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Podcast | Season 1 | Episode 27: A Strategy for Tech in Your Academy

What's the importance of a strategy to implement and use technology in your academy? As schools use different software at the same point in time, it is important to map out what role each play in the organisation and make sure they form part of an integrated system. In this episode Winston Poyton provides advice on how to think about tech and get the best use out of it.

📎 Gaining a Technical Edge Outside the Classroom with a Tech Strategy that Minimises SBL Growing Pains

  • Adding more tech solutions to a problem doesn’t always lead to greater productivity. Winston Poyton will outline how a robust tech strategy can help MATs to streamline their processes.
  • If you’re not sure what a school management tech strategy looks like, you’ll learn how to prioritise, who your key stakeholders are, and the aspects of school management that will be affected.
  • Advances in school management tech are driven by the strategic choices that schools make every day, so this is your chance to be part of the future of education technology.

💡 Winston Poyton, Product Director, IRIS Education

📘 The episode is sponsored by IRIS Education

🏫 This session was recorded live on 14th November 2019 in the SEND Theatre of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

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Winston Poyton

My name is Winston Poyton. I work for a company called IRIS who do lots of education software, but they also do lots of software for the business sector as well. So, one of the things that I've been asked to talk about today is talk about technical strategy, talk about how multi academy trusts might, if you're forming your multi academy trust, what types of things you might want to consider as part of your strategy, but also if you're an established, trust what you might need to do and think about in order to get the best out of the technology that you've got within your schools, but also how you might plan for kind of future growth. To get started, these are all the people that are here exhibiting at the show. As you can see, in education, we're not want for people to throw software at us. In the UK, in English schools and Scottish schools, we spend about a billion pounds a year on technology, and buying software and yet lots of that software is duplicated, lots of that software is repeated within schools and actually, it gets pretty confusing pretty quickly with all the software that's available to you, and being able to make the right choices.

Winston Poyton

Now I'm going to be really clear, I'm not going to talk about our products at all in this presentation. I'm just going to talk about how we might think about technology and how you might think about the way you use technology in school to get the best from it. So there's a few of my colleagues here but there's also a few people, I don't know, how many people would put themselves in a position where actually they don't really have a technology plan for their trust. How many? How many people put themselves in that position? Or how many people would you say, actually, you've got loads of problems that you're trying to go and find a piece of technology to solve? Or have you got to the point yet where you're integrating software so that you're getting the most from it? Or how many people are using AI? So a bit of a show of hands, who's who's using some artificial intelligence in any of their software, or their own or in other schools? Yeah, grand total of zero thought that might be the case, who hasn't got a plan at all, and he's just winging it with a bunch of software in the school, and nobody's going to you know, a couple of people are gonna admit to that.

Winston Poyton

Most people tend to sit in the problem solving, which is I've got this specific problem and I'm trying to find a bit of tech that's going to solve that and actually, that's probably the worst way to go about building a technical strategy. So from all of my experience of talking to different schools, my, the experience I've built up has been based on answering really five key questions. First is, what is your business strategy? Actually, if as a Multi Academy Trust, you don't know where you're going, you don't know how many schools you're adding in. You don't know what your growth pattern looks like. Building a technology strategy is pretty, pretty pointless. Because you don't you don't know whether that supplier is going to be able to scale with you or grow with you as you grow. What does good look like? What are you trying to achieve? What are you trying to get from that? What does what does success look like for you at the end of that journey? And what have you got today? Usually that's lots, right. Lots and lots of different technology, especially if you're coming together for the first time and there's three or four schools chances are you having overlap of technology, pretty low, might have four different MIS's, might have four different finance systems. So understanding what you've got today is pretty important, then how do you want to get there? So how do you get from knowing what you want to do? And from what you've got into actually delivering, delivering that? And then finally, the bit that gets forgotten probably most frequently is once you've got there, what are you going to do next? Because it doesn't stop. It has to continuously evolve.

