Are multi-year software subscriptions for schools value for money?

 

Are software subscriptions value for money?
Software subscriptions – value for money?

Over the years the software industry has undergone transformational change arising from new technology which has led to:

  • Enhanced software functionality
  • Reduced infrastructure costs for users e.g. via cloud delivery
  • Integrated in-office and mobile solutions

These technology changes are complemented by greater flexibility in how software is licensed. The earlier dominance of perpetual licensing has in many sectors given way to subscription based licensing. Subscription licensing is typically offered on a per user or per site basis and depending upon the application terms range from a month to a year with renewal reminders being issued in advance enabling subscribers to cancel if needed.

Subscription licensing enables a software vendor to adopt a more granular approach to licensing. It enables users to subscribe for the functionality they actually intend to use and benefit from rather than having to license an entire package while only using a limited set of functions.

This approach also allows users to start by only licensing the functionality initially required and then expand into other functions at a later date. Given the tremendous variety of need, experience and resources across schools this is an important ability – why should a school incur costs before it needs to? This flexibility provides value for money as licence expenditure is tied more closely with usage.

Multi-year Deals

Sometimes subscription licenses are bundled into multi-year deals for individual schools, federations or multi-academy trusts in exchange for a nominal discount for advance payment. While beneficial to the vendor this type of arrangement is only value for money if a school is operating in a stable and secure environment and the licence provides the flexibility to cope with future changes.

For example, the following could impact upon on your licence:

  • The school’s approach to managing data changes e.g. a school joins a multi-academy trust
  • Maintenance contract changes lead to a different approach to managing data e.g. a new contractor assumes responsibility for data management
  • Senior leadership changes lead to a re-think in systems which support a school

In the above examples can your licence (and any pre-paid subscription!) be novated or transferred without incurring additional charges or penalties?

You also need to be confident that in a long-term, multi-year contract the existing provider will continue to represent excellent value for money. Who can predict what impact future commercial and technological innovations will have in a market? If you want to change provider mid-way through a multi-year subscription in all likelihood the pre-paid license fees are not fully refundable.

As for Altuity – we offer subscriptions which typically renew on a three-month to one year cycle on a pay-by-use basis so that you license the functionality you’re going to be using.  In addition for smaller organisations such as primary schools, who may be using manual or spreadsheet processes, we’re introducing licensing calculated on data usage. This provides an entry-level licensing option tied to usage and not the number of users or pupils which in the past has excluded smaller schools from being able to take advantage of commercially supported and maintained software.

In summary, a headline discount offered as an incentive to commit to a multi-year deal will not always represent long-term value for money. The flexibility offered by shorter terms and different models based on the number of schools (e.g. in a multi-academy trust), users or data usage enables schools to license software according to their needs in a future-proofed way. These options are offered with Altuity’s AltoSites asset and maintenance system.

Maintenance and Multi-Academy Trusts

Multi-Academy Trust Collaboration
Multi-Academy Trust Collaboration

This week’s announcement that all schools in England will either have to convert to Academy status by 2020 or be committed to converting by 2022 has put academies into the spotlight again. Schools currently under local authority control potentially face increased costs as economies of scale available via the authority disappear.

6 out of 10 academies are forecasted to be running a deficit in the next two years placing continual pressures and challenges on school leaders and managers to maximise efficiency and cost savings. Collaborative working has a valuable role in meeting these challenges. Collaboration takes many forms such as Multi-Academy Trusts, federations, clusters or simply an informal working arrangement between schools. This blog for convenience refers to multi-academy trusts although the principles apply to any grouping of schools / academies.

Collaboration provides:

  • Opportunities to get access to services on a shared cost basis enabling schools to take advantage of services previously inaccessible or too expensive to utilise.
  • Income streams to schools offering these services. Typically, these are shared teaching, financial or administrative services.

Saving costs in Asset and Maintenance management

Asset and maintenance management collaboration offers several benefits:

  • Potential cost savings by pooling capital works through larger contracts.
  • Simpler project management and less costs by working with one contractor rather than several across a network of schools.
  • Co-ordinating routine maintenance activities. For example, identifying that several schools require re-painting or refurbishment offers the opportunity to co-ordinate work into higher value contracts. This may secure larger discounts than can be achieved individually.
  • Prioritisation of resources based on need e.g. assessing capital maintenance funding needs and the later allocation of these funds within a multi-academy trust or cluster.

