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Emphasising value above cost: IT & the education vertical

01 Sep 2008

The education vertical can be divided into three key segments – K-12, K-12 private and tertiary – each with its own list of needs, issues, challenges and constraints. It is important, according to Gartner, especially in the K-12 sector where budget is an utmost concern, to focus on “the yield of IT rather than the cost”. IT must not be seen simply as a “cost centre with little connection to the ‘real’ business of education.” 1 In a country where many K-12 schools lack the IT expertise internally to follow Gartner’s recommendation, it is up to their New Zealand reseller to assist in clarifying the true value proposition of IT.Matching the needs of a particular school with the right IT services is the duty of the reseller partner, as is delivery and adequate planning for growth and the changing needs of the school and developments in technology. Illustrate to education customers that greater investments in IT result in what Gartner calls “greater learning opportunities and better support for managing limited resources”.2 “The most powerful technology is that that is integrated into the learning process,” concurred Toshiba’s New Zealand Country Manager Gary Wicks.For resellers who are able to serve as “trusted advisors”, the education vertical can offer a landmine of opportunity. While budget constraints have always played a major part in buying patterns within the education sector, Michael Serdiuk, Business Development Manager for ASUS stated that, “This year we have seen budgets increased due to election promises in the introduction of the Digital Education Revolution. Even though the education sector has more money to spend, they are also seeking cost/performance solutions that can see their IT spend go further”.Demand and opportunityIn many ways, schools are no different from other mid-sized to enterprise level organisations. They have many of the same security concerns, mobility issues, productivity problems, and more. If you think of a school as a business that is likely to need a strong services component and thoughtful appropriating of budget, it is easy to see the overlap with customers in segments outside of education.Many solutions currently deployed in New Zealand’s schools are no longer addressing the business requirements of those schools; they are not addressing the need for network flexibility. Compliance requirements are also growing in importance.“Education is like anything; there is absolutely no difference,” said Zoe Nicholson, ANZ Channel Sales Manager for Sophos. “There is a real requirement for good email gateway solutions, especially as compliance and government regulation start to play a bigger part.”When it comes to security solutions, it’s important to keep track of when existing contracts are due to end, as pitching for business is of additional importance when the solutions necessary to address the problems may have grown or changed significantly.  A great deal of IT education contracts are coming to an end soon in New Zealand, and Nicholson predicts the new solutions will require NAC (network access control) functionality.This is a period of major re-evaluation. Solutions implemented three or more years ago are likely no longer appropriate. And with ever-increasing data growth within schools of all sizes, there is a resulting increase in demand for backup solutions with a focus on simplified recovery of lost information.“Security is also being revisited by many customers with increased thought given to the management of USB devices and network access control,” stated Steve Martin, Manager, Mid Market, Pacific, for Symantec. “Students and teachers are accessing the network from a range of locations and devices. All these endpoints need to be secured. Additionally, with communications between students, parents and staff becoming increasingly electronic, we are also seeing demand for email archival solutions in this sector.”In terms of hardware, Toshiba’s Wicks sees huge opportunity for laptop sales. While teachers and principals have accounted for the largest number of notebook sales due to a Ministry of Education (MoE) subsidy to be discussed later in this feature, Toshiba has identified at least 700,000 students in New Zealand as potential users of notebooks in schools. The demand in terms of users is certainly there, but funding will continue to be an issue. “Perhaps it will come down to a political decision,” reflected Wicks.Beyond general notebooks, tablet PCs provide potentially huge opportunity if New Zealand can catch up to other countries, such as Australia and the United States, to implement widespread tablet usage. As an interactive tool, tablets are virtually unbeatable.“With tablets, education can be unleashed,” stated Mildie Meyer, Marketing and Communications Specialist for Toshiba. “Australia, so far, is much further ahead in this area than New Zealand. There’s been a slower adoption rate because of funding issues here.”Some schools may not be willing t0 spare the budget for tablet PCs, but don’t let that stop you as a reseller in helping your education customers develop interactive IT with the technology they already have and may be able to afford. Some schools are starting to use laptops with interactive projectors in the classroom as an education tool.Lenovo’s Channel Distribution Manager James Arnold recommends channel partners look to the tertiary sector for laptop sales, as public K-12 schools in New Zealand are bound by many financial constraints. “Each private school will purchase between 300 to 400 laptops a year. Universities, because of sheer size, require a large number of laptops and desktops each year,” he clarified.With the greater number of laptops in schools, and the additional mobile technology being brought to campuses daily by both students, teachers and administration staff, networking, especially wireless networking, has become a major growth area. “Wireless is a huge area when you think about security and management of a wireless network,” said Phil Presnall, New Zealand Country Manager for Netgear. Many wireless networks are currently not managed centrally and are made up of multiple vendor access points, which lead to centrally managed solutions and services as a key opportunity for resellers.We’ve highlighted only some of the major demand areas in the NZ education market; the fact remains that this sector will continue to demand many of the same things demanded by other large organisations. In fact, virtualisation, long a buzzword in the enterprise sector, is starting to pique more interest within New Zealand education bodies, with new opportunities around application and desktop virtualisation solutions arising regularly.Ministry of Education contracts and subsidies for public K-12The MoE states in its Summary Table of Budget 2008 Education ECE and Schooling Initiatives that “the government is committed to increasing the use of ICT in schools to help improve student achievement and teaching practice”. The Ministry estimates it will spend a total of $2.25 million on funding for the ‘Laptops for Teachers’ program in 2008/09. The funding allows for further expansion to “an already successful scheme”.Nearly 42,000 teachers and principals across New Zealand have received a notebook through the scheme since it was announced in the 2003 budget. The scheme pays for approximately 2/3 of the associated purchase cost of a Toshiba, HP or Apple laptop to qualifying teachers and principals, putting more laptops into schools and creating an ongoing system of demand.