Tech Talk Live Blog

Evaluating Vendors and New Technology

Jessica Diller

As planning for the remainder of the school year and summer initiatives continue, districts have to make decisions on what new technologies to implement and what vendors to use.  There are many things that go into consideration when making these types of decisions.  Tech departments are not only tasked with looking at items such as storage, laptops, servers, and switches. They must seek new products that are designed to be part of a philosophical shift in education, one that enables students to direct their own learning and teachers to engage and encourage them. Products that push innovation in the classrooms in the right direction.

Schools, unfortunately, are typically under a microscope, and being innovative can be difficult. While outside industries can do trial and error, districts typically do not have the ability to try and fail, and then try again.  The expectations set for technology in schools makes it hard for leaders to be innovative and try something new. Technology leaders must navigate a market with little trustworthy evidence to show what works and a maze of sales pitches that claim they all have the best product.  Until more efficient pathways emerge allowing the best innovations to be discovered and quickly shared throughout districts, leaders must take certain steps to ensure that they are properly vetting technology before spending millions of dollars and going through full implementation.

Typically when purchasing technology, individuals tend to focus only on the actual product they are purchasing.  A more holistic approach can turn out to be invaluable.  By evaluating the company, as well as the product, districts can increase the odds of making an informed decision, as well as developing quality long-term vendor relationships.

Things to consider when evaluating a vendor company:

  1. How long has the company been in business? While there are a lot of new technologies being developed by startups, selecting an established company that has a reputation for good business practices might be worth considering.
  2. Do they have a separate division for the education sector? This question is important, because if they do not have a separate division for education, you might find yourself trying to compete for time and attention with larger clients. Find a company that truly understands the education market and the rewards and challenges associated with this market.
  3. Support. Support can be very costly. Look for a vendor who understands education, understands your needs, and understands what your overall goal and vision is. A vendor who is willing to cut their margin to get a deal will likely be a difficult negotiator when you need support.  Further, consider how easy the product is to configure and manage with your internal resources.  If it’s resource heavy, do you have the resources to properly support it?
  4. Scale. As your district grows, so does your needs. Select a vendor that allows you to scale easily, and has the foresight to grow or shrink with you as your district needs change.
  5. Price. We all know price if very important. The vendor must be competitive with industry peers on pricing, but as a district leader, you must be sure to consider total cost of ownership, not just the initial price. Will there be ongoing licensing fees? What are the operational costs, like additional cooling requirements and power draw? What technical resources are needed to manage the new technology?

Things to consider when evaluating a new classroom technology product:

  1. Is the technology easy to introduce and does it simplify? Teachers and students will not use a product that is hard to understand and not easy to use. When introducing a new product in the classroom, make sure to plan to introduce and train the teachers until they are comfortable using the product.  Pilot groups are great tool for introduction.  Once other teachers see the success or failures that occur in the pilot, it might make it easier to introduce or decide not to move forward with full implementation.  If the solution does not provide a clear and simple benefit to the teacher and students, then it should not be used.
  2. Is the technology engaging? Technology is only useful if it improves or enhances student learning. Technology should not be used just for the sake of using it.  It should be a tool that allows teachers to expand their teaching, while offering something to better engage students.  If the technology is not engaging, than students will just become frustrated or bored and not use it.
  3. Is the technology manageable? Additional technology tools bring additional responsibilities to the classroom, as well. Who will handle setup, ongoing maintenance and updates, and troubleshooting? Without a proper plan and adequate resources in place to address these issues, classroom technology can quickly become a burden – wasting valuable time and money.

The key is to build long term quality vendor relationships, so that when you want to take the risk of implementing new technologies at your district, you feel assured that you are getting the best advice, equipment, or product in the market.  Finding quality vendors that understand the unique needs of education is crucial. While we must be cautious and do our due-diligence when selecting a product and a vendor, do not let the fear of negative headlines about failed technology programs stop your district from being innovative and bringing new technologies into your districts or classrooms.

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