Some future tech thoughts

Recently have been trying to put some time aside to think about long term strategy rather than the more mundane day to day.   I have been trying to look out into the future and maybe the next 10 to 15 years of technology in schools.   In doing so I have identified 4 themes or areas which I believe we should be focussing on.

Sustainable, safe and secure

This is likely the easiest theme to identify.  If we assume that tech use is only going to grow as we progress into the future then we need to ensure that “it just works”.   This is key and is part of the sustainability challenge.   If technology has issues or problems, users, both students and teachers alike, will quickly turn away from it.   As a result we need to make sure the technologies used including the infrastructure such as Wi-Fi, internet bandwidth and our IT networks, are future proof and include plans for replacement and renewal as we move forward into the future.   Purchases of infrastructure such as wireless access points, network switches and also the client end points all need to be viewed as continual investments, with planned replacement built in rather than one-off costs.  Our plans need to ensure our technology and infrastructure is sustainable into the future

Also, in relation to sustainability we need to start considering environmental impact.   We need to consider who we source our equipment from, how it is produced, how it is delivered and where it goes once it is end of life.   We also need to consider the environmental impact of its use including energy usage for example.   As we move forward into the future, I can see the importance of environmental sustainability continuing to grow and become a greater factor in decision making.

And as we work in schools, the safety and security of the technologies we use, the data we process and the end users, both staff and students, continues to be a critical issue.    We will need to do a better job of assessing the security of products and solutions we use to ensure we keep our data and our users safe and secure.

Digital citizens

Related to the above, how we seek to keep our students safe in this digital world, online and on social media will be a key focus balanced out against the challenges presented by the need for individual privacy and freedom of speech.    There will also be challenges in relation to increasing use of automation and AI including the ethics of categorising and targeting individuals and groups through data and the implications of black box AI solutions making decisions about aspects of our lives, where although we may be able to create a narrative for the decision in hindsight we may never actually know exactly how the AI arrived at it.  And these are just of couple of the many challenges.

All of this highlights the need to develop digital citizens in our staff and students, plus also our wider communities including parents.   Lots of the benefits and risks created through technology and technology use are new, and have never existed in history, therefore we will need to work through them together.    We will need to create the culture and climate to support the open discussion and dialogue in relation to technology and its implications, and we will need to continually update and review our awareness and our understanding.   This will be critically important but sadly, far from easy and far from quick.

Emerging technologies

The pace of technology continues to be quick with new solutions appearing regularly.   It is therefore important to keep one eye on the future.    Looking forward now I see a number of areas which school should be thinking about including the potential for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality use within schools.  Some schools are already dipping into this but I see bigger untapped potential which is yet to be realised.    Haptics and wearable technologies are another area where there may be potential within schools.   Some potential applications are clear, such as the use of fitness solutions like Fitbit, etc, in relation to physical education or even biology in schools; other future solutions or applications are as yet not as clear.    Artificial intelligence is another emerging area, although I note many EdTech vendors already shouting from the hills about how they use AI, something I am largely sceptical about;  I suspect many are mistaking a complex series of If..Then..Else for AI.   That said, as we move forward I suspect more applications for AI will become apparent, particularly applications for narrow focus AI solutions designed for a specific purpose rather than the more aspirational general purpose AI of Hal from Space 2001 or Data from Star Trek.  And online examinations using adaptive testing solutions replacing our paper based examinations is another emerging area I see in our future.   How will we ensure school infrastructure supports these tests and how can we prepare students for this new age of assessment?

The power of data

Schools already gather huge amounts of data and this is only growing.   I am not just talking about the data teachers may enter in school management solutions as part of parental reporting processes.   We now have data generated in terms of student interactions with online platforms, such as Google Classroom or MS Teams, we have online quizzes where we might be able to see not only student scores, but the time taken, the device used, the time per question, if answers were changed, etc.   Every time we interact with technology more data is being created.    The question looking forward therefore is how can we use this data?   How can we create value from this data and inform teaching and learning?    This for me is a key opportunity as we look forward to the future.  Again though, not an easy one, as the data is often siloed in different solutions or is unstructured or poorly structured.   There is a lot of work to be done here but for me the potential is clear.


The above four areas are what I see as the key areas of focus for the future.   There are many other areas which could be considered however these four, in my opinion, represent the greatest importance and/or potential in relation to schools and colleges.  

Some of the above will see progress in the short term, however I suspect some wont see much progress for a number of years.   The importance here though is in setting a direction of travel.


