In K-12 schools, a mismatch often occurs between end-user requirements and the installed technology solutions. Learn how to avoid that problem.

By Doug Curl, Vice President of Connected Media, SIGNET Electronic Systems Inc. October 6, 2014

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In modern K-12 schools, a mismatch often occurs between end-use requirements and the installed technology solutions—ranging from life safety, to workflow and communications, to learning and entertainment. For the typical end-user, a system may be too difficult to operate or may do more than is really needed. Conversely, a system may be oversimplified or not capable of keeping up with required workflows.

Today, there is additional focus in the K-12 environment on emergency situation awareness and response. Those systems must be highly reliable and simple to operate. Getting it right is not an afterthought; districts need to plan in advance with the correct team in place.

To avoid a technology mismatch, it is critical to bring the stakeholders to the table early on. Stakeholders fall into several categories: 1) those who understand and manage the workflows within the school (school administrators and managers); 2) those who are going to own and operate the systems (the users); 3) and those who design, install, implement and service the systems (the school IT director, architect, engineer, and system integration contractor). After construction is complete, it is the users, administrators, IT director and systems integration contractor who will remain involved with the systems going forward. Therefore, it would make sense that they are all at the table from the beginning.

In a K-12 TechDecisions article written in June by SIGNET Electronic Systems President Bradford Caron, “Are K-12 Tech Decision Makers Leaving Money on the Table?,” Caron took a look at who is making systems-integration decisions in the K-12 market. As he pointed out, big decisions regarding IT infrastructure often fall on school principals, district superintendents and business managers rather than on a district’s more qualified IT director.

Getting the right people on the job is paramount, but that is not the only hurdle. Next come the challenges inherent to the traditional commercial construction process. Particularly troublesome are the many layers inherent to the traditional Design-Bid-Build approach—from owner, to architect, consulting engineer, construction manager, general contractor, electrical contractor, and finally, to systems integrator. The six degrees of separation between owner and integrator is not always conducive to delivering the appropriate solution for the end-user. In fact, the many different interests represented by the layers often result in the technology mismatch of a project. The answer is to have a shorter chain of command between owner and integrator.

And so it is with the traditional construction approach. Every layer has their own interests to address. The consulting engineer wants to specify their preferred components. The general contractor and electrical contractor both want to ensure that the specification is met while being accountable to their fiscal bottom lines. And then there is the system integration contractor (or multiple systems contractors) who is responsible for making the systems details come to life. It is easy to understand how the end-product system could be mismatched to what the school really needed in the first place.

To offer a real-world example, a school needed a basic audio system installed in the cafeteria to be used for student assemblies and performances, but they ended up instead with a sophisticated, complex system that was too difficult for the school staff to operate. Sure, the system could be remotely monitored over the LAN and it could even be calibrated remotely from an iPhone. But when the music teacher wanted to simply increase the volume so that the parents could hear their children’s concert, she could not execute that basic task. This is a simple case of the solution being over-designed or mismatched to that school’s needs.

Whether it be an existing school in need of updating their technology or a new educational facility under construction, this quagmire of confusion can best be avoided by opening a direct line of communication between a school district’s IT directors and a trusted systems integration expert so that interests can be aligned. Closing the gap between these two critical ends of the spectrum is critical in finding solutions that fit.

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