Many school IT managers will be using the upcoming summer break to make important infrastructure updates. This includes formalising or catching up on many of the rushed moves made while transferring to remote learning.
Matt Setchell from Lourdes IT, who currently oversees around 40 schools and is heavily involved in strategic and operational planning, discusses the main focus for many schools - cloud migration.
Covid required school IT departments to act incredibly quickly to set up remote learning, which meant that many solutions need to be formalised now teams have the time.
"A lot of work this summer is going to be not only working on cloud migration of on-site data but putting in stronger foundations," Matt explains. "So Wi-Fi, broadband, internal networking and devices all need to be accounted for, as does the fact that many departments are changing from their traditional IT rooms to more mobile devices."
This summer, Matt and his team will continue to help schools find a better way of organising IT infrastructure. This means "creating a baseline for online services, evaluating what they've got, and then seeing where they can improve it via a third party or better adoption of devices."
Of course, a big aspect of any infrastructure development is going to be switching off local storage and switching to 100% cloud storage, which significantly reduces the need for physical on-site infrastructure. It's a big change that requires a steady hand but Matt sees the entire process being completed painlessly by most schools and colleges over the next few years, as long as they stick to the four stages of cloud migration.
Adopting an online platform - This means deciding on either Google Workspace, Office 365, or whichever your preference, since these platforms do not play well with one another.
Migrating data from local storage to cloud storage - Perhaps the most labour-intensive part of the process.
Ensuring everyone has the devices necessary to access the cloud - This is all about making sure that people have the right devices they need to access the platform. The big term Lourdes is using right now is "access anywhere, anytime, any device."
Removing on-site infrastructure - So many schools migrate to the cloud without harnessing the savings that they've made. So this means getting rid of backup software, support contracts and on-site licenses that they don't need anymore.
"It's about schools understanding what they've got and knowing where they're going to make savings. But really the big difference is that schools won't necessarily be relying on servers and local infrastructure, which is going to be replaced by devices and connectivity and Wi-Fi. Schools might be at different stages of the process, of course, but the outcome is always going to be the same and we see the process being completed by most schools and colleges within the next few years."
Being a school IT manager is not just a technical job, and it's not just a teaching and learning job either. It's about having individuals that can handle both sides of the coin in a collaborative working environment. They also need to be able to understand the different platforms and understand what the teachers and the students need to achieve their goals.
Matt explains, "If you go for Google workspace, are you going to stick with Chromebooks and do they meet all your needs? Or are you going to use Windows devices running Google software on them? Then you've got to have all the different logins and link them all together too."
Generally speaking, however, Matt recommends going all-in with an Office 365 or Google ecosystem because it's the most natural way to ensure everything is supported and that everything works and includes safeguarding.
He adds, "Safeguarding is one of the things that we always put at the forefront of what we're doing. The first questions we always ask are whether or not devices can be monitored effectively and safely. This is particularly relevant with more children taking devices home. You need to set clear boundaries and guidelines on what people can do at home and make sure that things are being monitored effectively."
There is also a massive shift in skill set for IT support people because everything's in the cloud. So where they used to have control over servers and maintenance, the more you put into the cloud, the more control that gets taken away from you. Ultimately it's a shift away from a technical job towards a more customer-focused role.
"There's still really exciting stuff to do," Matt continues, "but it is different. We're not managing servers much anymore. Does that mean that there won't be the same level of expertise required to do IT support? I don't think so. I think it's more that IT people will really need to hone their craft and really learn the platforms."
Whereas years ago your choices were limited to either a laptop or desktop, we now live in a world full of smart devices that are all connected, or at least have the potential to connect. It's been fascinating to see new initiatives like Microsoft Intune, the cloud-based service that allows users to manage iPads, Android devices and laptops from one centralised platform.
It's a great way forward for schools to be able to manage their IT solutions and it also allows them the freedom to choose the right solution for them. Matt offers an example: "Reception, up to year two, are never going to log in with a username and password, so you want to give them a tablet. But if it's an older kid, you want to start using a keyboard. If all of those devices can work together using the same platform and the same software, it makes everyone's jobs so much easier."
We're reaching towards a future where every child and every teacher has access to a linked device, and that's going to make life so much easier for all involved. Having the infrastructure in place is just one piece of the puzzle though, you also need the right people and the right tools to make the most of that infrastructure.
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