Winston Poyton

So I'm just going to talk through each of those stages and give some examples and some of it is stating the bleedin obvious. But sometimes it just helps to have that written down and shared so that you can follow it as a path through. So business then, so as I said, your your year one your your three year growth plans, they're pretty important to choosing the technology partners that you need for a growing Academy. If you are starting, you might be starting with three schools. Are all of those financially viable? If not, is that the problem you need to solve first? Who's driving you to grow and become Academy if it's the DfE, and they're just saying, take this school, take this school, take this school, then you might end up making some pretty bad choices based on based on being pressured into making some decisions rather than actually having a structured business plan. So as you might expect all technology strategy start with what's your business going to do? Where's your business going to look like in three years time, or in five years time we feel we feel that that brave and that ambitious enough to do that, setting out what success looks like. So what what objectives you're trying to do, how is that how are you going to measure that it might be? That's actually the most important thing from your business point of view is to be able to evidence back to offset that you turn the school around and turn the teaching practices around or turned your financial systems around, or being able to prioritise one demographic in order to show a significant change in bridging the gap between the rich and poor, all the other objectives of your business, understanding what they are, will help you then also drive your technology strategy.

Winston Poyton

Who are the stakeholders? So who are the people that are going to give you a hard time? Who are the people that are going to say and support you? Who have you got in your business? Because that's the challenge, isn't it? As you convert to a multi academy trust as you become a business, it's not is no longer just an educational establishment? It's a, it's setting yourself up a business, who have you got that's got the right skills to be able to deliver what you need. If you haven't got an HR department, is that something that you need to go and buy a service for? If you've got great finance skills, but nobody to be able to pull out reporting, to demonstrate back to your governors, that you're managing your finances in the right way, then it might be something that you want to go and outsource and get that skill in to be brutal be really honest with yourself about the skills you've got available to you.

Winston Poyton

Probably most important, what are you going to be a control freak about? So what are you going to be like, that's mine, I'm having that nobody else is having they're not giving it to anybody else. It's really because if you know that, then don't try and find some other technology partner that's going to come along and say, we can do that for you. If because it's it's never going to match, you're never going to find a partner that that suits what you're trying to do. So understanding where your control freakery or full control is, is is really important. Lastly, what is operational success look like to your business is about the whole community, your what you achieve with the technology is about the whole community. If you don't have everybody on board and you don't have that wider school community available to you and working with you, then it's not going to work. So your business strategy should already be made up of those multiple things, but but certainly from talking with some of my colleagues out there. And some of the schools I've been out to usually, it's pretty weak. It's not well established, it's not well communicated. So actually, when you're thinking about technology choices, make sure you really understand what the leader of the MAT, your CEO, your CFO wants to do what the business wants to do and achieve, because that will give you the foundation to then make some sensible and some and some worthwhile decisions.

Winston Poyton

That might look like something like this where you say, here's some outputs. Here's some reports I want. Here's the learning objectives that I'm trying to pull through. Here's how I want to talk to my parents, here's the set of compliance things that I've got gaps in that I need to solve straight away. Maybe you're not doing GDPR in the same way that you should be doing. Maybe I said earlier, you don't have the financial efficiencies across the estate that you need to need again, ao what what output are you trying to achieve? Pulling your business plan into say, What a scale are you going to do that? Is it three schools and you're going to stop? Is it three schools this year? Another three schools next year and 30 schools a year after might be a bit ambitious. But what growth pattern are you trying to, to look at and pull through being realistic about the timescales that you can then do that in? Then, as I said, driving up sufficiency, so mapping out your objectives, and being able to write those down and answer some key questions to make it simple for everybody else to understand, will will really help you in your tech strategy.