“As well as servicing the educational institute you are looking after, ensure you stay informed of what the Ministry of Education are trying to achieve,” recommended Netgear’s Presnall. “This will help you further understand your customer’s requirements.”Private K-12 and tertiary opportunities“In New Zealand things are a bit different because of the MoE contracts,” stated Sophos’ Nicholson. “An area of great success for resellers who choose not to compete against the MoE contracts is in higher education or tertiary education.” According to Nicholson, six of New Zealand’s eight universities are protected by Sophos.The tertiary and private K-12 markets are “huge” said Lenovo’s Arnold. “Some of the biggest customers on a commercial level are universities. For instance, the University of Auckland is one of New Zealand’s largest commercial sites, comparable to Telecom, and outside the universities, not many commercial organisations purchase 300 to 400 laptops each year.”With rules placed on tertiary institutions in New Zealand by the government around incentivising, challenges can arise. Communicating these concerns with tertiary customers is important, as they will continue to need the help of their chosen resellers to get more technology into the hands of students without breaching the incentive regulations.Leveraging vendor relationshipsThe vendors The Channel spoke to for this feature all demonstrated a strong commitment to providing high levels of support to channel partners focusing on the education vertical.  “As a 100% channel company, we’re quite keen to put our direct resource behind any reseller with an opportunity [in education],” stated Toshiba’s Wicks. “Marketing, sales, technical, and product resources are all available as needed.”Maintaining a close relationship with vendor partners is as critical as maintaining a relationship with your education customers. It is pointless to have support and resource available if you aren’t going to take full advantage of it.Nuance Communications and its NZ distributor Mistral Software run two training courses each year for reseller partners. Direct assistance is offered on an as-needed basis, especially when technical expertise or consultation is required. As Vicki Rigg, ANZ Channels Manager for Nuance stated, “Today’s students are tomorrow’s decision makers”. Getting more technology into schools better prepares the future workforce and provides opportunities for a more efficient and productive learning environment.ASUS supports its reseller partners with extensive training and engages directly with education customers to drive demand and build leads which it then directs back through the channel 100% of the time. “We always ensure that we are part of the entire sales process, whether that be attending joint visits with resellers to education clients, offering evaluation units and addressing technical concerns or ensuring that our pricing is competitive to the reseller and end user,” said ASUS’ Serdiuk.Symantec strongly encourages partners to undertake both sales and technical training. “Investing in the right training will allow partners to address more of their customers’ problems and position the solutions appropriately,” stated Martin.For Sophos, education has been a major target worldwide for the past three years. In ANZ, channel partners are supported by both Nicholson and Sandor Kovacs, Sophos’ education specialist. Kovacs looks after the ANZ education sector exclusively, and has a deep understanding of the market which is made available to channel partners.“New Zealand is different from everywhere else,” said Lenovo’s Arnold, speaking on the vendor’s channel model for approaching the education sector. “From a New Zealand standpoint, the reseller community offers such a strong business proposition.” Lenovo supports education focused partners by engaging with the education customers themselves to drive leads back to its channel partners.Addressing the challengesThe education market can be very rewarding for resellers, and the computing and networking needs of the education market can be very different to the SMB and enterprise markets, mainly due to tight budgets and lack of highly skilled IT staff.“Resellers who are innovative from a complete solutions perspective have always reaffirmed their reputation and position in the education market,” stated ASUS’ Serdiuk. “Resellers need to ensure that they understand the requirements and challenges faced by the education clients they engage with. Ensuring good communication with their customers to understand their requirements is key so that they don’t over promise and under deliver on solutions.”Selecting the right technology to maximise your education customers’ needs within their budgets is critical. “Budgets are a tough one, because many IT costs remain reasonably static. Really understanding the [education] customers’ requirements is crucial,” Lenovo’s Arnold said.Symantec’s Martin recommends developing workshops, events, discussion forums and other interactive forms of communication as an addition to the product and services offering in order to better understand and address the individual problems in each school.Despite tight budgets, the changing economic climate has added to the desire of educators, administrators and students to do more with less and increase their technology usage and productivity output wherever possible.“Keeping up with the latest and greatest is always a pressure for schools,” said Nuance’s Rigg. “It is a balancing act between giving the students access to the best technology to enhance their learning experience and keeping IT cost effective and working for the administration staff and teachers.”Vendors and independent analysts recommend, in the same way they do for commercial organisations, that IT be seen as much more than a cost centre. Anything you, as a reseller, can do to change the “IT as a cost centre” mentality with your education customers will do wonders for both your bottom line and their productivity and success.It is important for New Zealand educators to get alongside a trusted reseller for many reasons. Budgetary challenges are a given, and one of the biggest issues is that very few schools have full time IT staff, making it difficult to get good technical advice. With technology constantly evolving it is vitally important to show your worth. This key vertical relies on competent IT resellers.1 SOURCE: “K-12 Leaders Must Emphasize Value Over Cost”, Gartner ID Number: G001559992 SOURCE: “Predicts 2008: Changes in IT Support for Education Beyond 2010”, Gartner ID Number: G00153417