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Controlling costs a key selling point for ed-tech vendors

A key selling point for ed-tech companies is how their software can help schools save money during a tough economy.

For many of the companies exhibiting at recent educational technology conferences, a key selling point was how their software or services could help schools save money during a tough economy.

For instance, Wilmington, N.C.-based Education Management Systems, which makes the Windows-based Meals Plus suite of K-12 cafeteria software, demonstrated a new module that offers real-time analysis of the financial health of school meal programs, so food-service managers can control their costs more easily.

The module, called Financial & Statistical, provides a full array of financial reporting options for reviewing the current fiscal year, as well as statistical reports that can compare costs from year to year, from site to site, or other key metrics.

“The financial tools available in the Meals Plus system are great. We have been able to use up-to-date data to better manage revenue and expenses. Easily accessible data allows us to take action quickly rather than after the fact and gives us the information we need to make key operational decisions,” said Cynthia Sevier, director of school nutrition services for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools, in a press release.

Financial reports that can be compiled with the system include income statements and balance sheets; plate costs and meals per labor hour, by school; expense allocation costs; and indirect cost calculations. All reports can be sorted according to various accounts, sites, or time periods, helping administrators run school food-service programs more like a business, the company said.

“Where other cafeteria software systems look at revenue only, Meals Plus compares revenue with expenses,” said Ben Hooks, president of Education Management. “We provide school nutrition personnel with a real [profit-and-loss] approach to the business of running individual school or district food services.”

In another example of cost-controlling technology, Follett Software Co. has introduced the newest offering in its Destiny suite of resource management software: the Instructional Materials Package, which gives schools the combined benefits of Destiny Textbook Manager and Destiny Asset Manager. Users can view all of their district’s instructional materials inventory by school, classroom, and student from one central, web-based platform, Follett says. They also can run detailed reports and generate district-wide itemized audits, making it easier to keep track of textbooks, videos, and other instructional assets.

At the Texas Computer Education Association conference, demonstrated its web-based software for managing school facilities, events, IT assets, technology help desks, and energy use. The company’s IT Direct and ITAM Direct products offer the ability to respond to help desk incidents from anywhere, maintain an accurate inventory of technology assets, understand product life cycle and IT cost projections, create a wide variety of custom reports, and improve customer service. SchoolDude’s Utility Direct helps track energy consumption and find hidden opportunities for energy savings, and its Conserve Direct helps school leaders plan energy conservation efforts.

(Next page: Four more services that can help school leaders control costs and improve efficiency)

FrontRow showcased a new touch-screen control panel for its ezRoom AV control systems. The new product (model CB6000) organizes all classroom device control into a single screen and gives IT administrators remote and scheduled control of practically any device over their network, saving potentially thousands of dollars per year in projector bulb life alone, the company said.

AT&T discussed its Synaptic Storage as a Service offering. With this utility hosting solution, schools can tap into virtualized resources within five globally located AT&T Internet Data Centers to quickly scale their computer capacity up or down, AT&T said. AT&T manages and supports the infrastructure, so schools don’t have to worry about this. Unlike a physical storage unit, AT&T Synaptic Storage keeps stretching as you pack data inside. Schools don’t have to deal with procurement processes, setup costs, and time delays to obtain additional storage, the company said; instead, storage capacity can expand and shrink as needed based on a school’s needs, and schools only pay for what they use.

PEPPM was at the Florida Educational Technology Conference to discuss how its national bidding and purchasing program can help schools save money when buying computers and other technology. Since 1982, the program—administered by Pennsylvania’s Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit—has helped schools, libraries, and government agencies buy more than $2 billion in technology at discounted prices, while also saving on bidding costs. PEPPM does the legwork for schools by soliciting national bids on hardware and software, ensuring that schools pay the lowest prices for technology that meets their needs, the organization says.

Another organization that can save schools money when buying technology is the Canadian company CDI Computers, which sells recertified computers to schools at a fraction of the cost of brand-new machines.

CDI partners with major leasing companies and manufacturers to procure used computers. Many corporations lease computers for one to three years, and CDI buys these computers after the corporate leases end. The company then cleans and restores the computers both internally and externally and performs custom configurations to its clients’ specifications. All CDI computers come with full warranties.

CDI helped make an award-winning one-to-one computing program possible for Alabama’s Cullman City Schools. CDI supplies Cullman schools with recertified Dell computers; at about $600 a unit, the CDI computers are almost half the price of new $1,000 units.

“The CDI computers looked the same and were a lot faster than the old computers they were using, because everything’s updated,” said Andy Palys, the district’s data communications technician. “What CDI has given us the ability to do has been to buy more computers than we normally would be able to.”

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