Winston Poyton

A bit of a note that's up there. As you're doing that, what you'll find is there's some things that you want to be brilliant at. There's some things that you want to be truly kind of awesome at and there's some things where you just go, actually, I'm happy to be good enough at doing that if you can prioritise that through, mapping out your objectives you can't be awesome everything. I am not awesome everything, each of us is not awesome at everything. If we were, then we might be doing something else at this point in time, but so accepting where you're prepared to compromise is a key, important part of building your objectives up to share with the business. Once you've got all of that, you need to start mapping out, right, so what have I got? Again, in my experience, what people tend to do is I've got, I've got a bit of SIMS, and I've got a bit of PS Financials, I've got a bit of Parent Pay, and I've got a bit of some other folks doing it. And they map out all the technology that sits within a school, what they don't do is map the processes that happen between them. So actually, what's the process that I need to get from my dinner money system through to my finance system, what's the process I need to make sure that happens between my HR department and my finance department, and and so mapping the technology with the processes you have a long side will again, help you think about how your businesses working, but also what the technology problems you need your your partner to come along. And so for you, and I did a bit of a quick pull together of all the technology that I thought, I think I've seen in school or talk to schools back in the last year, and it looks something like that, which unless is before you add any of your processes in, you probably recognise that you've probably got a bit of software that solves some of this, whether that's managing files, whether that's managing your devices, hopefully you've all got a bit of filtering to protect the internet for kids as they come through. You've probably got some some video conferencing, some screens that sit within there, you've probably got some communications tools, the ability to do printing. I've spoken to some schools recently who are using augmented reality and virtual reality to get proper immersive classrooms experiences for GCSE in being able to do some medicine and pull a heart apart and see actually how the blood pumps around in a virtual environment.

Winston Poyton

So all of that stuff comes together to say, okay, so we've got all of this model of stuff, we've got all of these processes between which really reinforces my point really, if you can't be awesome, all of this, you can't do all of this at once. You need to find some way of prioritising that and being and choosing the ones that actually are critically important to you. Is that surprise to people. The third no surprise though, so it's about right then anything out there that you that I've forgotten.

Winston Poyton

No I can't find it in there too many stuff. So in all of we talked about soon, if you know your business strategy, you know where you're heading, and you know, where, what you've got today, and, and who's going to help you get there. Well then left with the actual hardware, which is gone in how do I put this strategy together? How do I, how do I pull something that allows you to really deliver on your business objectives? People process technology gets used a lot. In all strategies, if you add data that these days that'll allow you to make sure that your strategy is going in the right direction as you come along. But choose the things with the biggest impact if you're I spoke to a school a couple of months ago, and their example was, we fixed the IT in their classroom. That was the first thing we did and the bizarre consequence that came with that was our HR department suddenly became the biggest advocate, because teachers not moaning about the tech not working in the damn classroom and therefore, were happy doing what they were doing and therefore, the HR department was happy because they were retaining staff more and they're for the kind of quality of education started to go up as people started working and collaborating together as a team more, and so whilst for them, it worked as an intuitive choice to start first, lots of people I know start with, actually, how can I beat up one supplier on pricing, because now I've got one to buy five MIS systems and therefore just I want to get a bigger discount, they actually sat down and thought about it, and thought about actually what's going to have the biggest impact on my whole community in the school. Because they did that first and they were successful at it, they all of their subsequent IT projects that went through, went through pretty easily, because everybody saw the benefit that that team was trying to do and realise out to the whole school because they had that with their biggest impact first.

Winston Poyton

So when you think about impact, don't think about impact on you as an individual think about it across that whole community piece. So that you can you can you can drive success and build a platform that allows people to see the benefit of what you're doing, clearly, you can't talk it up. If you do it that way, if you involve everybody else in you need to make sure you get it right. But having that focus will will deliver the best thing, or kind of give you the best start. We have this a lot in in our business, and we're constantly reminded comms is really important. The more you communicate, the more frequently you communicate. If you start with engagement and feedback from the beginning, and actually learn lessons as you go through rather than waiting to the end, then chances are you'll pick up the things that are winding people up, you'll pick up the things that are you're struggling with, you'll find out where your strategy on paper doesn't quite work in reality. So doing that comms piece during that, that that engagement all the way through is pretty important. I'm looking at a few of my colleagues. We don't always get that right when we're releasing product in the business and we need to kind of do that and do that more frequently. It's the same one you're doing it in particularly across a MAT environment where either you're coming together for the first time or you're spread across multiple different locations and therefore you don't have the luxury of getting together very often focus on integration.

