Research and Planning
Research and Planning in the following sections involves the initial research that is required for purchasing technology. It also involves the planning that is required before acquiring the technology.
Researching Technology Purchases
A District Technology Coordinator is usually responsible for purchasing the technology used throughout the school or district. Therefore he or she should work with the end users to develop the specifications for technology to be purchased. After general specifications have been developed in consultation with the end users, the Technology Coordinator should obtain current pricing from different suppliers or vendors. The prices should be compared through a competitive bidding process.
- A purchase order (P.O.) refers the School District's legal and binding acceptance of a vendor's offer. A regular purchase order contains the order date, name of purchaser, contact person, billing address, shipping address, name of vendor, vendor’s address, requested delivery date, budget codes, specifications as well as quotation reference numbers of particular items, and signature required from higher authority of the organization. Specification refers a description of a physical or functional attributes of a supply or service. A quotation refers an offer from a contractor for a supply or service. School districts normally purchase items in bulk through regular P.O. Alternatives are purchase requisitions for small amount, petty cash for very small amount of purchase. P.O are time consuming and may incur additional overhead costs.
- Budget Codes
- One of the most detailed and often confusing aspects of purchasing is applying budget codes. For every purchase there must be a budget code assigned to the item. The budget codes establish a consistency in reporting and allow for accumulation of detail at various levels.1a For information on proper budget codes according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, please go to their Manual of Accounting. For additional information about budgeting in this book, please refer to Chapter 3 on Funding and Budgeting.
- Bidding Process
- If any United States organization is placing an order that exceeds $10,000, then that purchase has to go through a bidding process. In perspective of a school, bids must follow a combination of local, state, and federal laws. Bids must be publicly advertised for at least 3 weeks. Sealed bids are publicly opened at a specified date and time. Many states or groups of schools place bids for large purchases. Every state/commonwealth in the United States has a government contract list from which schools may purchase without bids. For example, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has created the PEPPM Technology Bidding and Purchasing Program. There is also a similar program in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania. There is an organization that is called the "Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges." The independent colleges in the Lehigh Valley are able to go to LVAIC and participate in a shared purchasing program. This program allows eligible colleges to save money when purchasing expensive equipment.
- The Request for Proposal (RFP) process is being used by some school districts to invite potential vendors to submit bids for providing hardware, software, and/or services. To optimize this process, it is important to be thorough and detailed in the RFP so that vendors know the entire scope of the project. Here is an example of an RFP template
An alternate option to purchasing new technology is leasing. This is similar to leasing a car, where a school district pays a fee over time to use technology without owning the equipment. At the end of the lease the hardware is returned or purchased at a fair market price. There are positives and negatives associated with leasing, and a decision to lease or purchase should be based on a district's financial needs and technology plan. Whether a lease makes sense for a district also depends on the contract negotiated between the leaser and the vendor.
|Positives and Negatives associate with leasing adapted from Chris Peters Leasing Computers and IT Equipment for Your Nonprofit.
Positives Associated with Leasing:
Negatives Associated with Leasing:
If a district decides that leasing technology will meet the needs of their program there are certain things to consider when drawing up a lease agreement.
- Time Frame of Lease: Most leases will last for three years, however a district needs to decide the best option for for their needs on a time frame.
- Equipment and Software: Just like in purchasing equipment, a technology coordinator needs to research what equipment will meet the needs of the administrators, teachers and students.
- Vendor: Since the vendor will be supplying equipment and possibly software, training, and service, it is important to research vendors and choose one with a good reputation.
- Asset Tracking: At the end of a lease a district will need to return equipment in good condition. This requires a suitable tracking and inventory system to make sure equipment is in working order and located where it is supposed to be.
- Maintenance and Repair: The repair of leased equipment can be handled by the district or the vendor. The lease agreement will need to state who is responsible for making sure equipment is in working order and what repairs will be covered.
- Technology Refresh Options: Some leases can be structured to allow upgrades before the end of the lease. Refresh options can also allow the addition of more equipment or the return of out-dated equipment.
- Budgeting: Under current accounting principals leasing can be shown as operating expenses rather than debt on a balance sheet. This should be discussed with the financial department of the school district.
- End-of-Lease Terms: The lease agreement will need to state what will happen at the end of the lease. One thing to include in this section is whether there is a purchasing option for used hardware. It is also helpful to clarify the condition equipment should be returned in.
