Tech Talk: Costly Free Advice

A school's ideal technology purchase can be defined as buying the right quality and right quantity, at the right price, from the right source, with the right service. Administrators should strive to obtain the equipment, material and services that best serve a school's needs.

The person responsible for acquiring technology equipment for a school should have a high degree of integrity. An effective decisionmaker needs to be able to make value judgments, work under extreme pressure, communicate effectively both orally and in writing, and make tough decisions.

Over the years, many have assumed that an education institution would always take the low bid without regard to other factors. That misconception still prevails in many states. In reality, many schools have more latitude in these decisions. In some cases, statutes have been revised to allow schools to choose the most responsive vendor who meets the specifications.

One of the most common pitfalls schools make in acquiring technology is letting vendors plan their systems.

It is important that a school has a technology plan that has identified the major products and systems it wants before officials get in touch with potential vendors.

Many technology vendors have a single objective when approaching a school: persuading administrators to choose their solution. Many vendors will offer to design a system, write specifications, and even assist with bidding and evaluation, in hopes of obtaining the school's business. This is a case where free help may not be in the school's best interest.

Some points to consider:

  • Most vendors are not educators and typically do not know the role technology plays in teaching and learning.

  • Many vendors typically have a single solution that fits their hardware and software products.

  • Many vendors have a vested interest in what they are trying to sell rather than the educational interest of the client.

  • Many schools put too much design and solution responsibility in the hands of vendors, because vendors will do it for free.

  • Most vendors do not have trained educators within their firm to provide staff-development training.

Too many schools let profit-seeking, high-pressure, single-product vendors influence what they buy, rather than making informed decisions based on actual needs. Over-reliance on vendor solutions can leave many schools with equipment that is inappropriate, costly and sometimes even obsolete.

Administrators that rely on vendor-designed solutions to perform certain tasks later may discover these solutions cannot adapt to changing technologies. The goal shouldn't be finding a cheap solution, but choosing a solution that will enhance teaching and learning. Administrators must be wary about accepting recommendations from firms trying to land the school as a client.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Bloomington, Ind., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at [email protected].

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