The Learning Accelerator Blog/21st Century Edtech Procurement


21st Century Edtech Procurement

by Daniel Owens on January 22 2014

A guide for today, a hope for tomorrow

Technology purchasing in education is a problem that can’t be ignored. Old systems of procurement were established as safeguards against corruption, meant to enhance decision-making and promote cost savings. The reality of these systems is dissatisfaction among procurement officials and vendors, complex pricing structures, and competition based on the ability to navigate the process. The nature of purchasing is changing, however, and procurement must change with it.

The complexity of a technology purchase is often much higher than for other learning tools. Hardware alone has several vendors with multiple models and thousands of possible combinations available for purchase, most of which are significantly different by the time a new purchase needs to be made. Software has hundreds of potential vendors with several products, which also rapidly evolve. So how does a single purchaser, or purchasing team, keep up with the thousands of possible options every year, all the while ensuring maximization of each technology dollar? Simply put: they don’t.

I have a tremendous amount of empathy for purchasing officials. A job well done means navigating mountains of contracts and vendors, within technology and outside of it, and often feedback only occurs when something goes wrong. Adding the complexity of technology purchasing to their already taxing work means bigger purchasing decisions need to be made with less time and fewer resources to make them. “Doing more with less” is truly becoming a new mantra of education.

My hope is that the Smart Series Guide to Edtech Procurement is the first of many new resources that can improve the purchasing process. I was honored to work on this guide with John Bailey (DLN), Carri Schneider and Tom VanderArk (Getting Smart), and Rob Waldron (Curriculum Associates), all of whom have immense collective experience working with districts in education technology and purchasing. The guide offers 12 simple rules to improve technology purchasing (summary infographic), decision frameworks for complex and key purchases, and policy suggestions that can help transform procurement to meet the needs of 21st century learning.

While the guide should deliver benefit to many, it is also just a starting point. Future technology needs will be different than those today, and new resources will be necessary to help address these needs. One hope of mine is that the guide helps create more of a collective conversation around problems and potential solutions in procurement. The simple fact is that the decentralized system that currently exists cannot sustain best-in-class technology decision-making on an individualized level. As the complexity of the requirements of education grows, as well as the vendor community that supports those requirements, we will all need to work together to navigate the purchasing realm.

Schools that make a technology purchase today, for example, may consult with a few other neighboring districts about what to buy. In the same amount of time or less, each district could upload pricing data on technology purchases and provide simple feedback as to the quality of the product or service. The collective data on quality and cost would be a tremendous benefit to all. There are several reasons such a simple solution like this currently doesn’t exist, chief among them are sensitivity around data sharing, data that isn’t easily accessible, and over-taxed individuals who are stretched too thin to upload the data. As the conversation around transforming procurement grows, greater emphasis should be placed on communal efforts like this that can benefit many or all. Most of these measures wouldn’t require changes in policy, simply sharing information (something already done on a daily basis, just not a national basis).

As we continue to grow the conversation, we welcome others to join with ideas of their own. As technology becomes more prominent in education, technology purchasing must grow along with it. Better purchasing leads to dollars saved and better technology that can improve educational outcomes: truly doing more with less.


About the Author

Daniel Owens is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator.