Moving from separate ICT systems, infrastructure and suppliers to a Trust-wide approach, and procuring on that basis, can be daunting.
Over the years, Richard Sambrook Smith, Novatia’s Managing Director, has helped many multi-academy trusts (MATs) to obtain clarity, helping them to make the right decisions for their individual organisations.
Here, we asked him to share his insights here with us, outlining the types of issues that senior leaders should be considering before attempting to centralise their systems and ICT.
Richard, where should MAT leaders start when making this decision?
We always get our clients to consider the benefits first.
While having a Trust-wide approach to ICT is often the best solution, it is a huge task. It can cause lots of short-term disruption. Understanding the benefits and keeping your eye on them is crucial while experiencing any potential disruption – it’s important to remember what you’re trying to achieve.
So, what are some of the main benefits of Trust-wide ICT?
Firstly, cost-savings. We supported one MAT with strategic ICT procurement. Over three years, they will recoup savings between 10 to 15% - and that’s just on broadband and telephony. (You can download our case study to read more).
You have much stronger purchasing power when you procure ICT as a MAT. You can realise economies of scale, negotiate favourable contracts, and engage in collaborative purchasing.
Next, improved cyber security and e-safety.
This is crucial. Different ICT systems from different providers with different levels of security inevitably lead to holes in your ICT security. A trust-wide approach to ICT makes it easier to monitor, find and plug these “holes”; and it also greatly reduces the chances of these gaps in security happening anyway.
Next: we always make sure our clients’ Trust-wide ICT approach is designed so that data can flow smoothly and securely between schools, departments and individuals.
This saves a huge amount of time, frustration and risk – data being stored, emailed and transferred from different files to different places is hugely risky.
Do your clients find there are other benefits?
Quality and consistency of policy implementation across the Trust is a huge benefit. When you purchase and run your ICT at Trust Level, rather than individual academies, it makes it easier and quicker to implement and monitor your ICT policies.
This is very reassuring for MAT Leaders and their staff – they know that if a policy has been decided, they have a quick and effective way to make it happen and then check it has happened.
Finally, some of our clients have been part of growing MATs. When they have moved to a Trust-wide approach to ICT, it is much easier to bring on board a new Academy. That Academy will be joining an established ICT network and provision, ready to be rolled out to include them. It helps to avoid the creation of any disjointed systems, with bit and pieces bolted on everywhere.
So, Richard, are there any disadvantages to adopting a Trust-wide approach to ICT?
Yes. There are three key ones that we point out – and make sure plans are in place to mitigate them.
- Disruption to teaching and back office functions
- One size not fitting all – individual academies not getting what they need
- MATs might not have the skills internally to set up a Trust-wide approach.
All these factors can be problematic - which is why we can help you to carefully manage them.
We mitigate the risk of disruption through careful, meticulous, highly detailed planning; working very closely with all parties. We also have a series of contingency plans – we assume the worst is going to happen and plan for it. In 2018 we carefully, and to an exceptionally well planned schedule, migrated all of OAT’s 36 schools to their new providers of telephony, broadband, e-safety and fully managed IT service. There have been no major disruptions. Why? Because of careful and expert planning.
How do you make sure all individual academies get what they need?
The first step to creating a Trust-wide approach to ICT is consultation. We start with the Trust leadership to gain an understanding of the overall strategy then engage with the school leadership to establish their needs. Then we work our way through middle leadership and teachers, if that is required by the school/Trust.
This consultative approach is crucial to the success of adopting Trust-wide ICT. It allows staff to express their needs, their wants, likes and dislikes. It helps them understand what a strategic approach to ICT looks like and the benefits to them. Staff feedback and input is crucial to ensuring that a Trust-wide approach to ICT benefits and empowers every user.
Finally, you said that not every MAT might have the skills internally to shift to a Trust-wide ICT approach. Can you expand on this?
Yes. Bringing together different Academies to create a Trust wide approach to ICT and then implementing it is a specific skill set. We often work with excellent internal ICT people, filling the skills and knowledge gaps that they have. It can often be more cost effective than recruiting a contractor or employee to fill that role – we bring in a team of experts, as and when each one is needed.
Any final words of advice for MAT leaders considering adopting a Trust-wide approach to ICT?
Make sure you talk to other people who have done it. I’m sure colleagues in MATs who have been through this exercise would be happy to share their experience. Alternatively, if you’d like external advice, I’d be more than happy to offer some input.
If you have any questions you'd like to ask about centralising your ICT and services, please get in touch. We offer a FREE initial 30 minute phone consultation and would be happy to share our expertise.