The culture of tech use

Over the last year I have spent time working with colleagues on developing our school technology strategy.    I have always felt we had a reasonably clear strategy however it was largely unwritten;   I felt there was a need to get something written down to ensure transparency and consistency in terms of technology decisions.      In exploring and developing this written version of the strategy one of the things I gave consideration to was culture where culture is evidenced by “the way we do things around here”.    My thinking was very much based on peoples actions, the stories they told, the narratives, being evidence of the culture.    In other words the behaviours were the outcome of the culture, cause and effect.   On reflection this is a little too narrow and one way.    As with most things in life, things are seldom this simple.

In thinking about wellbeing and the mental and physical side of things, rather than technology, it is clear that taking physical care of yourself, such as going for a run, can impact on your mental wellbeing.   And your mental wellbeing can have an impact on how you feel physically.    I remember reading of a study which correlated smiling, even if brought about due to holding a pencil in your mouth, with improved emotional state again showing a link between physical and mental aspects of our being.    This got me thinking as to culture, that rather than being cause and effect, if it is more a case of interdependence.

So, what if our actions and behaviours are not only a marker of the culture, but also the things that shape and mould culture over time.    We now have a cyclical relationship.    Our behaviours, our stories, etc shape the culture which in turn shapes our behaviour and the stories we tell and on and on ad infinitum.   This seems to link nicely to the fact that culture isnt easy to change, and changes over a longer rather than shorter time period.   As such actions to change culture are often little more than dropped rocks in a river.    They have limited impact on the rivers flow but over time and as more rocks are dropped in they can cumulatively change the direction of the river.

In relation to technology strategy and the culture which surrounds technology use in school, in terms of students, staff and parents, changing it is not easy however strategic initiatives, a lot like strategically deployed rocks, can help to change and shape an organisations culture relating to technology.   So, the question therefore is to decide which initiatives are likely to be successful and have the impact you are looking for.   One of the challenges here though is the constantly changing technological world and the increasing focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and school achievement measures.   These often draw focus towards the short term, this academic year, this term, etc, and away from the longer term and the little things which will change how the school looks and operates in 3, 5 or 10 years time, the school culture.  They also highlight the need to carefully plan and avoid failure, where we actually might want to be more innovative and agile in our planning plus embrace failure as a learning experience.

Strategic rocks in the culture of tech use

So, what are my strategic rocks?    For me there are 5 areas in technological strategy in schools which jump to mind, which represent long term projects and introducing a cultural change.

  1. 1:1 and increased personalisation of learning through technology with this embedded in teaching and learning practices

This is about using the tool, which is the technology in a classroom, to allow students to stretch the curriculum, how they evidence learning and also how they can customise learning to support their individual needs.   We are already seeing lots of examples of this in how tools like Flipgrid, OneNote, Microsoft Lens and Minecraft, to name but a few tools, that are being used.  We now need to build on this, embedding a greater use of technology across all lessons, but only where appropriate.

  • Increasing use of video and virtual reality or augmented reality to support teaching and learning beyond the boundaries of the physical classroom and the school day.

The pandemic has shown us that learning can take place, through technology, even when students cannot come to school.   Flipped learning, not a new concept, has already shown us how learning can happen outside lessons, with the review and reinforcement then happening in lessons.   The challenge is now to take what we have learned and to maximise the impact we can achieve from it now we are largely back in school, and in preparation should another pandemic or other issue occur.

  • A shift to cloud-based services

This is quite simply an acceptance that largely, but not always, schools are better having their services in the cloud supported by the infrastructure and support teams which are provided, rather than trying to support solutions hosted on-site with their own limited resources.    As the cyber risks continue the need to move to the cloud only intensifies.

  • Development of a holistic digital citizenship programme for staff and for students including greater awareness of data protection and cyber resilience.

As our technological reliance in the greater world increases and as we make greater use of technology in schools we need to ensure that students understand the benefits and risk.   They need to be supported to grow as digital citizens, to understand that the convenience provided by online services, by search and recommendation algorithms, is not without risk.   The challenge of individual privacy versus public good is another area in need of exploration.  They also need to appreciate the ethical dilemmas that future technologies might present us with.    And all of this needs to be through a more holistic and integrated programme than that which schools generally offer at the moment.  

  • Increasing use of data to inform teaching and learning and other areas of school operations.

And we need to look at the massive wealth of data which schools can and do gather and how we might maximise the impact this data may have.    Now I note that the job of cleaning it up so it can be used is a significant one, but if we can do so we would have data which could inform and help direct teaching and learning.   We would have a way to help teachers and students take control of learning but in a more informed, and data driven manner.


