Too Many Initiatives, Too Few Resources
It’s no secret that our educational system is wrought with financial instability. Whether it’s K-12 or higher education, many public schools and universities are struggling to do more with less.
At the most recent count, the United States spent $12,509 per public FTE student at the elementary and secondary level. This equivalates to $634 billion for the 2013-2014 school year. This number is more surprising when you compare it to the elementary and secondary public school revenues for the same year - $632 billion. You don’t have to be an accountant to see there isn’t much revenue left over to cover the costs.
At the higher education level, federal funding is directly linked to student outcomes, a.k.a. enrollment and graduation rates. The more students who enroll and graduate on time, the more funding dollars. There is only so many dollars to go around and those schools who enroll and graduate more students get a larger portion of the proverbial pie. Those who fall behind continually lose federal funding dollars and must make budget cuts wherever than can in order to stay afloat.
There’s no easy fix to this recurring problem. The government may further slice educational spending by as much as $3 billion. While K-12 education jobs have fallen by nearly 300,000 from 2008-2015, student enrollment has increased by more than 800,000.
Schools must learn to provide quality curriculum and instruction with fewer dollars. Fewer dollars means fewer resources - fewer teachers, support staff, administrators, technology, facility enhancements, equipment and everything else we often take for granted.
Head in the Cloud
Schools are looking everywhere they can to find ways to save. One simple initiative a school and/or district can do is to take control of its technology expenditures. Just as with the private sector, public schools are jumping on the cloud application bandwagon for the cost, flexibility and accessibility benefits they provide. It is predicted that the cloud computing market in K-12 in the U.S. will grow at a CAGR of approximately 24 percent by 2020 and could make up around 35 percent of the IT budget. Cloud apps may help cash-strapped schools scale easier with fewer IT resources, but they come with their own issues.
For one, cloud applications are so easy to subscribe, governing procurement of such products can be challenging. Without strict governance and monitoring, a once simple software infrastructure can balloon into a complex (and expensive) web of apps. Unless these apps are being closely tracked, subscriptions for apps that are no longer being used or are underutilized may auto-renew. There’s also the problem of duplicate apps - those apps that are being paid for multiple times because there is no transparency across departments/schools to know that the subscription was already purchased.
Many of the apps are priced in blocks based on the number of users. If an app was purchased for 100 users but only 50 are using it regularly, schools are paying for 50 additional licenses without needing them. Additionally, many software companies offer volume discounts. If departments are replicating purchases instead of latching onto existing subscriptions purchased by other departments, they forfeit the benefits of volume discounts.
Visibility Is Key to Governance
Managing dozens of apps can pose an IT nightmare, even though cloud apps were intended to offload software management to the vendor. Someone has to keep track of the contracts, vendors, users, utilization, renewals and subscriptions. The more apps, the more resources are required...unless the process is automated with technology.
Schools need visibility. They need to know what apps are being utilized and by whom. They must understand how the apps are being used and if there are duplicate applications that could be consolidated. Unfortunately, most schools lack the technology or the resources to ensure there is governance and oversight. Costs escalate with every app brought into the IT fold, along with risk. Why risk? Because all of those apps contain data - often private student data that must be protected per the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
If a district’s or higher education’s IT department doesn’t have the transparency it needs to know about every single app being used by its staff and students, how can it ensure the data within those apps is secure? Schools must have real-time reporting that audits the entire software ecosystem. Only then can they ensure all of their apps are under surveillance and the data within them meets FERPA requirements.
Fortunately, automated SaaS management is growing in popularity, offering school systems the ability to easily track and manage cloud applications IT knows about and those that might lurk under the radar. In one, unified view, administrators can continually survey their software environment. They can generate reports that show not only which apps are in the environment but which are actually being used, how often and by whom. They can quickly assess whether the application’s cost and renewal are justified by utilization data or if it can be cut.
They can communicate which SaaS subscriptions have available usage or if discounts could be negotiated for increasing members. They can easily identify and eliminate duplicate applications. They can determine ROI and calculate if they over-purchased subscriptions or are using all of the features for which they are paying. In essence, they can use technology to streamline their SaaS environment and provide the necessary transparency to enforce governance.
Shifting Spend from IT to Services
When schools can better manage their SaaS expenditures, they can shift their spend where it does the most good - to services instead of wasted SaaS features and subscriptions. K-12 and higher education leaders shouldn’t fall into the technology trap of thinking an investment into SaaS management software is just another IT expenditure it can’t afford. The truth is, with the growing SaaS ecosystem, they can’t afford not to. Those SaaS apps, with all of their benefits, are costing schools in a big way if they aren’t managed properly. The only way to keep it all in check is to have three things:
- Visibility and transparency across the school system
- Real-time monitoring
- Detailed reporting
How is your school managing its SaaS environment? Implementing governance policies is not enough. Neither are static spreadsheets and manual calendars. Find the right technology and the process is much simpler than you may think. In a matter of days, institutions can begin streamlining their cloud ecosystem to save precious dollars and resources.