Faced with limited budgets and a crowded ed tech market, IT professionals at colleges and universities must take a strategic approach to procurement. But how can you tell which products and technologies will provide the best return on investment? Start by talking with faculty and students, evaluating classroom and administrative needs, and researching relevant technology. As you start down the path to decision-making, here are a few tips to help you determine where and how to invest most effectively:
While interoperability is a goal for many products currently on the market, there’s still much to be said for running standardized equipment across campus. Think about the big picture when you’re contemplating a purchase: Are the new pieces compatible with your existing systems, or will they present connectivity problems? Choosing a single operating system for devices will save many future headaches, and settling on a specific brand for equipment such as printers and projectors will streamline their use and make technical support easier to handle.
It’s difficult to make procurement choices when you don’t know exactly what your institution wants or needs — or already has. Communication between departments and colleges is often limited because each area has its own culture and way of doing things. That’s fine for most purposes, but when it comes to technology, you need to collect feedback from each department in order to make an informed decision. Call up department heads and ask about their technology needs. Evaluate the equipment they’re currently using, and ask them about their biggest technical questions and challenges. Better yet, schedule an in-person meeting and invite a group of representatives from various departments so you can come to a consensus about what’s most needed in each area — and how you can work together to achieve the best results.
Once new technology is procured and installed, make sure to provide sufficient training for the staff, faculty, and students who will be using it. Offer in-person training sessions, send out web links to instruction videos, and make IT staff available to answer questions via telephone and email. Depending on the type of technology, it might take time for users to adjust, but that initial time investment in training will pay off when your institution begins to maximize its use of the new equipment.
There’s much to learn from your colleagues in the field of higher education IT procurement. Attend conferences, join organizations or online discussion groups, strike up conversations, and make connections with IT professionals at other institutions. Ask about the technology they’re using, and find out what’s working — and what’s not.
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