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“Tool sprawl”—too many edtech tools—can waste funds and cause districts to miss important learning opportunities

3 ways IT teams can manage tool sprawl

“Tool sprawl”—too many edtech tools—can waste funds and cause districts to miss important learning opportunities

Since schools transitioned to remote learning, districts have added or upgraded their IT education technology and monitoring tools to provide better outcomes for all. But it’s not necessarily a good thing. The saturation of edtech tools may be leading to wasted money, inefficiencies, and missed opportunities.

The reality of tool sprawl in the U.S. education system

In 2020, the deployment of edtech tools in schools increased by nearly 90 percent year-over-year. In Washington, D.C. alone, public schools spent $2.48 million of their Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds (almost half) on software tools that facilitate learning. 

Districts are also investing heavily in monitoring tools. A survey by 451 Research found the average IT and security team uses between 10 and 30 monitoring tools for applications, network infrastructures, and cloud environments.

This spend looks set to continue. The American Rescue Plan includes $168.1 billion in funds for distance learning, networking, and other solutions to support K-20 pandemic recovery. With such a heavy reliance on technology, tool sprawl seems almost inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are three things school districts must consider before falling into the trap of adding more applications or monitoring components to their IT systems.

1. Commission or decommission?

It’s tempting to invest in the latest shiny new solution. But instead of rushing to commission more apps, tough decisions must be made about where opportunities exist to contain the application environment, rather than continue to saturate it.

The best way to do this is to conduct periodic assessments of the application environment. IT pros and administrators should ask a few fundamental questions: how critical is the app to daily operations? Does it align with the district’s mission? What data does it house? Does it overlap with another tool? Is it fully utilized? Finally, is it maintenance-intensive?

With these insights, officials can have a meaningful conversation about consolidating, retiring, replacing, upgrading, or commissioning new technology based on what’s best for students, faculty, and the mission.

2. Plan for and mitigate infrastructure limitations

Tool sprawl isn’t just costly and inefficient; it puts pressure on the entire IT infrastructure. Pre-pandemic school networks and systems weren’t designed to accommodate a remote schooling model where everyone connects at once. However, through trial and error, schools pivoted and scaled their infrastructure perimeter to support the remote classroom and a surge in network demand. But it was a costly and chaotic process with long-term ramifications for sustainability.

While much-needed federal relief is on its way to support recovery and IT resilience efforts, school administrators and stakeholders should avoid making immediate decisions. It will take some time for funds to be distributed. During this lag time, officials must carefully consider how their districts can continue to right size and optimize their post-pandemic IT infrastructure.

Because high-performing networks are more critical than ever, to accommodate new software and hardware loads, weak points in the infrastructure should be identified and mitigated. Single-pane-of-glass monitoring tools are ideal for this because they give network administrators a consolidated view of network operations across their complex and sprawling infrastructure. This ensures they can proactively deal with issues before they impact learning and day-to-day operations.

This insight can also help inform where smart, impactful, and sustainable investments–such as cloud technology–are needed.

With a stable, scalable, and flexible infrastructure plan in place, districts will be better positioned to handle sudden changes or pivot when the next pandemic or disaster strikes. 

3. Understand potential network conflicts

As critical as network monitoring tools are, too many can create infrastructure overload. While it’s easy to think more tools equate to more insights, a plethora of monitoring solutions, each focused on a different piece of the infrastructure, can consume valuable bandwidth and disrupt resources needed for learning. Consolidating network monitoring tools onto a common platform can help mitigate this problem–without drowning in alerts and data.

Monitoring tools aren’t the only issue. Day-to-day apps used by students and faculty also cause network conflicts and slowdowns. Most networks treat all traffic the same; first-in, first-out. This is another reason why a periodic assessment of the environment is important. When IT teams understand which applications are mission-critical, like student record systems or E911 services, they can create policies that grant them bandwidth priority.

It pays to step back and address the challenges of tool sprawl

The pandemic pushed schools into a technology spending spree; the challenge now is to revisit and thoughtfully reassess those investments with an eye on efficiencies, optimization, and minimal disruption. This will reduce tool sprawl and ensure federal relief funds are aligned where they’re needed–supporting a sustainable learning environment that fosters student and district success.

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