Saturday, April 13, 2013

Did the Department of Education Get Taken for a Tech Ride?

The Indiana Department of Education, headed by Superintendent Glenda Ritz, seems to be having difficulty with an expensive piece of technology that was purchased before Ritz and her team came into office. Ritz's predecessor, Tony Bennett, inked the deal with a telecommunications company last summer. The telecommunications company also employed one of Bennett's former staffers. Now, as the technology is being delivered over time, there appears to have been little communication during the transition period on what purpose this technology serves and how it's a wise investment.

While I'm sure the politics and the tensions between Ritz and Bennett are what some will focus on, I'd rather take a look at the purchase of all this technology. Specifically, how Bennett defends the purchase:

Reached in Florida, where he is now that state’s education commissioner, Bennett told me that the new technology would connect educators in a 21st-Century way. He called the TelePresence technology “very interactive and incredibly high resolution” and called it a “very powerful tool” that can save money by reducing travel expenses.
“If we expect schools and districts to use technology and innovation, then I believe the Department of Education should be a leader in that,” he said. Pointing to Ritz’s longtime career as a media specialist in Washington Township Schools, he added: “I’m a little shocked that a person whose background was as a media specialist doesn’t have an understanding of how this very powerful technological tool can improve communication between the department and schools.”

The parts' I emphasized lead me to believe that Dr. Bennett was probably swindled by the telecommunications company. It sounds like he heard these buzzwords from his staff and the salesmen who brokered the deal. And, convinced these people using these fancy-sounding words to describe their products knew what they were talking about, purchased the whole package without much outside counsel.

I spent two years doing IT work for a few clients, building computers, running cables through walls, expanding networks, setting up phones and voice mail systems, and getting people off of Outlook and into Gmail for their e-mail needs. I don't type this to tout that I'm some technological demigod. But, as someone who is pretty familiar with technology, I recognize that my knowledge has limits and that there are times I need someone else's opinion to make sure I'm getting a good deal. I think Bennett or the staff that was in charge thought they knew technology, and due to their knowledge, this deal sounded a-okay.

In addition to the total cost of the technology, there is also $152,000 annual charge for software licensing for whatever this telecommunications technology uses to function.

Now, I'm not an expert in telecommunications. But in my experience, there is often software that people have been using in the workplace for a very long time that has an established presence, and keeps being used  regardless of the cost. There is also newer software that is available at a fraction of the cost, but people might not be familiar with the specifics of it. Because people are so tied to tradition, it is very hard to convince businesses and non-profits to switch, even if it is an obvious cost-saving move.

This whole thing is something that could be defended if Bennett's team sought outside counsel to ensure them that they were getting a good deal, or prevented if the advice went the other way. Unfortunately, taxpayers are now stuck with a bill for technology we might not even use.

1 comment:

  1. Follow the money. Todd Huston "worked for" CISCO systems and the State buys CISCO. Dell kicks back to Bennett by funding Republican campaigns all over the country, and the State demands its Schools buy Dell computers. Huston was previously employed by a shady group called Abacus Computers, who took over a really good local company who served the school districts (Fortune Technologies Corp.) and tanked it (drained it) in less than 3 years. Todd and Tony are thick as thieves and you can bet Florida schools will buy Dell and CISCO under Bennett.


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