Last week Bett 2016 came to London, bringing with it a smorgasbord of the latest innovations from the wide and varied world of education technology.
Having never been to a Bett conference before, I was intrigued by what I would find. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the scale of the whole thing; hundreds of vendors with products ranging from the usual mix of tablets and laptops to giant touchscreen displays, mini robots and interactive floor panels.
What was also interesting, having spoken to multiple vendors across two days at the event, was the extent to which modern education organisations – from a technology point of view - now resemble traditional businesses. Or rather, how they should be adopting a business mindset.
With that in mind, here are three key lessons that education can learn from the enterprise.
Don't be a dunce, usability is key
When I was at school, there were a couple of computer labs filled with PCs but pretty much everything else was pen and paper, so tech usability wasn’t a concern. Now, technology is infiltrating multiple different areas of education so schools and vendors have a lot more to think about.
From a vendor point of view, producing devices that are easy to use is of course essential in whatever market they are targeted at, but education provides a unique challenge in that the technology has to be more flexible than ever. Not only will it be used by students of various ages and abilities, but also teachers with differing levels of tech literacy and potentially parents as well.
This focus on usability and flexibility was evident at Bett 2016. Sony Pro, for example, was demonstrating Vision Presenter, a presentation platform that allows users to access multiple different multimedia sources to create exciting, interactive presentations to help engage students.
When considering which devices or software platforms to introduce, school leaders need to take the business approach and think about those solutions that will have the greatest positive effect on productivity across the board. Usability will be key in this decision.
This week's homework: Sort out that infrastructure
The growth of trends such as BYOD, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and wireless connectivity has meant that enterprise IT infrastructures have become a lot bigger and more complex in a relatively short space of time.
Schools and universities are now being faced with exactly the same issues, as they are required to cope with an increasing number of connected devices without a drop in network performance. Peter Hannah, regional director for UK & Ireland at Netgear highlighted the infrastructure challenges now facing schools, citing not only the growth of devices but also the effect of media streaming and the need to "talk to people about not just the wi-fi area but the whole infrastructure."
And it wasn't just Netgear. The likes of Toshiba and Lenovo also cited infrastructure issues as a key area, showing just how far the educations sector has fallen behind when compared to their business counterparts.
Be sure to back up, or it's detention
From an enterprise IT point of view, the modern world has quickly become all about the power of data. Business leaders have realised this – or if they haven’t then they need to - and now it’s time for school leaders to do the same.
But once this data is collected, the next challenge is keeping it safe and secure, with one way being to make sure everything is backed-up in the event of a cyber attack or natural disaster. Although this message has penetrated the enterprise, it still isn’t getting through in the education sector, something which Zahid Qureshi, senior sales engineer for the UK and Ireland at Acronis is keen to address.
Zahid recalled several occasions where he had spoken to IT managers at schools about their backup solutions and was greeted by a blank stare. From his experiences, not only is it not a priority, but there is also a general lack of knowledge of disaster recovery and backup solutions - partly due to the small size of most school IT teams.
As Zahid said “DR and backup used to be a luxury. Now it’s not, now it’s a must-have” and the sooner schools realise this, the better.