Technical support is the function responsible for ensuring the continued operation of ICT equipment and services. Technical support is a necessity in any organisation that is dependent on its ICT. It is not always easy to justify, as both ICT equipment and technical support can be a major part of a school’s budget – but not having it is a risk. In this section we make the case for implementing technical support and present you with some ideas and suggestions that may help to justify it as a dedicated function in schools where it may be seen as an unaffordable luxury.

The role of technical support

Those responsible for technical support should ensure that the ICT services needed by users are available when they are required and can perform the tasks required of them in a suitable manner. They are responsible for resolving incidents, but the ultimate achievement is as far as possible to prevent incidents occurring in the first place.

However, resolving incidents must take priority over all preventative work and this can often result in the whole team's rapid descent into full-time fire-fighting in order to fulfil their obligations. To improve the technical support service, those involved in it must become proactive in order to reduce the number of incidents that they must react to. One of the best ways of making time to become proactive is to improve the ways that incidents are managed.

Being proactive is a continuous cycle of identifying problems and making changes, and this should provide a healthy counter-balance to incident resolving and dealing with new requests from users.

There should be a technical support strategy that outlines how this service will meet the requirements of the overall ICT strategy.

The technical support strategy

The technical support strategy should focus on how to deliver the ICT services that are required to support teaching, learning, administration and management. What those services are should be determined by the overall ICT strategy, and defined in partnership with the end-users.

Technical support staff have an important role in formulating the overall ICT strategy, as technical experts and system users. A good relationship between those carrying out technical support (service providers) and leaders and users within the school (customers) is essential. Ensure that the process of formulating your strategy is as interactive as possible. Each party has its own specialisms and can contribute to the overall success of the ICT infrastructure.

A technical support strategy may cover roles and responsibilities in the team, supplier selection and the development of mechanisms for handling incidents, new requirements, the testing and implementation of new software, the upgrading of hardware and the overall tracking of licences, equipment and so on. These topics are covered in the different FITS processes. A good technical support strategy will incorporate all of them.

One of the key factors is to ensure that the technical support strategy relates to the school's overall ICT strategy.

Here are some tips to ensure a close relationship:

Establish who is responsible for overall ICT strategy – this may be the head teacher or someone with delegated responsibility.
Develop an early collaborative relationship with the person responsible for the ICT strategy and encourage them to include you in the planning of future changes.
If you are a technical support person, be proactive and suggest improvements constructively – you are well positioned to do this in a small, informal environment such as a school.
Use the ICT strategy to define priorities for technical support.
Regularly review the technical support strategy and ensure that it remains aligned to any changes to ICT strategy.

Defining a technical support strategy

A technical support strategy should give consideration to how technical support functions will be provided. We have provided heads and senior leaders with a complete set of procedures for creating the technical support strategy in our Senior Leadership Team process.

What are the ICT services provided?

Services are the ICT systems that are used both in the learning environment and also to support the school's administration. It is important to understand what services are to be supported when defining the technical support strategy, as these determine the technology requirement.

Services should be defined in the overall ICT strategy. Start by finding out if there is an overall ICT strategy that includes details of the services required and planned. Ideally, this will have been agreed across the school and have been committed to paper – but it may be that it has developed without a paper trail or that there is no clearly defined strategy at this stage. Ask the headteacher or person responsible for ICT in the school what they have in terms of overall strategy. An ICT school development plan may give some indication of the strategy.

Alternatively, if you are responsible for ICT strategy and there is none as yet, start by documenting the following important factors:

ICT systems actually in use
What these ICT systems are for
Who uses them

We have included guidance on creating an ICT strategy in the section ICT Strategy process.

Use the ICT strategy or your initial information gathering to define the requirements of technical support and use this early stage in the process to build an ongoing relationship with the appropriate representatives of the users.

What technology is required?

Technology is the hardware and software that make up the services. It is important to understand what technology is required so that it is clear what has to be supported, and what skills are required.

Technology may be defined in an overall ICT strategy or in the technical support strategy. If technical support staff are required to determine technology requirements, they also have an opportunity to take into account what will be needed to support it. A small team must consider the impact on resources of technology selection.

Tips on planning for new technology:

Try to select a small range of manufacturers and models to keep the technical knowledge and spares required to a minimum.
Try to select popular products that are widely supported outside of the school.
Try to plan the bigger picture and consider the requirements of the whole school and the potential for sharing rather than focus on individual requirements.
Use the Becta procurement framework to take advantage of preferential discounts on your purchases.
Wherever possible, consider sustainable procurement to help achieve your targets for being a sustainable school.

Tips on supporting the technology you have:

If you have a variety of different hardware and software, a third-party maintenance or support supplier can be a good option as it is likely to have the broad range of skills required.
Remember that third parties will need to be involved in any changes you plan – they will need to agree to its ongoing support and this may affect the cost.
A larger, non-specialist supplier may be a good choice if you want to redesign your infrastructure as it may have a wide range of experience and skills covering diverse equipment types.
Try to use a supplier who understands the education environment.

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