I think the 5 areas above outline a direction in terms of how I see things for the years ahead, at least the next 5 to 10 years.    The key therefore is about starting to drop the strategic rocks which bring about the cultural change by which the above 5 points become simply how we do things in school.   It isnt going to be a short process to make the above happen in any real embedded way, such that it becomes culture, but we need to start somewhere. And one of the positive notes I will end on, is that at least we are already making some progress towards some of the above; The process has already begun.

Tech in education: Investment

One of the big challenges with technology in education is going to be investment.  For example, some schools are in inner city locations where access to internet infrastructure is easy.   Others however exist in rural locations where access to appropriate broadband internet is not easy, or in some cases, not possible to come by.    There will also be schools which have planned the replacement of network and server infrastructure on a regular basis where others have not.

Going forward, as there is little achieved in looking back on why things arent as developed as they could be, the key things in my view are:

  1. Investment

Looking generally across all schools and colleges it is reasonably clear that there is a need for investment.  There are schools which lack some of the basics where other schools are streets ahead.   But even across the board there is an opportunity to invest and drive things forward making sure our schools and colleges are set for the future.

  • Sustainability

And this is critical.  Investment cannot be seen as a one-shot deal.   We cant simply invest in devices or infrastructure in the next year and consider it job done.   Any investment must include planning and provision for the replacement of devices and infrastructure, plus the ongoing upgrade as based on the changing needs at the time.   I remember laptops for teachers and the benefits it brought, followed by the issues presented when the centralised funding wasn’t there when the devices came to need replacing.  We cannot repeat this, so any plans must be longer term plans.

  • Support and training

We also need to acknowledge that the technology has to work, and in meeting this requirement there needs to be adequate support.   IT Services teams in schools and colleges need to be put in place to ensure that the technology works on a day to day basis plus need to be there to resolve issues when things go wrong.    And in line with the need for technology to simply work, the teaching staff using the technology need to have the relevant skills and experience to know how and also when to use it.   This is about ensuring training is provided but also that opportunities exist for the continual professional learning and sharing required to make the best us of ever-changing technology solutions.


To get all schools and colleges to the same point, where they all can realise the same potential in the use of technology is a major piece of work.   Schools are at various stages on this journey.    As such the best approach for all is not to seek to make this potentially significant jump but instead to focus on the smaller steps, the little changes in practice and tech use, in the short term, which form part of what will be a big journey over the longer timeline.    Let’s start now, do what we can, collaborate, share and petition those who can support us to ensure all schools can improve in their potential to use technology in teaching and learning.

Short: Exercise is like Tech Strategy

I thought I would try out a new short blog format, writing slightly shorter blog posts (around 500 words) which get quickly to a point, issue or idea I would like to share.   Hopefully, this will make these posts quick and easy to read, and also quick and easy to produce.

Over the last few years, I have been working hard to try and getting a little bit fitter and healthier.   Initially I experimented with different things such as walking, jogging, and also considered maybe an exercise bike or rowing machine.   Eventually I plumped for running as my choice of activity and found out that the best time for me to do this was first thing in the morning before work.    Next, I tried out the couch to 5k app, and found it worked for me, so I started the programme.    According to the programme it should have taken 9 weeks but for me it took quite a bit longer as I struggled with particular weeks or struggled with motivation or had to step back due to ill health.   When I finally completed couch to 5k, it had been far from the straight-line programme that was originally presented to me by the app and had taken far more than the 9 weeks proposed.

And this is where I draw comparisons with school tech strategy and planning.    It may look like a straight line, a nice project plan, etc, but it is seldom that simple.   There are things we won’t have predicted which will go wrong and therefore require the plan to change.    There are things which will go well, or even opportunities which will present themselves, which weren’t available at the outset.    Basically, like my efforts in running, things are seldom as simple as they seem, plus there is always a need to review and revise plans as you progress.    As such there is a need for flexibility plus a need for acceptance of where things go wrong or fail, accepting them as “just not yet” rather than a finite conclusion.

Fast forward to now, I have completed couch to 5k repeatedly but after a period of a month of not running, am only now back out on the road again.   The issue is I am struggling around the halfway point of couch to 5k, a programme I have repeatedly completed.   My absence away from running for a short period has been enough to see my ability to run reduced back from what it was when I last completed couch to 5k.

And here again is a parallel with tech is schools;   My fitness was only as good as my continued focus and habit.    Equally with tech strategy in schools, it needs to be continually reviewed and given some focus and some effort to keep moving it along, improving and building.   If we don’t do this, whether it is training, procurement, planning, etc, then things will likely start to regress.   And as we come out of a period of pandemic, and a period which has seem such a massive surge forward in terms of tech use in schools, this potential regression worries me.

