Technology in academia does not need to be as expensive as many think. Many school districts rely on a consulting firm to design a custom solution for their needs. Unfortunately, they often get a cookie-cutter solution that has been copied and pasted from the last 10 designs, does not meet their specific needs, and often wastes 10 – 20% of the total cost.
I highly recommend a school district hire a talented IT manager that is very diverse. This manager should be able to get their feet wet in database, networking, security systems, CATV, VoIP, and more. However, it’s not necessary for them to master everything. This is where its a good idea to have a specialist in software and networking. Once this foundation is in place, your team can work together to decide what they need, want, and don’t want.
When the IT team has a pretty good idea about what upgrades are required, it’s time to contact a company that not only designs the systems, but also has actual experience installing the systems. Many school districts make the mistake of hiring an “engineer” that specializes in voice, data, and fiber cabling to design the audio/video, networking, and security systems. This is NOT their field of expertise. This is like going to a chiropractor to perform surgery on your foot. Don’t get me wrong; they are very good at cable design. However, the school district deserves more experience. Let’s be honest; technology grants are not awarded every year. It’s very important to spend them wisely.
When you are contacting companies to provide a solution, it’s a good idea to limit the contractors to about three. One contractor should be able to install the audio/video, CATV, paging, and security systems. Another can handle the phones and networking. Lastly, you need a good cabling company. Although the networking and phone contractors can offer cabling, it’s possible their price will be a little higher than a company that only specializes in cabling. The benefit to giving the network contractor the cabling work is it’s probably going to get done with less problems. If you manage to find a company in your area that is talented enough and cost effective to provide a turn key solution for the entire project, then you have it made. There will be much less management and coordination problems on your part. It’s OK if that contractor needs to sub-contract out a few simple things such as commissioning of the security system. This is completely understandable so long as they are not sub-contracting the majority of the project.
My final recommendation is to make sure you can support what you are installing. If you decide to spend extra money on specialized options like a fully integrated security system with active mapping and automatic camera pop-ups, are you going to pay for someone to watch a monitor all day long? If you pay for a digital signage system, do you have someone that will program and update it on a regular basis? Many schools that have spent money on wonderful features simply forget about them because they do not have the budget to continue to utilize those features. Technology is great, and can make your school district much brighter and more efficient. Just try to make it a point to coordinate as much as possible with your IT department. They are the ones behind the curtain keeping everything working.