Networked computers provide an unprecedented opportunity to gather and coordinate the flow of information in schools and districts. Many districts have become quite adept at centralizing this information and have one or more full-time staff members who manage various databases. Now, school districts can choose between managing their data in-house or outsourcing that service to an application service provider (ASP).

An ASP is a company that charges a monthly or annual fee for maintaining connections from the district’s computers to a large off-site data warehouse. Among the many potential benefits of hiring an ASP is removing from in-house staff all of the headaches of system maintenance, upgrades, and tailoring to a district’s specific needs. However, these benefits come with several tradeoffs.

Here are the pros and cons of outsourcing your schools’ data management services.

Pros:

  1. Reduced costs. Typically, an ASP costs less than hiring and retaining in-house staff.

  2. Expertise. ASP programmers are trained in the latest technology and can call on a large team of experts within their companies. This is much better than asking teachers to step in and help solve network problems–an all-too-common occurrence in schools.

  3. Instant upgrades. ASP companies are experts at upgrading with minimal disruption.

  4. Online access. Networks are created so that all parties–administrators, teachers, parents, and students–can have access to appropriate information.

  5. Simplicity. All-in-one packages are simpler to manage.

Cons:

  1. Dependency. School districts can become dependent on their technology suppliers. New ASPs either may be unable to meet all their commitments or may go out of business.

  2. Confidentiality. To some extent, the district loses control of its data. A potential exists for private information to be accessed by outsiders.

  3. Coordination of systems. The initial stage of shifting from in-house, often aged systems to an ASP’s system can be more difficult than anticipated.

  4. Customization. While ASPs can be customized, there may be a tendency for a provider to push a district toward an already-established format.

  5. Online software. Some software works more slowly over the web than on networks housed directly by users.

Some administrators suggest that a hybrid approach works best. In this model, a district outsources some aspects of data management but keeps the most sensitive student information on an internal system. However, creating these hybrids is even more complex than either the in-house or ASP solution.