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.

Better access to Facilities and Site Management Software

Facilities management (FM) professionals using manual processes or struggling with complex, functionally rich software need a new paradigm allowing easier access to software. Facilities and estate managers are responsible for a huge variety of estates varying in extent and complexity. Controlling the information associated with these estates is challenging.

Larger estates have more data to manage but typically have greater resources; smaller estates with less of a data management issue have fewer resources so that in relative terms the pressures are similar. For example, managing site records, infrastructure and asset data might be a part-time role as is common in the education sector.

To help manage the disparate needs of these sites a range of software solutions are available:-

  • Infrastructure site records management systems;
  • Maintenance and asset management systems;
  • Computer aided facilities management (CAFM) systems;
  • Document management systems;
  • Geographical Information Systems (GIS);
  • Computer Aided Design (CAD) software.

The above solutions tend to focus on medium to larger sized estates and provide substantial benefits from a management perspective. The required investment in consultancy, training, licensing and on-going support fees is worthwhile due to the complexity of these environments. However, site or facilities managers responsible for less extensive estates may find themselves disenfranchised from solutions. They will often tackle their site records management challenges using paper or manual processes or in-house systems based on e.g. Access® or Excel®.

A recent survey conducted by Facilities Management Journal (FMJ) and Causeway found that up to 65% of estates with 6-10 buildings use paper or manual processes to manage property data and even for those with 11-100 buildings just under 50% were managed manually (1).

The antithesis to this situation are those sites with the capacity to adopt solutions but find themselves with systems which are over complex. As the complexity of requirements increases so does the sophistication of the software as illustrated in figure 1.

Facilities Management Software Solutions
Fig 1: Facilities Management Software Solutions landscape.

Manual / paper based  – No systems in use.

Entry level – Some degree of software used to ease management typically through in-house means e.g.  Access®, Excel® etc

Med-Tier – Greater use of software whether more developed internal software or the use of commercial packages.

Enterprise Tier – Large estates, complex data management requirements within a complex IT environment necessitates the use of complex commercial packages.

For some estates this creates a dynamic where the software becomes too complex for their needs which results in functional redundancy as parts (or all !) of the software isn’t used. The worst case scenario is when the software drives the business and not vice versa. Processes and work flows become complicated by the software – not as a result of a business need. They become more complicated simply because they can.

However, a new paradigm encompassing several factors is now available to help site and facilities managers:-

  • innovative technology;
  • flexible design;
  • short and simple implementations;
  • using the cloud as a delivery mechanism, and
  • flexible commercial terms

This new paradigm reduces entry-level barriers to software adoption. Previously disenfranchised users now have the option to consider software solutions because the factors above have created a new solutions landscape. For example, those managers dependent upon manual and paper processes can now gain access to solutions scaled and fit for their purpose.

Equally, those with a need to manage sites on a temporary basis e.g. over several months on a construction site can now access software quickly and efficiently. Site records and the location of critical underground infrastructure, whether permanent or temporary, is sharable between client, contractors and sub-contractors.

Interestingly, managers also have a wider degree of choice. A choice which means they could even consider downsizing from an overly complex or expensive solution to one more appropriate to their requirements and without inherent lock-ins.

(1)     “Managing the state of the estate”, FMJ, Causeway, September, 2014