It’s school time in ICT

Here, we talk to Gamma's Hosted Sales Specialist Sean Blackmore to explore how resellers can maximise the business opportunities during this year's peak buying time in the education sector.

Striking the right technology balance for schools and colleges, addressing three key concerns while demonstrating value are the keys to unlocking a market ripe with upgrade opportunities this year, believes Blackmore. "The main concerns for ICT buyers in schools and colleges are resilience, safety, and efficiency," he stated. "This sector is generally cost conscious so ICT solutions need to address these priority areas and hit the right price point. For schools and colleges, buying technology is less about solving problems and more about improvement, streamlining, being more efficient and safer. And resellers must make a proper assessment of these requirements."

Blackmore noted that schools and colleges are more receptive to the idea of investing in the right infrastructure, providing their three main priorities are met. "If this can be achieved at the right price then 2017 will be the year that educational establishments make the move from legacy systems and embrace new technology - so long as value is demonstrated," he added.

A big trend in schools is the rise of parent-teacher contact. Many schools offer parents the opportunity to have regular catch-ups with teachers to check on the progress of their children. By integrating a PC and CRM with a phone system a teacher is able to call parents via click-to-dial and log the topics of conversation in the CRM system. Call recording can also be used to record important parts of the conversation.

"The methods of contacting teachers are also expanding," added Blackmore. "For example, a teacher could be accessed via a soft phone application that supports chat. Or, should they not be at their desk phone, if a voicemail is left they can still pick it up providing the phone system supports voicemail to email. Alternatively, when the teacher leaves the classroom they can turn on mobile twinning, making them available on their mobile while on a school trip for example. These are just some examples of how schools are starting to embrace technology."

For resellers, the education sector also offers exciting upgrade opportunities for solutions such as a ‘safety package' that can be sold as a bolt-on and act as a differentiator when compared to a reseller taking a one-size-fits-all approach. "Schools and colleges are placing a strong emphasis on practical applications, efficiency and productivity, and investing in technology helps them to advance this agenda," commented Blackmore. "In the past school administrators embraced technology to send emails to parents rather than give them printed letters to take home, meaning messages cannot be lost while saving on costs. The same is happening nowadays with telephony.

"Administration teams also see the benefit of an easy to use portal that enables them to make changes should there be an unexpected requirement. Having these conversations with end customers who accept the benefits, and not just make a decision on price, are the biggest education sector opportunities."

In terms of the size of the opportunity, academies stand out as having more budget to spend, sometimes up to 10 per cent more from receiving funds for support services that used to go to local councils. "This means that many have more capital available for investment in technology and we have seen them adopting Gamma's hosted phone system, Horizon," added Blackmore. "We are making Horizon a more vertical oriented product. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach we have developed a proposition for six verticals, one of them being education, and produced a range of white label marketing material to support our partners in positioning these solutions to the relevant verticals. We can only see this trend continuing."

The main challenges faced by resellers addressing the education sector are cost and striking the right balance between ‘overkill versus not enough'. "An all-singing and all-dancing proposition might put resellers out of contention when speaking to a school," he explained. "However, other products may be more affordable but lack the required security or resilience that a school needs. Finding the right balance has always been a challenge for resellers.

"But for those resellers who get it right a shift in the mindset of buyers in schools and colleges will ensure that this market sector continues to grow and present opportunities. At one time technology was viewed as a cost with no real benefits to an educational institute, now it is seen to improve efficiency and safety and deliver cost benefits."