Personal exercising is like tech strategy.  It requires habitual effort.    It seldom is a straight-line process and will likely involve setbacks as well as successes.   But in the end, the eventual gain is worth the effort.

EdTech: Layer 3

I have previously shared a couple of post discussing an EdTech model I shared at the GESS conference back in 2013, now being up to the third of four layers within the model.   The third layer assumes you have already decided the key reasons why you want to invest in and use Technology in your school, this being layer 1. I note that Technology is my preferred term to EdTech.  Layer 3 also assumes you have put the relevant fundamental building blocks in place as part of layer 2.     So, what is the third layer about?

Layer 3

The third layer focusses on what I considered to be the three dimensions of technology use within a school, and the need for relevant training in these areas.   These areas being:

IT Skills

This is the basics of using IT and using tools so includes understanding file types, sizes, sharing files, using email, etc.   It is being able to log in, connect peripherals and change your password.   All staff need to have a basic understanding of the technology they are using, as without this it is unlikely, they will ever reach a point of confidence and then mastery of using technology in school.   I often described this as Teaching of IT as the focus is on developing IT Skills.   We need to ensure staff are supported in this area.  Thinking about it further, I believe this area would include cyber security and data protection although back in 2013 I am not sure I had included these areas.

IT for Management

There will also be some administrative work in teaching with IT generally being part of this, whether it is writing student reports, gathering performance data, following up on behaviour issues or many other issues.    Technology can allow us to streamline processes to make these tasks quicker or simpler.   I am often surprised how often staff don’t know about simply email rules in outlook or how they can use categories to help manage emails.  Note: I mention emails as so much of the administrative load seems to revolve around reading and responding to emails, or to messages now in Teams or other platforms.    At a more advanced level we can then move on to the use of solutions such a PowerAutomate to try to automate more and more of the administrative workflows however I will admit there is much more work that can be done in this area.

I also think we need to continue to examine the administrative side to teaching and identify where it adds value, for if a task doesn’t add value, I would suggest it isnt worth doing.   There is also an opportunity to make use of technology to do things differently such as replacing termly reports with more live, but automatically generated, performance data derived through the use of machine learning and AI based platforms.

IT for Teaching and Learning

This is the likely most important element in this layer, that of using technology in the classroom.   It is about ensuring teaching staff have the ability to use technology effectively in their classroom, their lessons and the learning activities they create.   I suppose on reflection this particular layer could be sub-divided further.  Thinking about the TPACK model, this section could include Technological Pedagogical Knowledge (TPK) and Technological Content Knowledge (TCK).     Looking at it a different way it could include teaching using technology, where technology enhances or redefines a learning activity or process, plus teaching through technology, where the technology is an essential vehicle for the learning.   Now I admit I find these two categories sometime difficult to separate however I will try to clarify.    Teaching using technology might be the use of OneNote to allow students to collaborate on a project so technology is just another tool in the learning experience, whereas teaching through technology might be using VR or Minecraft, in which case the technology becomes central to the learning experience.   Am hoping the above clarifies this however please forgive me if it does not.

Looking back, I would also suggest that my focus was very much the bricks and mortar school and classroom and I underplayed the potential for technology to allow for learning beyond the physical confines of a school and also beyond the confines of the curriculum.    The potential for online learning has certainly been highlighted over the last year and a half during the pandemic, something I don’t think I fully considered back in 2013.


Looking back on the third layer I feel the balance implied by the three triangles of equal size suggested an equal value to the three strands I proposed.   This clearly isnt the case.   If anything, the teaching and learning section should likely be the largest, and further subdivided, while the IT for Management section should likely be the smallest, as we should be trying to reduce the administrative burden on teachers, to allow them to focus on teaching and learning.

That said, the final peak of my model, layer 4, was always about staff being confident enough to use technology or to be more exact, to experiment and try different tools and technology solutions.   Only through experimentation will teachers find the tools that work best for themselves and their students, and they will only do this if they feel safe and confident enough to do so.   For this confidence to occur we need the basic skills, the ability to do the management side of education using the technology tools provided, and most importantly the skills to use technology in teaching and learning itself.   So maybe this layer could be more nuanced, however at a basic level it may still be correct.

EdTech: Foundations

EdTech or Technology use in education, which is my preferred term, relies on some foundational elements.    Understanding why we seek to use technology is the first thing we need to achieve (see my post EdTech: Start with the why? ).  After this we can then seek to put technology to use, but again before we can make much progress there need to be some key items in place.    It’s all well knowing why you want to use technology and knowing how to use technology, but you also need the relevant technology itself along with the infrastructure and other support resources to make it work.    It is worth noting, from my own experience, if the technology doesn’t work due to not having the relevant plan, infrastructure, setup or support, it will be very difficult to recover from, as once the technology appears unreliable it will be almost impossible to reconvince people of its value.  