A holistic view of a multi-academy trust’s asset and maintenance requirements is essential to support the above.

Delivering holistic multi-academy maintenance

Bursars and school business managers need to co-ordinate asset and maintenance management requirements.

One approach is to introduce a single maintenance system across the multi-academy trust. However, this may not be appropriate if systems are already in place given the investment a school or academy will have spent already.

An alternative is to integrate disparate

Federated multi-academy maintenance data
Figure 1: Federated multi-academy maintenance data

asset and maintenance data from these systems. This federated approach enables individual schools to continue to use their preferred systems while benefiting by pooling certain data.

 

 

Either approach ideally requires a system which can:

  1. Offer a maintenance capability on its own merits for those academies that wish to use it; and / or
  2. Collate data from other systems to act as a central analytics and reporting portal.

Systems such as Altuity’s AltoSites™ include their own maintenance capability and uses REST API’s to provide connectivity to other systems. Summary information such as planned capital works programmes and maintenance activities could then be shared. Pooled data could also be used for Key Performance Indicators highlighting different issues that maybe facing a MAT’s academies.

Information can be compared very easily using analytics and dashboards. Two example reports are illustrated below.

Comparing Maintenance data in a multi-academy trust
Figure 2: Comparing Maintenance data in a multi-academy trust
Figure 3: Comparing total estimated repair costs in a multi-academy trust

Conclusion

The benefits of collaborative working extend into asset and maintenance management processes. This is achievable via a single cross-academy maintenance solution in a multi-academy trust, federation or cluster or alternatively via a federated approach. This delivers a holistic view of the group’s needs and priorities.

Such capabilities are essential given the ever increasing financial challenges within the education sector.

This blog is an extract from our eBook – click the title to download it – ‘Reducing School Capital and Maintenance Costs

To assess how your multi-academy trust, federation or cluster can benefit in terms of collaborative asset and maintenance management please contact us.

Watchers and Alerts: renewals, assets and maintenance defects

Software applications need to offer proactive management tools to enable users to cope with ever-increasing data volumes. Effective measures are needed to minimise the financial and non-financial costs of missing important events such as renewals or critical data changes.

Integrating proactive alert functionality, such as email, into an application is a key aspect of improving data management. These days this isn’t rocket science so we decided to make sure that our email integration provides more than a simple reminder service.

Maintenance triggers and alerts
Maintenance triggers and alerts

Key Deliverables

  • Monitor expiration dates – such as renewals for insurances, leases, certificates or vehicle taxes.
  • Provide alerts when other users create, update or relocate specific records to a new position. For example, when defects of a particular priority are created or assets of a particular type are installed.
  • User customisable trigger events including when alerts are triggered.
  • User customisable email content.
  • Enable records to be automatically updated by triggers, such as, setting a date or changing a record’s status.
  • Create chained events so that trigger events can in turn trigger later ones.

How does it work ?

  1. User definable query filters search for records of interest based on any attributes. For example, all records created after a particular date, or all records of a particular type, such as vehicle leases, due to expire in the next 60 days; amounts, priorities or any other attribute data whether it be for documents (contracts, leases, insurances, certificates etc), assets or maintenance defects.
  2. Geo-location can also be used in searches. This allows the search to be restricted to particular areas of a site or building allowing the software to let users know when data in specific areas triggers an event. For example, this allows the installation of new assets to be automatically tracked improving performance monitoring.
  3. Watchers are then created which automatically apply the filters. Watchers allow the user to:-
    • Define the events a user Is interested in tracking such as creating, updating and changing the location of a record or simply check for expiring dates and renewals.
    • Define the frequency with which the software should check for events.
    • Enable users to define their own customisable email messages adding to the information in the email the software generates.
    • Send the email to one or more recipients.
    • Watchers can undertake a number of optional tasks:-
    • Perform updates as an event is triggered. For example update a date field to show when a reminder was sent or automatically change the status of a record;
    • Create an event as a result of a previous event being triggered. This powerful process creates chains of events or actions;
    • Create activities – maintenance defects can automatically trigger an activities action for a contractor.

These features enable a comprehensive set of data events to be watched for and acted upon. Users responsible for their own site or facilities data are better empowered. Service providers managing their clients’ data, such as maintenance organisations, can automatically deliver added value communications enhancing their customer service.