditure for schools. Regardless of your school’s size or relative IT budget, the main challenge is ensuring you are getting value for money. This means delivering on stated objectives, realising value, reducing risk and most of all, better enabling teaching and learning. Here are some school IT budgeting do’s and don’ts to consider for helping you get the best outcome for your staff and most importantly, your students.
DO align with the leadership team on IT budgets
IT department heads don’t always have a seat on the executive leadership team where budgeting decisions are made, so it’s crucial the business manager and IT manager have a good working relationship. It’s imperative that the executive leadership team has a clear understanding of how technology and its procurement affect the overall success of the school. Generic IT budgets are less likely to carry favour with boards and executives, so more detailed spending is key.
Clear and straightforward explanations and business cases behind major proposed expenditure should be included. Whether the intent is to facilitate learning, reduce risk or improve capability, there must be demonstrable benefit behind the recommendations. Your IT budget reporting should also be tracking and reviewing ongoing expenditures over time to clarify where spending needs to increase or reduce.
DON’T be too strict with unspent budget
Budgets have a reputation for being rigid, with finance teams often enforcing allocated spending within a certain timeframe, but IT spending needs to be more flexible in the current climate. Due to a wide range of global and geopolitical issues, technology supply chains have been massively disrupted. Big ticket items such as hardware that would normally take six weeks from order to delivery are now experiencing delays of 12 to 18 months.
Usually, it is only after budgets are approved that orders can be made, but schools are now in converse situations where they need to order equipment so far in advance that it is not yet part of an approved budget. If an IT leader wants to make a request for hardware for the following year, budget requests need to be addressed with the business manager as much as a year or more before they are required.
There is also the lifespan of hardware and equipment to consider. For example, laptops typically have a lifespan of 3 years, and current supply chain issues could cause delays on fleet purchases. This is why mapping out expenditures in the long term is always more beneficial than short-term tactical purchasing.
Consider rolling over unused budget into the following year if an approved order has been made, especially if supply chain disruptions mean it can’t be provided in the anticipated financial year.
DO factor in major price increases
Another reason you need to be flexible with spending is the increasingly inflationary financial environment. Prices have blown out considerably in just the last 18 months so there must be a risk provision for monetary variants and price disruptions. We are seeing established budgets no longer being sufficient to procure planned items, with additional unplanned expenditure needed to secure those items.
Even renewal notices have jumped off the charts with reflected inflation. During this time business and IT leaders should work together to open conversations with suppliers and vendors. Clarification on when critical assets need to be procured will ensure the technology and services that are required will not just be affordable but delivered and implemented when required.
When it comes to brands and systems, remember, budgets should be strategically outcome-based, no matter the recommendation from your IT supplier. Some suppliers can be very biased and aren’t vendor-neutral, or they aren’t properly testing the market in terms of what is available. Ask suppliers to offer multiple options and quotes to make sure you are getting value for money and ask for evidence that the product will meet the need.
DON’T underestimate your risk
For many organisations, it is a case of “when” and not “if” they will be impacted by a cyber threat or attack. Cybercriminals do not discriminate when it comes to targeting. If your school is especially prominent or large, you may be at higher risk than most. Many school leadership teams have a disconnect from their true cyber position or have the misinformed belief that it is exclusively an IT department problem. It is crucial that the business manager and IT manager work together to form a clear picture of the school’s risk status for the leadership team. Cybersecurity investment recommendations are more likely to be seriously considered when the net effect of a potential breach is widely understood.
DO consider outsourcing projects
More IT staff or more equipment doesn’t guarantee better and bigger outcomes. Schools need to be focused on how they reach their objectives and deliver on IT projects. This means being open to considering all resources whether that’s internal or external. Due to historically low levels of unemployment, some schools are struggling to offer competitive salaries to attract and retain IT staff. Outsourcing some or the majority of your IT requirements will give you access to a broader technical knowledge base and industry-wide best practices. External teams also have added accountability to deliver projects on time and to budget with a pragmatic focus.
Outsourcing can also be more cost-effective if you have a project that has a limited time frame, so you are only paying for those resources within the lifespan of the project. It enables your current IT staff, who may be time-poor, to continue to focus on their day-to-day duties and not overstretch their own capacity.
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