PCR's guide on how to sell IT to schools

We look at some new trends resellers should be selling to schools
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With the back-to-school season returning, now is the time to consider supplying different products and services to schools, students and parents. Here Jade Burke looks at the key areas retailers and resellers should be tapping into…

It’s that time of the year again, the back-to-school season is upon us and teachers and schools are starting to look for more exciting pieces of tech and software to help enrich their students’ time in lessons. 

The market is rife with all sorts of gadgetry and services to sell, making it a key selling period that shouldn’t be ignored. Schools are looking to expand their tech offering, while tablets are becoming commonplace in many lessons, with 71 per cent of primary and 76 per cent of secondary schools in the UK making use of tablets in the classroom, according to the educational suppliers trade body BESA.

With various schools also incorporating gaming, the use of 3D printers, coding and engineering, schools are taking new tech seriously. Jon Silvera, founder and MD of Fuze Technologies, tells PCR: “I certainly would not be surprised to see the curriculum changing even further in the next coming years and for programming to become even more high profile.” 

There are plenty of product and service categories for resellers to tap into, from Wi-Fi to cloud storage and many more. 

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Hardware

Physical devices are still one of the main fixtures across classrooms today, from the traditional tower to the modern tablet, making hardware one of the most important areas to invest in. 

Now schools are also using more interactive whiteboards to create interest in lessons, which is proving to be a successful form of teaching with kids. 

Danny Boylan, public sector manager at BT Business, says: “Schools need technology to support learning in a specific subject area and for me the use of interactive whiteboards can really help support this. 

“Different schools have different levels of funding but we are seeing more and more schools embrace this technology which ultimately makes learning more fun for the students and the teachers.”

Similarly, John Marsh, director of audio and lighting company Avonics, believes that immersive solutions are on the up: “The majority of enquiries for interactive and immersive solutions tends to come from recommendation, that being said they are few and far between.”

But in addition to these devices, peripherals are also a great add-on to offer schools, from mice and keyboards to cabling, while of course monitors are key. 3D printers and robot arms also offer schools more exciting hardware. 

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Software

Giving kids access to software to create their own website or produce videos is more relvant these days, with more and more children showing an understating of a range of in-depth programs. 

Currently there is an abundance of software programs out there, from Office 365 to communication software ParentMail, which can all be sold directly to schools. John Marsh, director of Avonics, believes that word of mouth is the best selling tool any retailer can use: “Word of mouth recommendations are an extremely strong marketing tool and this should be priority.

“The only tip is to do a good job and as a result word gets around. Schools talk to each other and tend to find out if another school has something that they think they should have.”

And let’s not forget the importance of security software, as keeping children safe online is more critical than ever these days, with more malware and security hacks happening on a constant basis. 

With software available from a range of vendors, there are also alternative security protections resellers can offer schools, from mobile security to identity protection, to help ensure schools are covered no matter what the issue is. 

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Networking 

Keeping a school connected is a crucial part of ensuring lessons continue to take place during the school day. This opens up a wide range of devices and services that can be sold, from the likes of routers to actual repair and maintenance services.

By offering networking products, resellers can also offer set-up and installation services as a bundle option for schools, which will help to create a trusted relationship and no doubt entice them back to you when they look for other products and services. 

Ebuyer’s head of B2B sales, Phil Bates, explains: “The applications for technology in schools is different to the rest of the market, so listening to the customer can stop them investing in the wrong hardware and save them money in the long term, and often in the short term as well.”

However, not every school has the budget to splash out on such maintenance services, and many carry out the work in-house, so it is worth considering offering the service as an add-on once a school has purchased a device from you. 

Richard Wells, national schools and LGEM+ sales manager from reseller Danwood, adds: ”As schools move towards the classroom of the future, it’s critical to consider how to reduce costs, increase efficiency and modernise processes as well.”

In addition, resellers can also team up with companies such as the Tablet Academy who Ebuyer has partnered with, which can provide pre-purchase advice, to help schools choose the correct devices and train teachers to use the tech. 

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Inventory tracking

With so many pieces of equipment, from textbooks, computers, schooling DVDs to even calculators, keeping track of it all can be difficult. Asset tracking allows schools to keep a record of what they have, where it is, who actually has it, what it is worth and whether it is being looked after. 

By offering such a service you can offer piece of mind for schools, which also helps to keep the lessons in order, for example when a teacher is trying to track down a pupil’s PE kit. 