Back in 2013 at the GESS conference, I sought to try and suggest what the foundational elements might be, in the 2nd layer of the framework I proposed.   The elements I proposed were as below:


This is very much about the required infrastructure, devices, software, etc.    It is also about making sure that the items chosen are reliable and sustainable.   Having poor Wi-Fi or internet bandwidth which doesn’t support your use of technology is only going to turn users off quickly resulting in them choosing not to use available technology.   Within this area I would consider things such as your internet bandwidth, firewall, core and edge switching, wireless access points and overall wi-fi system.   I would consider the devices being used, classroom display technology, the apps and software, device peripherals and printing/scanning resources.   I would also consider the long-term sustainability of everything, avoiding seeing each item as a one-off cost, but instead considering the long term replacement and disposal costs, maintenance, licensing, etc; Basically the total cost of ownership rather than just the initial purchase cost.

Now, on reflection I listed this on my framework on the left which given an expectation of reading left to right, means it comes first, where clearly shouldn’t.   If there was one thing I was going to change about the 2nd layer of the framework I proposed, it would be to put Strategy first, on the left, followed by Culture then Resources.   It is important to have a strategy and plan before having investing in what can often be costly infrastructure or support.

IT Support

Users will always need some support whether it is to resolve technical issues, to help them get initially set up or to migrate devices for example.   It is important users feel supported and have somewhere to go where they need help.    There is also the requirement for the maintenance and operation of the infrastructure including making network changes in response to changing needs of teachers, students and other users, plus responding to changes in software, cyber risk, etc.   As such some form of IT support is key.      I feel one key feature of successful IT support is for them to be seen as a partner in the processes of learning rather than simply the people that need to make it work.   I have long heard about the importance of not allowing the technology and the IT team to decide what can and cannot be done within teaching and learning, however we also need to be aware that sometimes there are things which may be appropriate from a teaching and learning point of view however would be extremely costly, difficult to support or introduce significant IT risk.   As such we also need to be wary of teaching and learning dictating to IT services what must be done.   The ideal situation therefore needs to be a partnership.   In considering this partnership and resultant balance, I will however always lean slightly towards supporting the teaching and learning side over the IT technical side given this is what schools are all about, but it still needs to be a more balanced and partner based decision making process over a hierarchical, teachers over IT support staff, process.


At a virtual event regarding EdTech during the pandemic an attendee stated that the key feature of those schools particularly successful in their use of technology during the pandemic was simply having had an established plan as to technology use in their school.   I think the need for a plan, the need for a strategy, which is both shared but also lived is key.   How can we seek to decide what technology to use, how to set this technology up, how to deploy technology and how to support and train staff if we don’t have at least some sort of plan?    For me the first step is having a strategic overview of the schools direction in relation to technology, where the stated aims should align and ideally enable the schools overall strategic aims.   It should be written in a way to be easily accessible and understandable, and therefore should be at an outline level, with more specific plans regarding projects or specific technologies then springing out from here.   It should include both content looking at the here and now but also towards the future.   I also believe it is important to get a strategy in place, without too much time spent on wordsmithing it and making it perfect.  Instead we need to accept it may evolve and change with time.

Ethos (Culture)

I have always felt that culture plays such a significant part in the life of schools and other educational establishments.   Technology requires a little bit of experimentation to find what is right, it requires us to step out of our comfort zone, it requires acceptance that sometimes things will go wrong or not as planned and it requires an embracing of change and the challenges which accompany it.   There also needs to be a culture which supports an open sharing of ideas and experiences, both those which work and also those that have not worked.   The culture and climate of the school should therefore be open and positive or warm, such that this will then support the use of technology, enabling it to be as effective as possible.       I am not going to discuss here how such a culture can be developed; There are plenty of educational books which focus solely on this.


I listed time as a fundamental resource given I know how busy schools can be.    Creating a strategy, identifying and purchasing technology, setting up and deploying technology, supporting and training users, etc, all take time.     If we are to be successful in the use of technology within schools we need to have time.    This will always be a significant challenge as in order to provide more time for one thing, such as for staff to become skilled in using technology, we need to reduce the time given to something else.   Technology can help here by either automating or making processes easier however I also believe we need to regularly look at processes, which often become complicated over time and in attempts to improve and try to simplify these where possible.   We need to constantly ask ourselves where is the value in what we are doing and can we achieve similar value but with reduced resource cost, often in time.