Planning Technology Purchases
Technology purchases often involve large sums of money and long commitments by the school district. Before anything is purchased, planning must be done to ensure that the purchase will meet the goals and expectations of a Technology Plan and the institution's budget. In order to avoid a costly mistake, three areas of inquiry should be explored, as outlined in the sections below. Once completed, the answers to these questions should give the Technology Director confidence in the purchase decision under consideration.
- Understand The Real Need
- Any technology is a tool to help solve a problem or reach a goal. Therefore, the technology director must get a clear understanding of the real need before trying to find the technological solution. What is the problem that is being addressed, what goals are trying to be reached, what student outcomes are trying to be achieved?
- Gain a clear understanding of the current conditions, the tasks being performed, the types of lessons being taught. The technology director should become very familiar with each area that the technology will touch, by sitting in on classes, observing staff using their current systems and interviewing current users about their daily tasks.
- Talk with your users (faculty, staff, or students) to find out what they plan on using the technology for. What do your users want the technology do to for them? What improvements do they expect? Buying the wrong piece of equipment and finding out that it doesn't do the desired task is a situation that you will not want to be in.
- Think beyond your users' requests. Users may have a limited idea of the potential of technology and their requests may be limited. As a technology director, it is part of your task to come to the table with a variety of solutions that your users may not have even dreamed possible.
- Contact Current Users of the Technology
- It is very important that you contact other school districts that are using the technology that your are considering for purchase. This is one of the simplest ways to check on the actual performance of the technology, yet it gives your some of the most valuable information.
- Contact other school districts locally or nationally to find out if the technology is performing as promised, and if it is meeting expectation, in order to get a look at the unfiltered truth on its performance.
- Contacting current users is also helpful in finding out what questions you might not know to ask - a current user with experience may be able to share valuable insights that would be otherwise unknown at this stage in the decision making process.
- Check References of Potential Vendors
- It is important to learn as much as possible about the vendor before entering into a contract with them. Checking references of potential vendors to be sure that they will be dependable and reliable in providing the product/service at their budgeted prices is one of the best ways to do that.
- Check with other school districts so see where they bought a piece of equipment from. Products made by "Brand X" are sold by many different vendors. Although the products may be the same, the support provided by the vendors can be very different. Checking references is helpful in finding out how the vendors back up their products.
- These vendors will most likely support the product in different ways. Some will simply sell you the product, provide support for 1 year, and then you may never be able to get in contact with them again about the order that you already place. Others will install the equipment (if applicable and for an additional fee), support the equipment for several years, and will also fix any problems that may have been their fault during installation. Talking with others about their experience with an individual vendor, specifically about the kinds of technical support that are available, can be a determining factor as to who to purchase from.
- Research the Software/Hardware
- Researching the software and/or hardware is important in order to confirm that it is what you expect and that it is compatible with current and future systems.
- When planning the purchase of technology equipment, IT staff members first have to do a basic inventory of what is going to be replaced. A lot of times when technology is being replaced, other equipment gets "rolled down" to replace technology that is considered old. For example, let's say that your school purchases new computers on a four year rotating schedule. Each year, during the summer, staff members that have a computer that is four years old will receive a new computer, but their old computer may be able to be kept for some other purpose or it can be donated to some other non-profit organization; just make sure that all previous data has been erased and the only software that is installed on the computer is what was originally shipped with the computer.
- When planning the purchase of technology equipment, the new equipment does not have to necessarily be state-of-the-art unless it will be undergoing major use (e.g. a computer lab or something used all of the time). Computers that are going to be used by faculty members, do not necessarily have to be the best equipment. Going with a computer that may cost between $800-$900 will probably be able to meet the needs of the average user that won't be sitting at their desk all day. If the computer is going to be used by administrative personnel, they will be at their computer all day long. This kind of computer should probably cost between $1,100-$1,200.
Receiving and Installing
Receiving and Installing covers the logistics of receiving technology and installing it into new or old buildings and classrooms.
Receiving Shipments of Technology
- Where will it be delivered: The Technology Coordinator should know where shipments are being sent. Packages could be delivered to district offices, warehouses, or to individual schools. Usually all shipments from local vendors are delivered directly to the school or district offices or warehouses.
