Schools put at risk by bargain IT contracts

Every year setting the school budget gets harder and harder, with funding being squeezed. Continual budget cuts and changes in funding allocations means that budget setting for schools requires reviews of contracts across the board. Getting best value to ensure the best fit for each and every contract is imperative to allow a school to run effectively and efficiently and survive in such stringent times.

IT contracts can be some of the most confusing out there. Within IT, this can include (but is by no means limited to) equipment, infrastructure, support, maintenance, and software. And then there’s connectivity. And we’re not just talking bandwidth, but safety and security (e.g. firewalls, filtering and monitoring), resilience, support and more.

Get connected

Over the past decade schools have been moving away from shared infrastructure (like their Local Authority networks) onto their own individual connections, increasing their responsibility and duty to ensure they purchase a safe, secure and resilient network. Even once the “appropriate” levels of filtering and monitoring are in place (as set out in the Government’s 2016 update to Keeping Children Safe in Education), the connection must be robust enough to prevent against increasing cyber security threats like DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) and ransomware attacks, data breaches, and more.

More and more schools have been able to benefit from the rollout of “superfast broadband”, upgrading their connections to faster and more cost effective solutions.  The increasing demand for this “superfast” service has led to more and more suppliers entering the schools broadband space, and market changes have led to a considerable drop in prices over the past three years.

Value vs Risk

On the flipside however it has also opened the doors for providers who may not have a school’s best interests at heart. It is not uncommon to hear of schools purchasing products that they think offers value for money, but in fact leaves them exposed to a number of risks that a slightly more expensive solution would protect them against. For instance, products without firewalls and ‘appropriate’ filtering and monitoring systems in place can leave learners, staff and data vulnerable. The true value of something can’t always be measured by price, and the cheapest product is not always the best deal for the school.

"It is not uncommon to hear of schools purchasing products that they think offers value for money, but in fact leaves them exposed to a number of risks"

When reviewing your IT services there are a couple of key things we suggest you consider, depending on whether you’re planning for the next year or the next three years.

  •   Does your school have plans to move to the cloud?
 - On-premise infrastructure can be expensive and can also mean higher levels of support are required. Hosted or cloud alternatives could save your school a lot of money, but you will need connectivity that's able to support it.
  •   Are there plans to increase the number of devices in your setting?

 - These could be desktops or wireless devices, or perhaps your school is looking to implement a Bring Your Own Device policy? All of these are important factors when trying to determine the type and speed of connectivity your setting needs.

Get what you need

Having an understanding of what you want and need allows you to be a more informed purchaser. For many, budgets and available infrastructure will determine the type of connection a school will purchase, but going through a process does at least mean that you will be purchasing what you want and need rather than just going with the lowest cost offering. 

For most schools, an integrated solution, combining connectivity, security, safety and support is likely to be best value. When looking at the various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) out there, it’s important to consider the totality of the service and what you really get for your money, ensuring it is fit for purpose.

"For most schools, an integrated solution, combining connectivity, security, safety and support is likely to be best value."

Need for speed

When looking at superfast broadband, you can check the speed your school is expected to get using the DSLchecker. Check with your existing (and any potential replacement) ISP to see if any artificial caps are imposed, which can limit the speeds you will actually receive, and how they’ll maximise the performance of your service.  Look at the support package, and the service as a whole, is it pro-actively monitored to help address any issues quickly? Are change requests and support calls included free of charge? Ensuring you know the safety and security features in place will enable your school to understand what additional services need to be purchased.

Resilience

You should also take a moment to review the resilience of the network you will be joining, ask questions of your supplier. What happens if there is a data breach, or a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack?

Room to grow

Schools need to ensure they are getting best value and not just the best price. But also a solution that will allow them to grow and develop their IT plans as we move further into a digital world.

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