Looking back to my conference presentation, I think some of the details may need to be changed, but the first two layers were correct in their overall theme.    We need to first know why we are seeking to use technology, then have the foundational items in place, including a strategy followed by the necessary time, hardware, software and support.

School IT: Capex or Opex?

In schools your IT costs are one of the biggest and the pandemic has highlighted the need for investment.   But should this investment be a capital, outright purchase or are leasing options better?

I was always told that the three biggest costs for a school are staff, buildings/estates, and your IT/technology costs.    The last year and a half, and the pandemic have shown us that some schools weren’t ready in terms of technology, in terms of their infrastructure and the client end devices or at least there was a need for improvement.   I have already posted on several occasions that there is a clear need for investment.   The issue though is should this investment be in the form of outright capital-based purchasing or leasing revenue-based purchasing?


I used to believe, for big spends such as device replacement or significant infrastructure upgrades, the only way was capital.   If you own the equipment you might be able to squeeze extra years out of the kit plus a capital purchase has no leasing charges associated.  Capital purchasing was simply cheaper in the longer term, but painful in the short term due to the upfront costs.

I came to learn though that its not quite that simple.   All too often I have seen capital purchases for devices or infrastructure approved but without thinking longer term about future replacement costs.   In other words, the immediate cost was approved but without planning a replacement cycle, leading to difficult questions in the future.   Additionally, capital purchases lend themselves to scope creep.   So, the school has replaced 25 PCs; Someone will ask to keep 5, of the old machines being replaced, at the back of the maths class or 5 for English and suddenly you now have 35 PCs.    That’s 10 additional PCs which will require software and licensing costs, which will require support, and which will require eventual replacement.    The quiet years, maybe 3 or 4 years after you have replaced most of your PC fleet, are also an opportunity for spending on other projects, etc, without considered the high capital replacement cost which will recur when the fleet once again needs replacement.   This can then lead to overspend.    Now this can be avoided if you are disciplined in your capital purchasing and in your approval processes, but this requires care and discipline.


Leasing shifts the costs to a revenue model and a “cost of doing business”.    The costs associated with your technology are therefore much more visible as these costs are spread equally across the leasing cycle.   It is therefore easier to avoid scope creep or overspending, as the technology costs are clear to see.    Sadly though, like everything, leasing does have its downsides.   These are the leasing costs, which I note continue to decline, and also the fixed nature of the cycle.   This means the option of squeezing an extra couple of years out of your devices, etc, isnt available as once the lease finishes you need to enter a new lease.   I am becoming less and less concerned by this.   Technology usage is on the increase, which increases wear are tear, plus cyber security is requiring more frequent updates leading to quicker device obsolesce.   As such I feel the days of managing to squeeze a couple of extra years out of things are quickly disappearing meaning fixed replacement cycles such as that enforced through leasing are becoming more acceptable.

Leasing is also often seen as less flexible than capital purchases as you are locking in for the lease period whereas capital spends feel more “one-off” and individual allowing for change in a year or so’s time.   This might be true up to a point, but once your requirements are beyond a significant cost level, you must be considering the hardware as being usable for 4 or more years at which point even with capital spends, once the money is spent, you need to make the purchase work and therefore don’t have the flexibility you might feel you do.  

Given the long term nature of a leasing arrangement and the resultant long term nature of the relationship with the leasing vendor, it is also important to find the right company for your leasing requirements.    That said, this is likewise important with a capital purchase, at least during any warranty and support period, albeit these periods may be less than your leasing period.


Now there are other options in terms of leasing, such as lease-purchase whereby you pay the leasing costs spread across the period of the lease, but with a final option to purchase at the end.   I havent covered this in any detail as for me it brings the worst of both worlds.  Leasing costs and the opportunity for scope creep, etc, once the devices or hardware have been bought out at the end of the lease.


I don’t think there is a perfect solution.  It will depend on the items being purchased, the anticipated lifespan, school finances, organisational risk assessment and several other factors.  Sometimes you will want to purchase outright and sometimes I suspect leasing will be better.   All I can say for sure is that I am now much more likely to at least consider leasing and an opex spend.

Reframing cyber costs in education

Schools and colleges need to focus their available funds on teaching and learning, and in the students within their care.   As such it can be difficult to justify significant spending on cyber security.   Investing in cyber security is investing in preventing the possibility, a chance, of a cyber incident occurring.   The challenge therefore is establishing a way to frame the costs in order to identify what represents good value.