- Who will be there when it is delivered: A reliable person needs to receive any individual packages or large shipments. Custodians may be needed to unload shipments because the delivery person may not be required to upload large shipments off their vehicle. Usually packages are delivered along with a Packing Slip. Packing Slips must be checked against Purchase Orders to confirm that everything has been received. The chosen reliable person will have to sign the packing slip to confirm that everything has been received. Large shipments must be secured during inventory and until items are installed. If a tracking number has been provided, while an item is being shipped, the item should be tracked to monitor the status of a shipment. It is the responsibility of the Technology Coordinator to verify receipt and forward one copy of the Purchase Order to the Business office.
- Storage of Technology
- Each school district usually possess a warehouse where all the shipments should be kept safely with the supervision of a supervisor and storekeeper. Warehouse Storekeepers under the guidance of supervisor participate in the receiving, unloading packages, storing computers and/or laptops and/or other equipment, maintain related records, prepare and maintain reports, maintain warehouse and surrounding areas in a clean and orderly conditions, deliver items to district locations, etc.If any incorrect shipments, over-shipments, cancellations occurs, storekeeper with the guidance of supervisor prepare reports, maintain accurate and audit-able records.
- If your school district does not have a warehouse where shipments can be kept until these are received in each school, you may have to rent a storage facility and may have to hire additional security to protect the investment.
- A Technology Coordinator should know that someone has to prepare and maintain computerized fixed asset Inventory records of the District's supplies, materials and equipments. An accurate inventory is something that is required by law and by insurance companies. A district wide inventory system is usually used. Barcode scanners help to record a model and/or serial number.
- A proper inventory includes the purchase order number and all other relevant data attached to the order.
- An inventory is essential because in the case of an emergency, there needs to be documented evidence as to what was damaged or stolen so value can be placed on these items. To track or control the inventory of computers, furniture and equipments more easily, school districts may need to buy some software. For a list of available pieces of software for inventory, go to IntelliTrack.
- Suppliers or vendors send invoice or bill to the purchase section of the school district asking for payment. Once the items are received under satisfactory condition and all the terms and conditions of the P.O. has been met, the purchase department or section will issue the payment to the supplier and the inventory will be updated. This is where the purchase cycle will be completed.
When any kind of installation of technology equipment is done, someone (either school or contracted electricians) need to install the proper data and electrical lines. Doing this will make sure that all of your new equipment can run properly. When installing data and electrical lines for new buildings, it is better to install more than what you will need. Installing more lines will allow people to rearrange the layout of a room and thus not have to worry about where items can and can not be placed.
- Installing New Equipment
- When installing new equipment or replacing old equipment, that will be in public areas, library or computer lab, make sure that desktop computers and monitors are properly secured. Using desktop security cases and monitor security cables can prevent people from stealing your investment.
- After properly installing individual computer workstations, technicians need to upload the already created image to each machine. When imaging a lab, the easiest way to do this is to use what is called a multicast. This procedure saves network bandwidth and uploads the same image to multiple computers at the same time. Symantec Ghost is the most frequently used imaging problem used for this kind of task.
- Another solution that can be used instead of, or with an image, is a application that "freezes" your computer the desired state. This means that any time the computer is restarted to automatically reverts to the desire configuration. This idea works very well because if a computer is infected with a virus or other malicious software, if you restart the computer they go away. The major issue with this type of setup is in maintaining updates to the operating system and to the virus definitions. An example of program that is capable of doing this is called Deep Freeze.
- Upgrading Equipment
- When upgrading equipment, the same task that are usually done when installing new equipment also need to be completed.
- In additional, the school needs to determine what will be done with the equipment that is being upgraded. Many times, old equipment can still be used by someone use in the school. In this situation, the computer is rolled down to someone else but all of the old data has been erased and the computer is put into its original state. Rolling down computers in this manner can save a district much money.
- If computers will not be rolled down, they can always be donated to churches or other non-profit organizations that can use this equipment.
1a From: Manual of Accounting and Financial Reporting for Pennsylvania Public Schools, http://www.pde.state.pa.us/school_acct/lib/school_acct/intro06-2006.pdf taken October 16, 2007.
- Investing in School Technology: Strategies to Meet the Funding Challenge - November 1997: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/techinvest/chap3a.html
- Peters, C. Leasing computers and IT equipment for your nonprofit. retrieved 6/24/09 from http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/techplan/page10512.cfm?cg=searchterms&sg=leasing