A choice between in-house and outsourced technology services has significant implications for your school’s instructional and non-instructional programming.
The manner in which schools choose to manage their technology services impacts the day-to-day experience of teachers, students, and families. When a projector, laptop, or another piece of hardware malfunctions, quick and effective troubleshooting can allow a teacher to continue the day’s lesson without a hitch, while failure to do so can impede students’ content mastery. Similarly, a well-executed summer work plan in which devices are seamlessly collected, updated, and redistributed by the first day of school can allow teachers to focus on what matters: students.
IT services also require significant financial investments. Hiring two or three IT service professionals to oversee technology at a more established school may make sense, while a newer school may find it more cost-effective to outsource their IT programming. Juggling student data, federal reimbursement programs, along with routine IT maintenance, can quickly overwhelm even the most seasoned IT team. Because of these competing demands, effectively managing the workflow of an IT service team, particularly those that are in-house, requires additional time and attention from school leadership.
In making your decision, ask your team, what do we want out of a technology services provider?
No one school is identical to another, a truism that extends to IT services. Whether a standalone charter or private school, a large network, or public school district, the IT needs of one building rarely mirror those of another. As leaders determine which IT service model makes sense for their unique needs, it makes sense to begin by identifying what, exactly, those needs are.
If a school plans to expand grade levels, enrollment, or add a new site, can a small in-house team realistically accomplish all of the IT priorities in a given year? Does the school want an IT team that prioritizes troubleshooting, or does it also want a thought-partner capable of providing longer-term strategic advice? As they review outsourced providers, how can the experiences of current or past clients inform leaders’ decision-making processes (i.e., does the provider have a proven track record of meeting similar schools’ IT needs)?
A school with a tech-heavy instructional model may also prefer an outsourced provider, given the scope of their IT needs. Navigating dozens of online instructional platforms, managing hundreds of individual student and staff devices, and staying up-to-date on the latest trends in educational technology may not be possible for a small in-house team, especially ones that have limited experience with common instructional platforms like DreamBox, BrainPop, Illuminate, or Newsela.
Is your focus mainly on troubleshooting, or are you also seeking a consultative partnership?
School leadership teams with extensive IT knowledge may be able to limit their in-house or outsourced scope of work to day-to-day troubleshooting. For example, when a Chromebook breaks or a projector bulb goes out, the school wants the issue resolved in a timely manner. A narrower scope of work that prioritizes small technology fixes may more easily align with an in-house “team” or individual than a full-scale outsourced model.
By contrast, if a school wants both troubleshooting services, updates on the latest trends in educational technology, fiscal guidance, and support, and other project management services, an outsourced team likely makes more sense. In addition to the pooled experience of multiple team members, outsourced firms have a greater capacity to research and recommend newer products or services that help schools stay ahead of updates in educational technology. Rather than replacing the same software or hardware year and year, for example, an outsourced technology services team can potentially recommend improvements or upgrades that, while not yet on the market, are expected to be released before the start of the new school year.
The size of your school, in terms of enrollment and physical layout, can influence your decision-making process.
Both the physical size and enrollment of a school can heavily influence leaders’ IT decision-making processes. If, for example, a relatively new school is confined to a single floor with a limited number of wireless access points, few or no dead zones, and a small number of student and staff devices, an in-house team may be reasonably expected to meet the school’s technology needs.
If, on the other hand, a school has students on multiple floors or buildings, effectively managing the school’s IT services can quickly become challenging. Different floors or sites may have dramatically different layouts and IT infrastructure needs, not to mention the additional classroom projectors, SMART boards, phones, and other hardware that may need to be serviced. Under such a scenario, even the most skilled in-house IT teams can quickly become overwhelmed, limiting their capacity to respond to teacher and student tech issues in a timely manner.
A hybrid approach that marries both in-house and outsourced technology services may be possible, depending on the provider.
Of course, a school’s choice between an in-house technology services team or an outsourced firm isn’t strictly either-or: while some outsourced firms only offer full-scale managed IT services, others may be able to assist schools on a short-term or project basis, depending on the needs of the school.
An outsourced firm, for example, may be willing to assist an in-house team with a beginning-of-year launch or other start-up tasks that require additional personnel. If a school hopes to better manage its students’ academic data, an outsourced team may similarly be able to provide consultative services to the school that don’t address day-to-day IT needs. In either case, the school may be able to mitigate the added cost of a fully outsourced technology program, while also addressing mission-critical IT tasks.
In the charter or independent school setting, financial considerations can heavily influence a choice between an in-house or outsourced IT service provider.
This, of course, speaks to the overriding consideration for many schools when deciding between an in-house or outsourced technology services provider: how much will it cost? While new schools may be tempted to go for an in-house technology services option—thinking, of course, that one person’s services will cost less than those of an entire firm—this isn’t necessarily the case.
Hiring a single person to service all aspects of a school’s technology programming may prove difficult. For example, it may be hard to find a technology services professional who’s both capable and willing to provide day-to-day troubleshooting services, such as fixing a defective Chromebook, as well as higher-level financial and operational advice. By choosing an outsourced option, schools can avoid this scenario while also, in some cases, lowering costs.
Navigating the federal E-rate process may consume too much bandwidth for an in-house IT team.
Technology services professionals without prior experience in schools may also be unable to provide a school with guidance on the federal E-rate process, a cornerstone of many schools’ annual technology budgets. Outsourced firms, particularly those in the education space, are likely deeply familiar with the federal E-rate program and are skilled in fulfilling schools’ proposals.
If school leaders decide to hire an in-house team, they run the risk of either having a different team—such as operations—manage the program in partnership with an E-rate consultant or even potentially missing out on thousands of dollars in federal support.
An in-house team may not make sense for your organizational structure.
For schools considering an in-house service model, it pays to think through how this team would fit into your existing organizational structure. In the charter school setting, for example, the school’s operations lead would normally oversee technology programming at one or multiple sites. Who are the individuals the operations lead already manages, and how would an in-house IT team’s workflow intersect with these individuals’? Does the operations lead have the capacity to directly manage one or more additional team members?
If an in-house team doesn’t neatly fall under an existing team, does it make sense to spin-off IT into an entirely new team altogether? If so, does the IT lead serve on the school’s leadership team? Does this individual have multiple reports? If so, what are their titles and specific duties?
An outsourced IT service model can mitigate concerns over the organizational structure. Rather than directly managing multiple IT team members, school leaders can generally limit their day-to-day interactions to a single point of contact at the outsourced firm, which in turn deploys technicians and other project support staff to the school as needed.
At CTS, we provide our clients with a comprehensive suite of outsourced IT services.
We’ve partnered with more than 60 schools across the United States to provide IT solutions that accomplish their unique missions. Our diverse range of clients, coupled with our extensive knowledge of the latest trends in educational technology, has enabled us to meet the needs of schools, both large and small, new and established across the country.