Why you should review your ICT purchasing plans

When the cost of calling an engineer out to fix your printer is greater than the price of a new printer, you know it’s time to review your printer spending plans. That’s the situation I was faced with when I joined one particular school: a top-quality printer had been bought, one which was so highly engineered that you couldn’t fiddle around with it yourself if it stopped working.

Plan meticulously, but review oftenAnother unfortunate consequence of having such an expensive printer was that it was deemed too valuable to let the students have access to it. So, it was installed in the server room, which was kept locked all the time. If you were a student, to get your print-out you had to ask a member of staff who had a key to the server room, and had the time to open it, get your print-out or stand there while you found it, and then lock up and continue to go about their business. That was probably fine when there was one teacher of ICT and one room, but to my mind an untenable situation once the subject had started to grow.

I decided to purchase four inexpensive printers, one for each of the computer suites in the school. My reasoning was, partly, that if push came to shove we could replace one of these printers with a new one, and spend only marginally more money than on having the original one repaired.

Now, it’s interesting to reflect on what had happened here. The printer was still high-end. It still worked. It still produced top quality print-outs. In other words, nothing about the printer had changed, and the original decision to buy it had not necessarily been wrong. However, there were more people who wanted to use the printer, expectations had changed in that people had by then become used to instant access to print-outs at home or in the library, and, of course, costs had changed. Hence the need to revisit the policy on purchasing printers and how to allocate them.

It’s all very well having three- or five-year ICT investment plans. However, because of the kind of changes I’ve described, I think the value of such plans is in the process of planning rather than the plans themselves (and, arguably, the useful hidden message that educational technology is important enough to plan ahead for). In my opinion, plans should be reviewed at least once a year. In fact, why not once a term?

One thing is certain: having taken a decision, you can’t just leave it. You have to review it at some point, no matter how sensible and correct the decision was when you made it.