How do we now make a profit in school ICT?

Rumblings and reports from firms that specialise in outsourced ICT for education sector pretty much confirm my general suspicion that there is no profit to be made in this sector. But before we go on it must be said that making...

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Rumblings and reports from firms that specialise in outsourced ICT for education sector pretty much confirm my general suspicion that there is no profit to be made in this sector.

But before we go on it must be said that making ‘no-profit’ in the school sector is a very bad thing indeed, unless:

  1. You are in a Communist state.
  2. You are rich enough to swap ‘no-profit’ years for market share so to crush competitors.
  3. You are an exam-board.*

But once upon a time good, even ‘excessive’ profits were made from education as a result of the then Government pouring billions of ring-fenced ICT pounds into schools. Fortunes were made from the mark-ups on boxed-set software (guess what software?) and lucrative LA-wide service level agreements which cut out schools’ abilities to get value for money.

‘Excessive’ profits of course were a bad thing and are no longer possible in this market.

All of the above however begs the question as to where the humble re-seller or service provider can now make a buck or two and thereby stay in business, grow, innovate and employ people.

Time to recce the business scene in eduworld looking for profit.

Profit on Hardware: potential = v good.

The hardware sector looks very promising. Following the false start from the netbooks (yes, I have bought at least four... they looked so much like the ZX81) the so called ‘slates’ look really like they will make inroads.

Or rather they will do as soon as educators realise that they are soon-to-be-ubiquitous ‘communication and information access devices’ ( i.e. e-readers, web, Skype blah ).

The market is healthily diverse and bursting with innovation... just like the old PC days?

Software: potential = v bad thanks to FOSS

The software sector looks dead in terms of profit. Like it or not Free, Open Source software has changed forever the premium-attracting gloss on Photoshop, Office and Windows boxed sets.

Moreover, Government procurement via the OGC has squeezed vendors’ proprietary software profits to the bone in return for grating market access to a shrinking privileged few.

Service potential = possible (if your staff are trained to smile a lot)

The service sector looks bleak as this post suggested at the start of the article, margins are tight and customers uptight

... so what’s left? One out of three is not too bad in a recession. but what else can the old guard vendors do?

Education as Entertainment.

Yesterday, RM announced their long heralded tie up with Legoland. Legoland (£480 for annual family pass no less) is owned by Merlin Entertainments who also run Madam Tussauds, make of this what you will... but what does the tie up mean for ICT?

I think RM are on to something. Education ICT is dull (says everyone including the Royal Society and Oftsed). Edutainment ICT however meets with approval from schools that think their teachers are employed to entertain their students (you know; lots of videos, role play, and generally the sort that the kids can relate to).

The biggest dinosaur in the park is the RM PLCasaurus who despite the loss of the cancelled new Building Schools for the Future contracts and a steady six month long fall in their share price, have a healthy enough income from existing and renewed contracts to avoid a risk of extinction.

But ‘OK’ is not what we are looking for; we want growth and profits!

But maybe RM really have found the answer?

Toys.

Think about it.

Lego always was THE educational toy (thanks Dad, I have enough now) and is getting increasingly electronic (remember Mindstorms?..thanks Dad I have enough RCX bricks too) so what would an RM-Lego INC produce for schools?

As luck would have it leaked, but as yet unsubstantiated information, gives us some clues.

Allegedly a Top Secret RM-Legoman has been created for the classroom. It is built entirely of bricks and at six foot ten inches tall is an imposing red and white figure. It uses the latest Intel CPU and has borrowed many features from Honda’s ASIMO in that it can climb stairs, dance and talk. It has a projector screen built into its head and has a wireless link to the Internet especially Wikipedia. On its chest is has a modified Android pad which the students can poke if they need to.

‘GORMLEs’ ( LEGO RM Scholar ) perhaps is an unfortunate choice of name even for a robot but the Cabinet Office have assessed its potential as ‘high’ and have even trailed its use in the battle-field as part of the defence review. Aside from the rare brick-drop it seems to be the perfect replacement for the classroom operative (aka teacher). GORMLEs does not need a CRB check as semi-sentient brick structures are exempt.

This has an extra benefit in that being neither male nor female GORMLEs can be left alone with either sex without complications. It is also able to store students’ entire sets of test results since they were born including any ‘dog ate my homework’ or multiple granny-death excuses for eternity.

The business intelligence surrounding GORMLEss indicates that by 2020 60% of classrooms will be run by these robots.

Dad was right, don’t under-estimate LEGO.

Almost certainly RM is on to a winner here, it combines the friendly face with the deeply sinister; perfect for the 21st Century teacher.

They’ll make a fortune!

* MIck Waters, ex head of QCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority) described the examination system as ‘diseased and almost corrupt’ recently on BBC News. I don't think my rants about exams can top that... it makes this one seem mild.


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