A proponent of hosted solutions, Mohamad Djahanbakhsh
discusses some of the concerns from those in education considering using the cloud
S EMPHASISED by the November
Teaching White Paper, which laid out the forthcoming reductions in capital spending, achieving maximum return on investment for technology has become of
paramount importance to school leaders. An established solution borne from the business
world is currently growing in the education sector to help schools address this issue. Hosted solutions, whereby software and services
are web-delivered and managed by a professional supplier, now offer a number of important benefits, the most significant being scalability and reduced total cost of ownership. Schools, however, have voiced concerns about the security of their data and the quality of service.
What are hosted solutions? Hosted solutions are ICT resources which are available over the internet and managed by a professional supplier to schools, essentially providing on-demand computing to every student and teacher with an internet connection. The result – schools have access to software,
services and data whenever and wherever they are – all you need is an internet connection. As a result, schools can access their services on a range of portable devices including laptops and mobile phones. The uptake of hosted solutions in the education sector, compared with the corporate market, has been
Considering the cloud?
slower over the past five years, largely constrained by the size of the sector and fewer early adopters. However, student and teacher daily usage of free
web-delivered services and applications such as email, social networking sites and internet banking, now sees many basic cloud solutions used both in the home and in the classroom. Many of us use the cloud every day without
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even realising it – every time you access your Gmail account or update your status on Facebook or Twitter, you are using a hosted service. The convenience of simply opening a web browser and having applications and data at your fingertips is now something learners of today have come to expect. A strong governmental focus on the delivery
of anytime, anywhere learning, has seen some technologies such as learning platforms migrate to a hosted service to enable staff and students to access their work on the move. Teachers also require the flexibility to access their
work wherever they are, particularly when moving from different buildings and even sites, which only genuine web-delivered services can provide.
Reduced total cost of ownership
Every secondary school is faced with the similar challenge of catering to the ICT needs of a very large number of students and teachers with finite resources. Migrating to hosted solutions can help make
savings for a school. It reduces the cost of (or allows the re-use of) space, servers, electricity and other IT resources while eliminating time-consuming back- ups, maintenance and software updates – freeing up valuable time which can be reinvested in teaching and learning. For example, by handing the responsibility for
managing and hosting a management information system (MIS) to a professional provider, schools can actually reduce their MIS infrastructure costs by around 40 per cent, thereby reducing the total cost of ownership and at the same time ensuring that their school’s service runs optimally. Schools can only make significant savings on ICT,
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however, if the technologies in which they invest truly support their organisational structure, culture, people and processes. Schools should be able to consult professional suppliers on this issue and not be afraid to push back if necessary and ask that their proposals meet the school’s individual needs. In the recent School MIS and Value for Money
report 2010, Becta has identified a growing recognition from local authorities regarding the potential whole life savings that can be achieved from adopting a web-enabled, supplier-hosted MIS.
Data security has become an increasingly complex issue for schools, with parents, governors and other education professionals outside the school building requiring access. A current assumption regarding hosted solutions
in UK schools has resulted in concerns being raised over the security of data and quality of service,
including the misconception that data simply floats in an unknown cloud and is vulnerable to hackers. This has led to the belief that an MIS, for example,
is more secure and reliable if retained on-site. I wuld argue that this is not the case. Working with a professional hosting supplier, a school’s data is in fact held in highly secure UK-based data centres with resilience and security standards to rival the best banking and military systems. Each data centre conforms to strict security
guidelines such as using biometric technology to grant access to authorised personnel only. State- of-the-art nitrogen fire control systems come as standard, which immediately localise and extinguish a fire to limit server damage. As the “heartbeat” of school management, it is
vital that the MIS functions optimally at all times. To achieve optimum connectivity, a data centre may use internet connections from many different telecoms companies, spreading each school’s internet connection across multiple suppliers.
To help all students achieve their potential and avoid them slipping under the radar, it is vital that schools and local authorities regularly share data covering areas such as assessment, behaviour and attendance. Moving to hosted online enterprise systems makes this process quick and cost-effective; however, many schools are hesitant to take the leap due to concerns about who has access to their data. As the data owner, schools have complete control
over who can view what level, or type of data, and how frequently. If schools choose to share information, for
example, to other schools within their cluster or local authority, they can work together to spot trends quickly and put interventions in place. This is especially important for vulnerable groups
of children such as those with SEN, in care or from ethnic minority backgrounds. By jointly purchasing a hosted solution, either as a cluster or at local authority level, schools not only benefit from economies of scale, but can also adopt common parameters and policies and share key reports at the click of a button.
Invest in the long-term vision
Investing in hosted solutions and services will enable schools to drive down the total cost of ownership, releasing precious budget to support additional teaching staff. By working with a supplier which can host as
well as support ICT solutions and services, schools will benefit tremendously from efficiency savings. Schools can then drive improvement by refocusing their time on embedding ICT into teaching and learning, rather than managing the technology. SecEd
• Mohamad Djahanbakhsh is managing director of Serco Learning.
SecEd • February 3 2011
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