Magazine article Technology & Learning

Going Mobile: The Challenge of Coordinating District-Wide Communications

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Going Mobile: The Challenge of Coordinating District-Wide Communications

Article excerpt

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The great American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein once said that technique is communication; to conductors the two words are synonymous. For school executives and administrators who are orchestrating communications across their districts, technology is communication; and their ability to piece together the right array of technological solutions in a time of tight budgets is likely to determine whether they'll be applauded or have to face the music generated by disconcerted constituents. It's not an easy task.

"What educational management needs to implement is a unified strategy that involves all forms of communication throughout the campus and beyond, including security and controls," says Bill Rust, research director at the Stamford, Connecticut, analyst Gartner. As a tool to help managers looking to devise district-wide communication strategies, Rust suggests a framework that looks at technology from three perspectives:

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1) Operational efficiency

2) Constituent-service level

3) Political capital/return

According to Rust, operational efficiency is simply how well the technology works. Constituent-service level is the degree to which it meets educational requirements, including communication among staff, parents, students, and other stakeholders. Political capital/return relates to overall risk. "Is the particular technology you're considering risky in terms of support?" he asks. "Will it receive widespread support, or are you going to be subject to criticism? Will it generate good feelings toward the district and, in particular, IT?"

Rebecca Swensen, analyst for Mobility and IP Communications Services at Framingham, Massachusetts, analyst IDC, suggests that management will ask another question at the start of any discussion: "What's the cost?" "Especially in this day and age, cost will be the top consideration of administrators," she says. "Districts are having a hard time finding the money to be at the level they want, so cost is always a big issue."

Considerations for the CIO

Swensen says that in looking at cost, the first major decision to be made is between a solution that resides within the network of the district and one that resides in the network of the service provider. "If you have something that's within your network, you have to pay for all the infrastructure," she says. You have to pay for the management of that network, Do you hire an IT staff on your own or have a service provider take care of that for you?"

The cost of a hosted approach has certain benefits, including greater control over the network and which applications can be run on it, the ability to change more rapidly, and better security in terms of infrastructure design. Hosted solutions tend to be significantly more cost-effective, especially if each location within the district has no more than a couple of dozen seats, "Say you need 20 seats per site; then it really becomes expensive if you want to put a PBX [private telephone switchboard] on each of these locations," says Swensen. With a hosted solution, the district pays per seat but the vendor hosts the PBX.

According to Rust, efficiency and reliability are also top-of-mind issues for the chief information officer. "Whatever they have has to work and work flawlessly," he says. "They have a lot more to do than worry about the telephony piece. So they're looking for a rock-solid solution, with lower total cost of ownership, which means that support problems have to be minimal and downtime virtually nonexistent."

Swensen agrees. "The concern after cost is reliability," she says. "Not just how a vendor responds to, or compensates for, outages, but is there something built into the service that allows for quick recovery in case of a natural disaster or other emergency?" After that, which features and functionality provide value must be determined. …

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