Outsourcing: A Cost-Effective Alternative to the School Help Desk


School technology budgets are expanding at a steady pace as demand for technology services continues to rise. Many who thought they had their budgets under control are watching the numbers climb and trying to figure out the cause. One reason may be the growing number of platforms that need to be supported, coupled with the drive to reach the 1-1 computing ratio that schools are likely to reach in the near future.

To keep up with the increasing pressure on the information technology department, schools can now look to outsourcing for help. As new applications are added to the education technology mix, the complexities of hardware and software can become daunting. Eventually, it makes sense to farm out some, if not all, help desk functions. Outsourcing presents many benefits to schools that have historically not been able to pay the going rate for qualified technical support. It can also bring a wealth of technological expertise at a fixed expense, which can easily be justified to administrators and school boards.

The addition of a help desk staff is not always easily understood and accepted, especially by taxpayers who are more amenable to brick-and-mortar expenses or dollars spent to improve student-teacher ratios. Outsourcing can make a slice of the technology budget a fixed-cost item. This benefits those who submit and approve school budgets, as well as those who are attracted to line items that don't change.

Outsourcing is also efficient. Help desk technicians are experienced in handling a variety of technical inquiries. A representative who deals with the same hardware inquiry several times a week will be more effective in resolving that issue than a school employee who deals with the problem once during a school term. Not having to troubleshoot day-to-day problems also frees school staff to concentrate on tasks of critical local importance.

It is highly unlikely that there will be a nationwide standard for student information systems, because schools have their own SIS packages. In addition, no software supplier has more than a small share of the market, and consolidation of SIS is neither economical nor likely. Hence, for the cash-strapped, busy school or district, outsourcing is worth considering. It enhances the overall standing of technicians within the educational community, freeing them to do their best work.

Contact Information

Hewlett-Packard Co.
Palo Alto, CA
(800) 88-TEACH

PROFILE: Richardson Independent School District

Shedding some IT functions is working well at the Richardson Independent School District (RISD) in Texas. RISD has about 34,000 students and 16,000 computers, which is well under the 7-1 national average ratio. Most student computers at RISD are less than 4 years old, and all of the teachers and librarians in the district have presentation stations with printers. But questions and glitches arise from any technical setup. Faced with increasing demands on its help desk, RISD contracted with Hewlett-Packard to handle computer repairs.

"Our relationship with HP has been very successful," says Allen McDaniel, executive director of technology program management at RISD. "We do a good job of tracking certain metrics with regard to customer service, and we've seen the repair ratio drop significantly." Before introducing HP's help desk, the district's technology staff performed between 70 percent to 75 percent of the repairs within 24 hours, increasing to 90 percent since the changeover. And McDaniel is optimistic that RISD will soon be executing 100 percent of the district's repairs within 24 hours.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.