Winston Poyton

So if in your strategy, you know that you're going to choose this MIS system, and then you're going to choose this finance system as an example, making sure they integrate together so that you don't have to duplicate data and doing those close to each other, as part of your rollout will give you one plus one equals more than two. Because you'll stop people doing multiple effort you'll stop at that, that Oh my God, I've got to type this in again, you'll stop the the I see one data in one system, but I don't see data in another system. So having something that integrates and thinking about the integration strategy will allow you to accept rate, the things that you're trying to achieve. So have a think about that, when, when choosing the priority of your orders, or the order of the that you're going to deliver these things. Probably the thing that I do lots of, and certainly, in talking to schools and trusts, they find the hardest is, is learning to say no, I think we're too easy to say, yeah, we can do that for you. We'll just squeeze it in. Or yeah, that's next on our list we'll pull it forward and or, yeah, we hadn't considered that we'll chuck it in. The hardest thing is learning to say no and, and giving people an explanation why and giving people the reason why you can only do so many things at once, and you've only got so many resources and so much time. So be really selfish about it be really brutal about how you prioritise that. And that does mean saying, No, upwards, downwards, outwards, across across your organisation. Again, people I've seen do this successfully, it within In the multi academy trust was certainly when they started is being really visible on how you track success. So take your objectives, pull them down into a list of things that you're trying to do share it in a dashboard that might look something like this and track and track how you're achieving against those objectives that will again allow you to support the comms across the school and allow you to see where people are, people are succeeding and people are kind of delivering what they need to but also evidence so the people that actually this projects coming finishing with just started this other one therefore, it's gonna start impacting you soon so lining people up so that they they know what's coming.

Winston Poyton

Then to round off the how do you then keep that going? I think there's a common misconception that you start a project. You grow it through, and you get to it implemented and everybody's trained on it. But actually, what happens if you then stop there is the latter part of that diagram. It falls off again, right. People become untrained just because they don't use it as often as you expect them to, they know that maybe they're not using the software or maybe something news come out and they haven't got their heads around it. And before you know it, you end up at the bottom, the bottom side of the diagram where actually you just got a bunch of stagnant technology in your schools and in your multi academy trust that isn't delivering what you say, what it needs to do for you and isn't delivering everything that you expected it to. So the tricky is to to get to that point where sufficient and then implement a constant training programme implement a constant way of engaging all of your community. That might mean slowing some of your other technology initiatives down in order to keep reinforcing that and pushing that through. It's just worth bearing in mind that as you as you look at it, that it these things don't don't sustain themselves it requires effort all the way through to keep the keep things going.

Winston Poyton

So, in choosing your strategy, you need to choose where you're going to be you are going to be in all of these things at any one point of time you might be with your core business systems, you might have an MIS system and a finance system, and a parent engagement system that's all integrated with each other, you might be there for that. You might have no plan at all for how you're managing your assets or how you're managing your cashless catering systems or how you're doing your budgeting solutions to kind of drive you're kind of future planning. You might be way out there with artificial intelligence and using that in your curriculum subjects to drive personalised learning. So it's not a one size fits all, but it's worth thinking about where do you want to be and why is important for you if, if that personalised learning is really important, there's some really cool tech out there that's doing kind of artificial intelligence and automation. If actually, just making sure all my systems talk to each other, then stick in the purple section. To make that make that happen and get that really right before you then think about what's the next gen, because that's what we have software vendors are thinking about is how do you get from each of those stages. And then beyond, in whatever takes coming next.

Winston Poyton

That's it for me a bit of a summary, align with your business strategy. It's, it's the only way to work. Set yourself a clear direction and stick to it, but be prepared to evolve that and change that as it goes through based on that continuous feedback. Don't, don't take on too much, taking on too much kills, kills everything. You're better off doing. I had a boss many years ago who said if you do ABC trying to do three things at once, ABC, ABC, you'll deliver everything in a certain period of time if you deliver AAA, BBB, CCC, it's the same amount of time it's at the first one came in a third of the time. So just thinking about doing less because life gets involved and stuff comes in, and it distracts you and so ABC isn't really like that it's ABC, D and F, and then G and H and then I'll go back to A at some point later. So just being really selfish and really focused on what you want to deliver will help you be successful. And ultimately, kind of getting your tech strategy right is not really about the tech. Thank you very much.


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