It can be more than a full-time job to keep up with technology as it evolves, and smaller and midsize entities that tend not to have dedicated technology staff can face even more acute challenges.
So many changes occur, it’s hard to know what’s available, says Paul Karlin, M. Ed., director of Education Technology & Services at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. Also, you must train staff and invest in maintenance to keep technology from sitting around unused or broken.
At the same time, organizations need to continually budget for change.
“They’ll say, ‘OK, we’re done. We’ve got a great network and computers,’” Karlin says. “They don’t realize that it’s going to be three, four or five years, and then they have to do it all over again. It’s an ongoing need that has to be budgeted for every year.”
Smart Business spoke with Karlin, who helps schools integrate technology into classrooms and buildings, about how all entities can stay on top of technology needs.
How are schools and classrooms using technology today?
Schools like any organization use technology to conduct business — from keeping track of attendance and grades to payroll, accounts receivable, marketing and communication. And like the corporate world, the right technology maximizes efficiency and employee productivity, while reducing costs.
In addition, whether your classroom is in the educational world or corporate America, technology can improve learning. It’s a vehicle for direct instruction, such as Internet research, educational software or apps. Another use is assessment. In schools, based upon Common Core Standards, groups of states are adopting national tests given on computers, driving schools to update bandwidth.
Technology also is used as a tool to solve problems, create things and be more productive. This higher-level learning, when educating students or employees, isn’t just reading material and taking a test. For example, when learning about global warming, a science teacher challenges students to come up with energy-saving devices, using computer modeling and 3-D printers to develop prototypes. It goes beyond comprehension to becoming part of the dialog of how to make the world better.
What do you recommend as the way to best keep up with technology changes?
There are two overarching strategies. Entities can invest in their own technology staff. If they are large enough and have the resources, it’s a good way to go. But the technology field is very competitive, with IT people moving from job to job. If your key tech person puts in his or her two-week notice, it can leave you scrambling.
The other strategy is to build technology partnerships. Your technology partner can use proven business practices, which in IT includes monitoring, providing a help desk, having disaster recovery, ticketing systems to track problems, etc. You don’t have to worry about retention, and there’s no knowledge gap. You’ll get regular updates on what’s working, what’s not and what’s coming to help inform your decision-making.
Technology partners usually don’t just consult; they deliver products, and provide equipment, services and training. Their middle name has to be accountability, because if they don’t get it done, they aren’t going to be around anymore.
How can organizations prioritize updates or new technology?
The latest technology fad shouldn’t drive updates. For example, organizations are implementing one-to-one computing, where there’s a computer for every person. But if that takes too much attention away from instructors in an educational setting, it may not be a good fit. First, understand organizational goals and needs, and then match those to updates or new technologies.
Consider how to improve efficiency and reduce costs. You may save money by introducing a new technology like server virtualization — five servers function as 20, via software, to reduce support and energy costs. Also, determine if introducing a software package or process will save time or allow staff to focus on their core roles.
Whether it’s technology change or any other change, don’t jump on the bandwagon. Start with the need, problem and/or goal before you come up with solutions. Technology is not going to fix everything; it’s just a piece of the answer. ●
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Technology is impacting business owners at jet speed with accelerating volatility and rate of change — and it’s caught some off guard.
Historically, if you were making a product or providing a service, your only job was taking care of your customers, says Bill Julka, vice president of Blue Technologies Smart Solutions.
“Now, technology has become so pervasive, it has become the business. If business owners neglect technology, they do it at their own peril,” he says. “They have to pay attention — hiring the right people and interfacing with the right vendors who can help them navigate through technology and all its myriad uses in their own business.”
Smart Business spoke with Julka about business technology and IT budgets today.
What has changed with technology?
Technology has gotten complex. The days of needing computers and an IT department for just basic accounting functions are gone. With social media and mobile devices, the world is connected any time, anywhere. Employees want to print from their mobile devices and access office computers, information and databases when on vacation.
This makes it difficult for business owners to do everything in-house. Companies depend on reliable technology vendors, which act almost like business partners. By partnering with somebody attuned to technology, business owners aren’t spending time in areas they aren’t comfortable with.
When creating an IT budget, what’s important to understand?
Many business owners feel their largest discretionary expense is IT. But you need a consistent IT budget, good times or bad. In good times, it helps you run your business and create satisfied customers. In bad times, you need to spend the IT dollars wisely to improve efficiency to gain a competitive advantage and provide better service at a lower cost.
When setting IT budgets, management needs to understand and be able to measure the direct relationship between IT and productivity. A trusted, proven vendor can help provide analytics that show the results of technology adoption.
What are common IT budget concerns?
Many business owners feel IT budgets keep increasing, while the level of service deteriorates. They also complain about the unpredictability. For example, software upgrades aren’t easy to manage.
In addition, companies are finding they need electronic content management software to take full advantage of their technology, research and data. Without software to rapidly search the enterprise’s servers, efforts are duplicated or wasted, further stressing IT budgets.
Why is outsourcing a good answer, and when doesn’t it work?
Technology has indirect costs often left off IT budgets. The budget needs to account for the energy it takes to house infrastructure or the cost of rolling out technology. With labor, outsourced support can provide services more efficiently. The outside provider monitors a network cost effectively with better-trained people assigned over a large number of clients. Also, what if you need one-eighth of a network engineer and half of a firewall expert? Outsourcing helps a company only pay for what it actually needs.
One company switched to an outsourced vendor and its IT budget went from increasing 10 or 20 percent annually to 3 percent. Customer service went up in a measurable manner. With an outsourced vendor, costs are predictable, no matter the technology and how often it’s upgraded.
However, there are exceptions, based on the product or service. If your unique product or service doesn’t have skilled vendors for your particular area, you won’t achieve economies of scale. Also, you may not want to share proprietary knowledge with anyone, even an outsourced vendor.
What’s key to measuring ROI?
First, calculate where you are now. Then, implement the technology and gauge key performance efficiency measures, with help from your vendor. Certain efficiencies are instantly noticeable, such as customer service or costs. Other complex technologies may take a few months or a year to generate results. It’s a matter of developing a strategic plan, following it and then measuring the results. ●
Bill Julka is vice president at Blue Technologies Smart Solutions. Reach him at (216) 765-1122, ext. 8211 or email@example.com.
Insights Technology is brought to you by Blue Technologies