Buying power

Jerry Brand, MD of Caternet, looks at how schools can benefit from the latest developments in purchasing technology

Gone are the days when much of the education sector sat back in reserved silence while the rest of the world embraced new advances in technology. Times have changed: the ICT director is getting younger by the day; budgets have become tighter and cost control continues to be a battle to be fought. Independent schools are consistently looking at new ways to shave costs, increase admissions and boost profits, so the purchasing process is a good place to start. Schools, like other industries, are also wary of change so uptake of new technologies can be slow at times (understandably), but more are taking the plunge and are seeing the benefits as a result.

Procurement processes in schools have a big effect on how budgets are managed. Online systems – as opposed to on-premises software – are becoming more popular in the sector, and more and more schools are opting to rent fit-for-purpose software rather than laying out large capital sums of expenditure upfront.

For the pupils themselves, technology has changed over the years following the massive movement in the public domain towards hardware and personal appliances, but certainly software seems to have taken longer to evolve in this sector. This is mainly due to the speed of online languages and advances in technologies coming to market. But technology now plays a more crucial role than ever for schools looking to regain control of spending. Using fit-for-purpose systems that act as a self-improvement tool for schools is the way things are heading. Technology needs time to allow full development of the online programmes and systems that are now emerging.

When it comes to using technology to control your purchasing process, the most important advancement to hit schools right now is the advent of live-supplier pricing. This uses the power of being online to compare costs between your local suppliers and those nationwide in order to ensure that you are continuing to buy competitively (or can negotiate better rates with your existing suppliers using relevant and current data). The next evolution in purchasing technology lies within the management aspect (whereby your admin and finance tasks are automated and processes are joined up as part of the whole purchasing process), and of course the emphasis being on ‘paperless’ is another area where technology is making big changes.

As mentioned previously, technology must be about self-improvement: if you can use a system that reduces the time users spend on managing and operating the purchasing process, even better. Technology is also evolving to ensure schools have purchasing control over their allocated budgets and can avoid persistent overspending. This can be achieved by setting individual spending allowances for anyone and everyone who spends money on behalf of the school – but technology has progressed so that this can be controlled gently in a tactful and flexible way.

Most schools choose to buy goods and services from local suppliers and new technology should be supporting this not dictating whom schools buy from. Although they have their place in the supply chain, purchasing consortiums can be expensive, but they need to modernise their own technology and adopt online systems to help them to keep their costs down too. Technology should also be flexible enough to accommodate the individual schools’ needs to ensure the system they use is personalised and bespoke.

The next five years in education is going to be an exciting time from a technological perspective: expect to see technology which is faster, more sophisticated, fully mobile, compliant with evolving regulations (such as the forthcoming changes to EU food labelling and allergens), and which covers every aspect of a schools’ requirements all in one solution.

Jerry Brand is managing director at Caternet W: www.caternet.co.uk

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