It’s no secret that the U.S. educational system is embattled and trying to do more with less. From budget cuts to heightened expectations for student learning to fewer staffing resources, schools are looking for novel solutions to complex operational issues. Some enterprising school leaders are turning to one of the latest business models to source information technology. Rather than staffing up or simply handing over their IT infrastructure to an outside firm, some leaders are seeking a hybrid model.
With traditional outsourcing, schools would hire an IT company to manage their IT networks. Lost in the shuffle of multiple clients and networks, schools find themselves losing control and money over their IT assets. With a hybrid “outsourced-insourced” model, schools still contract with a firm tasked with recommending IT solutions. This firm, however, becomes a virtual part of the school staff and works side-by-side with other school leaders to rollout IT investments, manage networks and bring best-in-class, diverse technology solutions to campuses.
There are many drivers compelling school districts and educational institutions to seek an outsourced-insourced IT solution:
- Budget pressure for both capital and operating costs
- New Web technologies that mean a learning curve plus shift to variable instead of fixed performance, staffing and capacity requirements
- Integration of IT across all operating areas – no longer functioning as a silo within the IT department
- Limited staff knowledge of software, network security, application and other IT domains
- Increased pressure from federal, state and local officials to do more with less
- Heightened awareness from school boards, officials and parents that schools need increased IT knowledge and functionality
- Administrative and operational requirements to support e-learning, or distance learning
This is a basic shift in how schools have treated their IT operations. In the past, one – or few – assigned IT professionals oversaw hardware and software deployment and maintenance. Today, no one professional can amass the breadth of technology knowledge necessary to keep up with the drivers.
However, despite the need to transition to a new way of handling technology requirements, many school officials are naturally reluctant to “hand off” their technology assets to an outside party. Many of these factors are logical and some are cautionary.
- Schools are risk-adverse and should be to protect sensitive data.
- Some schools limit outside vendor relationships to protect against lawsuits, exposure and unnecessary expenses.
- Outsourced relationships still need to be monitored and managed, taking valuable staff time possibly away from other resources and projects.
An alternative structure is to bridge the traditional IT function with outsourcing to create a new model called insourced IT that:
- Brings the best of outside knowledge and functionality
- Gives schools a diverse, dedicated team of IT professionals
- Eliminates the burden of employee overhead
Some of the best-practiced ways to craft a winning insourced model is to form advisory committees or peer groups to share knowledge. Los Angeles-based Cal Net Technology Group is in the process of forming an education specific IT peer group, consisting of private schools in the greater Southern California area.
Its objective is to use the power of collaborative discussion and learning to push the private education sector further down the technology road, by facilitating group discussion and accountability among peers who share the same issues and needs at their respective educational institutions.
In the Cal Net example, its primary audience is those individuals who help shape the technology strategy for their school. Cal Net participates in a similar style peer group for the IT services industry and has been a leader in that group for more than four years.