Cyber security is all about risk management.   Every risk has a probability of occurring.   This might be a 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000 or 1 in 1 million.    This is where the difficulties in justifying spending on cyber security arise.    For the last 10 years an institution may not have suffered any significant incidents.   As such how can the head of their IT justify spending an additional £4000 or £5000 per annum on cyber security?    We are working from the point that it is more likely an incident wont happen that it will.   Viewed from the point of view of past experience, the institution has been fine for 10 years, with the probability of an incident assumed to remaining roughly the same, so is likely to be fine in the next 10 years, excepting for this small probability.    So, stay as is or spend £40,000 – £50,000 over 10 years to provide additional protection just in case?   Viewed from this point it may be difficult to justify the spend especially if the overall budget for the school is low.

Let’s take a more mathematical approach to the problem; If we take approximately 25,000 schools in the UK where I am aware of around 20-25 which have experienced cyber incident this year.   Let’s assume I am aware of only a small number of the schools which actually experience incidents, say 10%.   So, lefts take a probability of 250 incidents per 25,000 schools or 1 in 100.   At this point rather than looking at the chance of an incident occurring, we are assuming that an incident is guaranteed to occur within a given period.  Taking this probability, in 100 years, every school in the UK would likely have been hit.   If hit, let’s make an assumption that the cost would be £250,000 to recover (this is very much a guess figure and would be dependent very much on the size of the school, its type, complexity, infrastructure, etc).   Taking the probability of 1 hit every 100 years, with each hit costing £250,000, this means the approximate annual equivalent cost would be £2500 per annum.   The cost for the additional protection is looking a little better at this point.    All it would take is for the recovery costs to grow to £400,000 or for the probability of a hit to increase to 1 in 62.5 rather than 1 in 100 schools.   

For me the key things is to move from a position of looking at the chance on an incident happening, where we assume it is more likely an incident wont occur and moving to a position of “not if but when.”   At this point we are accepting an incident is guaranteed to occur within a given time period, but we just don’t know when.   With this viewpoint we can start to make a more reasoned judgement on costs.    We can also factor in the schools risk appetitive, with a school with a high risk appetite likely to choose to underestimate the probability of an incident while one with a low appetite for risk likely to overestimate.

We very much need to reframe how cyber risk and cyber security investment is looked at.   Hopefully the above presents at least one possible way to do this in an easy but yet meaningful way.


Prior to covid-19 I attended a CIO event, where presenter after presenter talked about how their organisation was now looking at sustainability and how to be more environmentally concious.   Up until this point, when I considered sustainability in relation to IT my thinking was focussed on the financial and resources implications of IT.    If we purchase a particular service or equipment, will we be able to continue to support it in terms of ongoing replacement, licensing, and also other support costs into the future?   If the answer is yes, then it is a sustainable solution and therefore one we can move forward with.

Having attended the CIO event, I am now thinking a little bit differently.   I am now thinking about the environmental implications of procurement, of continued use and of disposal or recycling.


When purchasing IT equipment or services we need to start thinking more about the implications of our decisions on the environment.    If it is hardware, we are looking at we need to consider how the product is created, whether recyclable materials are used, how the product is delivered and the resultant fuel requirements, plus also the packaging which may be used.    We need to start asking our suppliers to prove they are environmentally concious.

In relation to online services, we need to start considering the power implications of running servers and the associated cooling of such servers.   Are online service companies acting responsibly and carbon offsetting for example?

Continued use

The environmental implications of how a service or company operates have recently been highlighted to me in two companies which choose to send me significant piles of invoice documentation in the post.   I found myself wondering about the cost to the environment of the paper used, the ink, the process of printing and then of transporting the documents to me via conventional post.    It struck me that both companies clearly were not very concious of the environmental impact of their decision to post me stacks of invoices rather than providing these documents online.

I have since challenged both companies to re-think their processes, which I hope is something they have taken on board.   I think we all need to do more to challenge where processes have not been designed with minimising their environmental impact in mind.


Disposal is a relatively obvious part of the product lifecycle and one we should generally already have in mind.   We need to ensure that equipment which reaches the end of its useful life with us, either can be moved on to be reused or can be, as much as is possible, recycled.


I will admit to not previously giving the environmental impact of my decisions enough consideration.   It may have been that my assumption was that each company should be doing this however now I have come to realise that it is for each of use to challenge the companies we work with, the third party suppliers and services, to ensure that together we are environmentally concious.   Going forward I am therefore going to develop a framework for challenging my third parties in relation to environmental consciousness plus will also be conducting a review of our own practices.

It is for all of us to develop our environmental consciousness with a view to ensuring the sustainability of the planet which supports our lives.

