What resources are required?

Resources are the people, time and money involved in supporting the technology and the services. It is important to understand the resource requirement to assist with deciding on staffing levels and what is supported in-house or by external suppliers.

The resource requirement will be determined by the services and technology to be supported. In an environment where resources are constrained, it is important to consider the support requirements of ICT and take these into account when developing the overall strategy for ICT services and technology. Technical support can therefore make an important contribution to the overall strategy.

Because funds are limited, it is important to consider all resourcing options, both for new services and technology and for the services and technology already in place. Some of the options for resourcing are explored in more detail below.

1. In-school technical support staff

Every school should have some level of technical support. This may range from part-time responsibility for co-ordinating ICT requests and liaising with technical suppliers through to a team of technicians, network managers and so on.

If you have some in-school technical support staff but not enough to comfortably support everything, you should adopt the following approach:

Concentrate on core activities – the main ICT systems in use, or the most important ones, and consider outsourcing for anything else.
Set agreed priorities for types of work, such as:
     1. fixing incidents
     2. installing new equipment,
     3. training others in ICT
Avoid being spread too thinly: for example, to provide consistent levels of support, ensure that two people are both skilled across a carefully defined range rather than have two specialists who cannot provide cover for each other. If specialisms are unavoidable, ensure that these apply to non-core activities.

2. Involving the rest of the school in technical support

The rest of the school can take part in technical support and this may be a way of providing support for diverse equipment or filtering the resolution of incidents. Here are some of the things that, if appropriate, the rest of the school can become involved in:

Being a 'super-user'
A network of general super-users can provide a level of logging, filtering and resolving of incidents and requests. This can help to create a virtual helpdesk and can be particularly useful in schools with multiple buildings or sites.

Being a 'specialist'
A one-off piece of equipment used only by, say the science department, may be best supported by the science department.

Being a 'technical author'
If training teachers or pupils in the use of software is part of your responsibility you may be able to share the workload by asking your students to write 'How to...' guides to help other users. This will help them consolidate their own learning too.

3. Collaborating and sharing resources with other schools

Other schools can be a useful source of additional resources and it may be possible to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

Here are some of the possibilities:

collaborating with other schools in the area to create a virtual ICT technical support team
collaborating with other schools to create a virtual service desk
collaborating with other schools to share bought-in technical support services
sharing spares and storage spaces with local schools
providing off-site storage for back-up tapes for each other
agreeing to provide loan equipment or temporary space for each other in an emergency
developing a technical support strategy with other schools.

Don't forget that it is easy for disagreements and misunderstandings to arise, however, especially when money is involved. It will be necessary to reach formal agreement on some of these.

4. Using suppliers for technical support

Suppliers will always be required for the purchase of hardware and software. They can also be a useful source of technical knowledge about the products they sell or they may provide specialist technical support services.

Contracting out
Contracting out some services entirely on a permanent basis may be an option. This removes the need for any participation in the process by the school. It might be applied to asset management, for example.

Outsourcing of technical support is really a partial contracting out - you still need to use the ICT equipment yourself and you are dependent on the level of service provided by the outsource company. This needs to be carefully managed.

Support or maintenance contracts
Entering into third-party contracts for support or maintenance can be cost effective for specialist equipment or services.

Temporary services
Filling of temporary requirements using bought-in services, for example holiday cover or a temporary need, can be a costly solution if it becomes a full-time requirement but can provide cost-effective flexibility when needed.

Consultancy should be kept for one-off exercises such as the setting up of new equipment or the installation of software.

Getting the best from suppliers
Cultivate your suppliers and get the best from them. The table below shows how you might do this.

Build good relationships

If you build a good rapport with suppliers, you may be able to use their knowledge from time to time as a third-level resource.

Provide good documentation

If your suppliers support your systems, good technical documentation will endear you to them. Ask them what they need.

Give enough notice

Make sure you know how much lead-time your suppliers need to meet your requirements. Don't spring things on them.

Transfer skills

Enhance local knowledge and free up your supplier's time by asking them to transfer appropriate skills to your own staff. Be realistic about what is possible, though. In-house staff need to have time to assume additional tasks or roles and trying to acquire all skills internally may be counter-productive if core services are neglected as a result.

Ask their advice

If you are planning changes to your ICT, ask your supplier(s) for their technical advice. They may have important knowledge to share, but remember to stay in control when it comes to purchasing.

Help to ensure a common understanding of agreements by producing a 'working practices' document. This should be a document describing in plain English the expectations of all parties, which remove assumptions in the day-to-day working relationship.

Benefit from their experience

Talk to suppliers about any processes you are considering implementing, such as change management, if they are responsible for making the ICT changes on your network – they may be able to extend their own processes to you.

Be professional

Ensure that the right level of formality exists between the school and the supplier. If they provide you with an ongoing service, service level contracts need to be in place.

Welcome them

Help to build familiarity between technical support supplier representatives and school staff by accompanying new technicians, introducing them to key staff and ensuring that they have what they need.

5. Other resources

Solutions to limited resources do not have to be people oriented. A little lateral thinking can generate some alternative ways to spread responsibility for technical support.

Consider the cost of some spares versus the cost of a fast-response support contract. It may be cheaper to swap out faulty equipment so that you have a longer time in which to fix it.

Help users to help themselves by producing a user handbook. Your handbook should give simple diagnostic techniques and instructions for non-technical tasks such as changing a toner cartridge in a printer.

This is explored in more detail in the Tools section of this introduction.

Technique for resource allocation
The following technique can be used to allocate resources to tasks:

Step 1 Identify all the tasks to be carried out in a given period such as a school term.

Step 2 Estimate the person-time required for each task.
Step 3 List the tasks in priority order and note the amount of person-time required alongside each one.
Step 4 Calculate the amount of person-time available in the given period. This is the number of people available x number of hours available. Starting at the top of the list accumulate the person-time required at each task level until the total matches the person-time available. Anything beyond this point is unachievable. Listing your tasks in order of priority ensures that the most important tasks will be completed.
Keep the list up to date with new requirements and review priorities regularly to ensure that your highest priority tasks are always at the top of the list.
Refer to our Resource allocation template in the Toolkit section for details of this technique.

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