Voice from the Industry
The Consumerization of the School Enterprise
By Robert Iskander, CEO, EduTone Corporation — Friday, October 21, 2011
The K-12 education market has been undergoing an unprecedented, multi-dimensional shift in the past couple of years. A combination of powerful political, economic, and technological forces is in play, creating a significant and non-reversible change in the culture and overall way of conducting business in the market.
Let’s take the technological changes as an example. We see a combination of three major trends—cloud computing, social media, and mobility—converging any organization’s IT infrastructure into a more affordable and democratic one, transforming the way most Small to Mid-Size Enterprises (SMEs) invest in their corporate automation and communications tools.
Many IT companies now talk about the “consumerization of the enterprise,” which simply means that the employees and customers, who are consumers of gadgets and tools, are now running the show and bringing their own mobile devices to work, where they also use their personalized software services, such as professional social media, email, and IP telephony. They are demanding their employers let them choose which devices to purchase for their day-to-day usage and, what’s more, to be able to access their corporate resources through these devices.
Most corporate CIOs have recently decided to give up on dictating which access devices or ISPs to mandate for corporate IT. Instead, they now offer a secure mobile portal allowing their staff to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to work. This adds a different kind of burden on the IT support staff, forcing them to support multiple operating systems and to ensure that corporate security is not jeopardized in any way.
Additionally, as these SMEs start using more affordable cloud-based software applications, such as Google Apps and Salesforce.com, they become more open minded about open platform policies because their SaaS vendors are investing in porting, testing, and supporting their own products, making sure they run well on any access device. This shift in corporate IT strategy and culture is irreversible. And it is now impacting education, as IT directors in schools and districts follow these trends and learn from their peers in other industries.
In addition to embracing this new technological trend, schools also feel pressured to do more with less, sometimes being forced to cut their budgets by as much as 25%. For schools, it represents a choice between continuing to conduct their operations as usual without changing their habits, increasing class sizes, laying off teachers and closing down school sites, or innovating by leveraging technology to increase organizational efficiencies to do more with less.
Teachers are also being asked to do a lot more with a lot less: embrace new curriculum standards, capture student performance data, individualize instruction, support larger class sizes, and even accept a cut in pay.
Traditional K-12 public schools are starting to disintegrate and be replaced by more innovative charter schools, virtual schools, and even flex academies. There are now many different choices for parents to choose from for their kids, and they are all still considered public education.
So what gives? Is there an end in sight? Should we just give up on the traditional public school system and let it disintegrate? Is this a good thing for our nation and for our kids? The answer is absolutely NO. Traditional schools are starting to think “outside the box” and are starting to innovate in many ways by reaching out to their biggest allies—the parents.
Parents play a significant role in supporting our schools. Studies show a direct correlation between student performance and parent involvement and also between school quality and Parent Teacher Association (PTA) activities. When parents step up and volunteer to support the schools through various means, including financial support and fund-raising, the schools are then able to make up for their shortfall in government funding. Smart schools are starting to invest in professional expertise and services that would harness the power of the parents in their community.
Students, teachers, and parents are considered “consumers” within the school “enterprise.” As the shift in spending on school-centric resources starts falling on the parents’ shoulders, it is expected that the parents (i.e., consumers) will start to choose (or dictate), rather than the school staff, which products, brands, and suppliers are most suitable for the schools. In some cases, the schools will make a “wish list” of supplies needed and expect the parents to buy these supplies (from specific suppliers) and donate them to the schools or teachers.
Some argue that the Business-to-Consumer (B2C) model in education is more efficient—and more lucrative to pursue—compared with the traditional Business-to-Enterprise (B2E) model. Obviously this model is only possible for a limited set of “consumable” products and services that could be easily procured by parents. Supplemental textbooks are easily replaced by online digital media; personal computers by netbooks, tablets, and smartphones; productivity software by free web-based tools; and after-school on-site tutoring programs by online tutoring.
All of these products and services could be easily “consumerized,” and schools could start allowing parents to co-fund the students’ access devices or allow a BYOD model. Vendors and suppliers are starting to offer academic discounts on their products and services directly to parents and redirect their marketing programs to target consumers. Apple shifted their education strategy 100% toward a consumer model five years ago, and look at them now. They have doubled or tripled their market share in education since then.
So is this “consumerization of the school enterprise” a good thing for our schools? Should parents continue to fund schools? Should schools continue to allow parents to make buying decisions? Should we all give up on the B2E model in education? Only time will tell. However, I personally believe that the school holds a lot of weight in influencing consumer behavior and buying patterns within any community. So if a school recommends a certain digital content provider or a certain type of access device, or if the school leverages its buying power to negotiate a school-centric volume discount that the parents could take advantage of, then the parents will follow the school’s advice. Also if the school asks the parents to purchase its consumer products from a certain school-affinity program that benefits the schools, then not just the parents but also the whole community at large will follow the school’s plea and call to action and will buy products through such a program.
Schools hold a lot of weight, and the school brand is still a very valuable brand. So it is not all single-sided influence, but rather the education enterprise influences consumer behavior while the consumers co-fund the education enterprise.
In summary, schools and consumers are both joined at the hip. As school budgets continue to shrink, schools will increasingly reach out to parents to fund new categories of essential school resources, including mobile access devices, digital media, and online test preparation and tutoring services.
About Robert Iskander
Father of four children, ranging from 2 to 22 years old, Robert Iskander is a very passionate technology visionary. He founded VIP Tone in April 2000 to realize his vision of “connecting all the dots” in K-12 education and delivering an “on-demand” web services infrastructure for schools all over the world. Prior to VIP Tone, Robert spent 13 years at Sun Microsystems, where he held various leadership roles in sales and market development. He started the Middle East operations for Sun Microsystems in 1992 and led the organization for four years, then moved back to the U.S. to direct the worldwide market development for the education vertical market. Mr. Iskander has a total of 25 years of experience in the technology industry.
Mr. Iskander holds degrees with honors in biomedical engineering and computer science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He can be reached at robert@VIPTONE.com.