Getting computers and all the associated wiring and connections installed in a school is a mammoth task. But principals and district administrators are just now learning that their responsibilities do not end when the installation is complete. On the contrary, the challenges of maintaining the system have just started.

Many districts struggle to maintain their networks and systems with their in-house staff, which may lack expertise or be overwhelmed by the amount of hardware and range of software that has been purchased. A new approach that’s gaining popularity quickly is to hire an application service provider (ASP). This is a firm that will monitor a school’s or district’s computer network and provide all necessary maintenance, upgrades, and installations.

ASPs offer numerous benefits, including:

  • Cost. The district does not have to hire and retain computer experts, since the ASP provides that service.
  • Consistency of software and hardware. The ASP provides software for the network from its off-site location and tests all the software and network configurations prior to installation. The result is a networked system that can operate the software that has been installed.
  • Easy software upgrades. The ASP installs upgrades through its centralized system.

There are downsides to using an ASP. For instance, many firms that promise to provide network administration functions have been launched in the past couple of years, but several have not fulfilled their promises. In some cases, the ASPs lack the technical capability to keep the network running and to keep hackers out. Others have gone out of business without warning after using up their investment capital.

Finding a reputable ASP that can meet its promises and will be in business for many years is a challenge, so experts suggest testing an ASP’s capabilities by giving it one assignment as a test, such as routine maintenance on the network. Experts also recommend asking for references from other school districts.