Technology Expertise

In relation to one of my previous posts looking at Technology infrastructure I received a comment regarding schools having the relevant expertise to make appropriate technology purchasing and setup/configuration decisions.

“I think one of the biggest barriers is many schools do not have the expertise to truly understand what infrastructure they need. “

This comment got me thinking about the challenge of making technology infrastructure decisions.

I don’t know what I don’t know

The first challenge when looking at infrastructure relates to not knowing what we don’t know.   Technology advances quickly and technology companies love to invent new terminology and acronyms.    As such it is very difficult to keep up to date.   Additionally, in considering technology we have to look at its usability, reliability, technical functionality, cost effectiveness, cyber security and many other aspects.   When looking at new technology or technology which you don’t have experience with, it is almost impossible to know all you ideally need to know.

Vendors and Salespeople

Technology salespeople will often indicate that they have your best interests in mind and that their product is superior to others.   They will also play up what is “possible” and play down any particular difficulties or limitations of their solution.   This is all to be expected, after all as salespeople their job is to sell a product or service.   Sadly, however, it means you might come out of calls with different competing vendors without truly knowing which solution is best for your context.

Change management

No matter how good your planning is, if your technology infrastructure project is sufficiently complex, which is becoming increasingly the case with all technology projects, there is a high likelihood that there will be things you could not or did not predict.   As such the management of change will not be as simple as anticipated and any plan you had, is unlikely to capture the complexities of the real world.

So, what can we do about it?

My first piece of advice is to read and consult widely.   Talk to different companies, read case studies, watch webinars and generally try to keep up to date as much as you can.   It is unlikely this will give you all the relevant information for infrastructure decision making, but it’s a good place to start.  This does take time, however its time well spent.

Make use of groups or forums involving other educational establishments.   There are plenty of forums available including the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME) for one.   These groups allow you to seek support and advice from others who have undertaken infrastructure and other projects.   You can ask for advice as to possible solutions or seek the experiences of others in relation to particular vendors or services.   As such they are a valuable source of help and can allow you to gather expertise with little cost other than time.

Consider the use of a technology integrator.  Using such third parties allows you to make use of their expertise to help you with your technology projects.   This includes their experience of project management of infrastructure projects in the education sector. Obviously the one thing to take care of here is that they too are looking to sell you their expertise and time, and therefore it is well worth talking to other schools for their experiences, in selecting a possible integrator.    Now I note that this will generally increase project cost however in hopefully reduces the likelihood of mis-steps along the way, where trying to take on projects in-house, so is often well worth the cost.   It is also increasingly becoming difficult, with increasing complexity of projects, to have sufficient expertise in house meaning the requirement for external support is becoming more common.

Start small.   Avoid going all in on a project as no matter what planning has been done, it is unlikely you will have been able to predict all eventualities.   So, try to start with a trial or pilot of new infrastructure to see how it works within your context and to allow you to identify any issues which you wouldn’t have been able to identify in advance.   Some vendors will be happy to accommodate free or discounted cost trials, so it never hurts to ask.

Conclusion

As we seek to use more technology and as the technology, and integration of different technologies gets more complex, it is becoming increasingly common not to have the relevant technology expertise available in a school or school group.   In fact, I think it is almost becoming the norm now.   It may be that those that think they have 95% – 100% of the expertise needed, outside of simple projects, are being overconfident.

As such we now need to focus on developing expertise and on leveraging the collective expertise available within the education sector, and even beyond.   I believe we also need to embrace that technology in schools, including the associated infrastructure, is part of a journey.   Given this, we will seldom start out with everything we need.

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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