JISC DigiFest: Thoughts from Day 1

JiscD1I thought I would share some initial thoughts following day one of JISC DigiFest.  The event was launched with a very polished and professional pre-prepared video displayed on screens scattered around the events main hall, focussing on the rate of change in relation to technology and some of the technological implications of technology on the world we live in.   The launch session also included a room height “virtual” event guide introducing the sessions and pointing you in the direction of the appropriate hall.    In terms of the launch of a conference this was the most polished and inspiring launch I have seen albeit on reflection there wasn’t much particularly innovative or technically complex about it.

JiscD1-1The keynote speaker addressed the changing viewpoints of different generations of people focussing particularly on Generation Z, the generation which currently are in our sixth forms, colleges and universities.   I took away two key points from the presentation.   The first was how each generations views were shaped by their experiences particularly between the ages of 12 and 20 year old.   Jonah Stillman used thoughts on space as an example showing how Generation X might have positive views focussing on the successes of the moon landing whereas Millennials may have a more cynical view following the Challenger disaster.   Additionally, Jonah mentioned movies as a social influencer and how those in the Harry Potter generation may view cooperation and trying hard, even where unsuccessful, in a positive manner.  Those born later than this may draw on another series of films, in the hunger games, resulting in a greater tendency towards competition and the need to succeed in line with the movies storyline of everyone for themselves and failure results in death.     The second take away point from the session resulted from the questioning at the end of the session around what some saw as the absoluteness of the boundaries between generations.    I think Jonah’s use of the word “tendency” addressed this concern in that the purpose of the labels was for simplicity and to indicate a general trend and tendency rather than to suggest that all people born on certain dates exhibited a certain trait.  It increasing concerns me that this argument keeps coming up when surely it is clear that there is a need to use simplistic models to help clarity of explanation and that no model, not matter how complex will ever truly capture the real complexity of the world we live in.

My 2nd session was actually the delivery of my own session.   I will be sharing some thoughts in relation to my presentation along with my resources in the near future.   For now I will simply say that the session was not one of my best.   I do however hope that my main message, in the need for greater and broader discussion in relation to citizenship within the now digital world we find ourselves living in was clear.

The third session of the day focussed on  digital literacy programme one particular university had developed.   I found it interesting in this and a later presentation, how digital literacy or digital citizenship appeared to often fall to the library in universities in terms of developing and delivering a programme.    In schools I feel the same topics tend to fall on the IT teaching department rather than libraries however it is interesting that something which should be permissive would find itself localised in educational institutions in a single department rather than being supported across the institution.   It was interesting how the programme the university developed had evolved over time, which seems to me to be the correct approach given how quick technology is changing.  I also found it interesting in that student voice suggested needs which then later students indicated they did not find useful.  In other words students themselves were not an accurate judge of their own wants and needs.     Session five followed a similar topic again looking at digital literacy however the presenters made use of a fairy tales as a vehicle to deliver their message of the pros and cons of the digital world we live in.   I must admit I enjoyed this presentation in its novel approach to delivering the concept in hand.

Session four focussed on partnerships between a university, a local council and a number of corporate organisations focusing in particular on data analysis and business intelligence.  I think schools have some way to go in this area as they regularly gather huge amounts of data however little is actually done with it beyond reporting it to school leaders, parents, etc.   I think the challenge is that schools often lack the resources which a college or university may have at their disposal, such as having data scientists as part of the staff body.   That said, the sessions seemed to indicate the potential for schools to leverage partnerships to fill this gap with minimal to no outlay on their own resources.

My final session of day one focussed on digital transformation, and like the key notes was insightful and inspiring.    Lindsay Herbert discussed the bear in the room, which is similar to the elephant in the room but more dangerous.     I particularly like the way Lindsay stated early on that the world was a “terrible place” citing issues such as the corona virus, fires in Australia, storms across the UK and ongoing technological change.   She then quickly moved on to the fact that we are inherently brave in our attempt to not only exist but to strive to flourish in this world, before then going on to identify various success stories where the bear in the room was tackled.    She left us with 3 main tips, all of which struck a cord with me, in that transformation starts with a worthy cause, requires lots of people and needs to be learned and earned rather than purchased.   The third tip in particular strikes a cord for me as I have encountered change where it has not gone as smoothly as I would have liked, and where significantly more effort was expended than had originally been attended;  In retrospect this may have been the change being earned, plus certainly involved a lot of learning.

Day 1 was useful with the keynote and closing session of the day being my highlights.    Have plenty of notes to digest when I get back home.  Roll on day 2.




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