Ben Booth-Jones, channel account manager at Wasp Barcode Technologies, explains: “By simply assigning a unique number and base location to an asset you can then track it easily using either our dedicated mobile computer hardware, or our apps.

“Major benefits include email reminders for PAT testing or routine maintenance, fast and accurate audit process, one click reporting, fund/budget tracking and depreciation, as well as a checkout feature with email reminders for return dates.”

This will also give teachers the opportunity to share laptops and tablets with students, and to track where they are and how many are being used during the day at school. 

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Coding

After a new computing curriculum launched last year, putting a bigger emphasis on coding in schools, there has been an uptake on coding in many lessons. For example, the new curriculum states that it wants to ‘ensure that all pupils can understand and apply the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science’.

Thanks to this new curriculum, teachers need access to a range of new devices to ensure kids can pick up the skills to code –and there are plenty to choose from. 

Jon Silvera, founder and MD of Fuze Technologies, says: “Programming is no longer a career choice for the geeks as it is behind the scenes of just about every interest area available, from games to music and the army to fashion – there are programming roles available in every subject.”

He also points out how beneficial it is for resellers to work with local schools, since both are local businesses looking to support one another. He adds: “There is a clear gap in the market which is where we sit with the FUZE programming device. The FUZE specifically targets the ground between simple coding environments like Scratch and the more complex ones like Python and Java.”

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Cloud storage 

The cloud is still a relatively new area for schools, but some are starting to see the benefits of these types of services. By offering cloud storage, each school’s programs can be stored and deployed across various connected computers, while software and data can be stored in servers. 

Thus, this will allow schools to spread out their costs through subscriptions, rather then replenishing stock on a constant basis. Plus, the use of cloud storage allows students to take their work home with them, whilst also being able to access materials from teachers via a virtual learning environment. 

“With collaborative tools such as Microsoft One Note and Yammer using cloud based services such as One Drive, the students can work as teams both at school and at home,” adds Phil Bates, Ebuyer’s head of B2B sales.

“Once the device becomes personal and doesn’t stay at a school inside a cabinet,

the opportunities for learning increase exponentially and the school environment mimics the work environment much more closely.”

By offering cloud storage, there are also opportunities to teach schools how to utilise these services and make the most of them, which can also lead to further revenue prospects in the future, for example by holding tuition lessons.

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Managed print services

No doubt schools get through an abundance of paper on a daily basis, with students printing essays and coursework for their lessons. With some schools having more than 1,000 students, it can be difficult to keep track of the inventory, making managed print services an ideal solution to offer. 

This in turn will create a regular source of income for resellers, with schools paying a monthly fee for the service rather than a one-off price. For example, Stone Group’s Steve Norman, previously told PCR: “A good managed service in education should make sense to the school because it makes a difference to lessons, makes education more effective and school no less of a secure environment to work and study in.”

In addition, resellers can offer a free trial to help entice schools and allow them to get to grips with the service, which could help lead to a sale.

However, Richard Wells, national schools and LGEM+ sales manager from Danwood believes it is critical to understand the school environment that you are selling to: “In the case of print and document management, for example, this means a solution that will integrate with existing software and systems, provide necessary security, with the on-going support that schools need to make sure their solutions remain efficient and cost effective.”

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New form factors

Schools are no doubt used to having the trusty tower for IT services, but there are now a whole host of different form factors out there, from mini PCs and tablets to PCs on a stick. 

Kids are familiar with devices such as tablets already, having been brought up in the era of such tech, which means schools can consider taking on smaller form factors. For example, Eben Upton, founder and CEO of Raspberry Pi, says: “Small form factor PCs benefit schools primarily through cost savings. Some platforms, like Raspberry Pi, bring other advantages to the table, including the ability to interface directly with external hardware and a level of portability, allowing a student to move machines between home and school.”

In addition, notebooks and tablets are likely to feature heavily in the classroom of the future alongside the likes of virtual reality devices and educational games, while more interactive learning will become commonplace as more and more kids become tech savvy. 

“As we discover more about how children learn, beyond kinaesthetic, or visual understanding, there will undoubtedly be more of a focus on tailoring lessons to each child’s abilities. This may mean a move away from the traditional forms of teaching, towards more interactive methods like using tablets and games,” concludes John Marsh, director of Avonics.

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PCR's Sector Spotlight on Education is running throughout August - click here for more articles

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