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Top ten tips to reduce your ICT spend

1. Virtual impact

Server virtualisation – running separate virtual servers on a single computer – can yield huge cost benefits, from saving on equipment to reducing the need for energy, room space and air-conditioning.

“We had got to the point where we would have had to extend our server room,” says David Jenkinson, deputy principal at St Vincent College, a sixth-form college in Gosport, Hampshire. “Now we just have two boxes running a virtual server environment and we’re saving several thousand pounds a year on electricity alone. We’re also saving about £10,000 a year in breakdown costs, which are expensive and cause disruption to staff and students.” Virtual servers are also easier to upgrade, he says.

2. Buy smart

One key way to save on ICT comes when you initially come to buy the hardware and software. Research the market, and make sure you get your specification correct for what you want to achieve – too low and you will need to upgrade it; too high and you will be wasting money.

“If I look at what we have bought over the past 18 months, we’ve saved more than £60,000 through effective procurement,” Jenkinson says. “For instance we’ve spent up to £10,000 on Wi-Fi equipment, when some quotes were as high as £50,000 for the same thing.”

3. Go direct

Going direct to a UK manufacturer will yield bigger discounts, better warranties and more support than you will receive from any middleman or purchasing contractor, says David Wybourne, sales director at Novatech. “It makes a massive difference.” It also makes sense to buy local: “You’re far more important to a local company than a foreign giant, so they will go to greater lengths to look after you.”

4. Buddy up

Whatever it is you’re purchasing, buying in bulk always increases discounts, so teaming up with other schools in groups of three or four can really boost your purchasing power, says Wybourne. “If you’re not sure who you could team with, use online forums – they don’t have to be local.”

5. Eco thrift

We all want to be green, and saving resources can also mean saving money. Upgrade components rather than replacing entire machines; use energy-saving software; schedule PC shutdown; ensure your suppliers will recycle used equipment for free and, critically, always look at total cost of ownership over the equipment lifetime.

6. Live forever

Many schools replace PCs every three years, but do you have to do it that often? St Vincent has moved to a five-year rolling replacement cycle, saving money on both purchase and depreciation costs. “Given that you can now buy PCs with a five-year warranty for both parts and labour, it makes more sense,” says Jenkinson. St Vincent even has an arrangement with a local university (who replace PCs on a three-year programme) to take over and make use of the perfectly good last two years of their computers’ lives at a very low cost. “In these hard times you need imaginative solutions.”

7. Think thin

Schools should consider running “thin client” networks – cheaper machines with little processing power that rely on servers to provide the processing power to fulfil computational tasks – as part of their ICT mix. St Vincent is reviewing this as a cost-saving option: “It would probably work well in general IT suites, but not for courses using specialist software,” says Jenkinson.

8. Supported network

Technical support for students and staff can be a drain on ICT staff resources, so organisations should look to develop online support systems as far as possible, allowing users to gain access to help directly. If you can provide some of the more obvious solutions and make them self-serving, it will save you time and money, freeing up skilled staff.

9. Good timing

Different rooms in your school hold different amounts of ICT equipment, but is it being matched efficiently with class needs? “We’re investing a lot annually in IT, so we want to make sure we maximise the efficiency of its use,” says Jenkinson. “It’s about making sure IT suites are not booked out without being needed just because they are in a convenient place.”

10. The future is wireless

In a few years’ time the whole pattern could change, with schools increasingly just providing wireless networks and students using their own laptops or tablets to connect – subject to security protocols. “We are already seeing 250 users using their own devices across a week, and that will grow,” Jenkinson says. “We hope this will reduce our requirement to replace and upgrade computers – the focus will then shift to enabling students to log on.”

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