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Hardware Thread, New ICT Services Framework in Technical; Ephelyon, I agree that in both of these scenarios, good network security is critical - and I don't think any ...
  1. #16
    crispinw's Avatar
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    Ephelyon, I agree that in both of these scenarios, good network security is critical - and I don't think any standard would say otherwise. But there may be areas - I suspect the Royal Society was thinking more of web filtering - where accepting some risks by taking a more permissive attitude might be justified, even if there was a risk of e.g. online bullying from a social networking site that was designed to support class discussion. So the point of a risk assessment, in my opinion, is to discriminate between those risks that should be minimized at all costs and those risks that are worth taking.

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    I think they mentioned programming in that context more specifically, which is an entirely separate issue. Here there is a group of pupils that are allowed access to Python and the Eclipse IDE as part of my effort to maintain the balance, but being aware of ways to begin using IDEs to compromise a single workstation and then attack from there, I'd be wary of giving it to the whole school. Well worth a separate debate though.

    Back on topic (and apologies for dragging us off), I had a thought about this last night. Could there be any mileage in using such a framework to create some (limited) degree of "guideline pricing", a little bit like an RRP? This could have been useful in the case of the primary schools featured on Panorama last year (more here), if the Heads and SLTs concerned had had access to an index of "average market pricing" for such devices, causing alarm bells to ring immediately. Naturally there would be no obligation for any school to buy from the featured suppliers, but at least it would mean that if non-technical managers are looking to procure devices of a sort they haven't dealt with before (or even technical staff - photocopiers certainly aren't my forte!), there would be a way of checking whether a particular supplier is quoting vastly inflated prices in an attempt to fleece them.

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    Ephelyon, I agree that transparent pricing is a key goal but this assumes some sort of stability in the definition of what is being offered. That is where I suggest that some sort of categorisation of products would be useful.

    I have not bought off the frameworks myself, but it seems to me that they offer poor definition of what is being supplied, relying instead on producing a limiting list of those who are allowed to supply it. On a proposed G-Cloud / online catalogue, I would reverse this, being permissive as to who was allowed to supply, but tighter in defining different categories of what was being supplied. Guide prices would soon emerge.

    Another aspect which I think would be subject to standardisation would be pricing models and contracts. As far as I can tell from the BBC article, it was the small-print of the contract and not the ostensible unit price that was at issue. Again, new suppliers could propose new contractual models - but these should be vetted and approved by procurement experts first, giving small schools the confidence that they were not being ripped off.

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    So I think we are broadly in agreement about the potential uses there.

    Could there be any merit in introducing a framework - not an obligation - around some form of "general contractual terms" that are widely regarded, built up through peer assessment along the lines you suggest, as "sound for educational use". These might not include, for example, the kind of contract we have recently been bitten by, which stipulates a three-year rollover if three months' notice of cancellation is not given with no obligation for the supplier to provide renewal reminders.

    Would the BSI also be interested in introducing such frameworks for technical staff's CPD opportunities within education? These (often) being a very different ballgame from standard practice within industry...

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    Hi Ephelyon,

    First I should clarify that I am not employed by BSI and do not speak for them - I just chair the committee in this area. But obviously I work closely with the guys at BSI and I think it is safe to say that they would be interested in any such standard, contractual and/or expertise, where there can be shown to be broad consensual support. Where strong consensus does not exist yet, then there are various pre-standardisation options for putting forward straw-man proposals with the aim of building consensus. With regard to contractual frameworks, I know that there has been a lot of talk between government and BSI about working for better price transparency, so I think that this whole area is one where you would find a favourable reception.

    One aspect about the whole standards game is the question of money - my role is voluntary but standards organisations need to make money, and this generally occurs through one of several business models:

    * subscriptions (W3C and for education, IMS GLC). While the model seems to work pretty well for W3C, it is widely criticised as giving undue influence to the large players, who may not be interested in level playing fields.
    * free participation but pay-to-view standards: this is BSI's traditional model (and European CEN and ISO/IEC) and it works in other industries where there is enough money in the market to allow people to buy the standard (generally 100-150). It generally has not worked in education, though I think that in the case of the sort of standards that you are talking about, it could do.
    * sponsorship - the model for the traditional BSI Publicly Available Specification, often requiring 50K-100K. Could work in areas where the DfE could be persuaded that there was a requirement, though money is obviously tight at the moment.
    * certification fees. This is the model that I am proposing for slightly speculative, technical standards tied to non-consensual innovations.

    A problem bigger than money is implementation. The fact that a committee sits around a table and approves a specification means nothing unless the standard also achieves traction and recognition in the market and people actually implement it.

    My perception in all this is that, rather like printing paper money, it is all about confidence: the value of the paper depends on people believing that it has value - and the decision to spend money conforming to a standard is rather similar. Building that level of confidence from nothing requires consensus among the key players (DfE, BSI, industry, users, international standards bodies in Europe & ISO/IEC) and a certain critical mass of standards activity. In that respect, I think we need a standards process which brings together requirements for different types of standard: Ian Shaw's e-safety standard, your contractual and professional competence standard, technical standards for data interoperability etc. Not only to build "brand recognition" within a family of standards but also to persuade the key stakeholders like the DfE that there is stakeholder support for the general approach. One common message that I think is useful in building that critical mass is that this is about specifications being created by genuinely open, consensual processes involving user and other stakeholder communities - and is not about things being worked up behind closed doors.

    In short, there is an open door and a process and an institutional framework that can enable us (you) to build consensus around any appropriate requirements and specifications. But ultimately what makes the standards it not the institutions handing things down from a position of authority, but the ability to attract a critical mass of stakeholder support. I look forward to discussing further. Best, Crispin.

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    Ephelyon, that is in effect what the 'services' frameworks are, and as crispinw suggests might be the case, some people use them as guides and then run their procurement outside of the formal framework - the framework has given value to the community it serves - it just isn't captured when people audit it's use.

    Around 12 years ago becta had a series of web pages on actually how to 'do IT' from a techician / NM PoV, a teacher PoV and Senior Leader PoV. It was quite prescriptive - and actually quite progressive for the time. It evolved away into a combination of FITS, Infrastructure Guidance, and Procurement Advice for Senior Leaders. Even though each of these elements were excellent, the trouble was the earlier versions gave schools the information they needed to build and run an effective IT service at all levels within the school's own resources, and by the mid noughties good in house IT was at odds with the prevailing view from the Department that it needed to be out sourced as part of PFI or BSF builds. The advices was pulled and re-issued in a much weaker form, (passively) encouraging the handing over of IT management to third parties.

    The trouble is there is no one size fits all solution, at the very least internal politics plays a substantial role in how things need to be done. Speaking for my own situation right now... if the becta guidance still existed I would be fighting every time I wanted to do anything different from it.

    There is a core for any school though that remains the same... wired infrastructure, wireless infrastructure, Authentication Services, File and Print Services. Assuming Windows there is basically a minimum set of the configuration that is the 'right way' of doing this, everything else is local choice. Any new IT Services framework should be based off an updated FITS and Infrastructure requirements Documents, require the baseline offer of each vendor to be published against that. This wouldn't involve disclosure of commercially sensitive information since there really is only one way to put that lot together and MS / Apple / VMWare all publish the best practice infrastructure implementation guides that the vendors would be designing from.

    But then you get into IWB's - I have my own specification, and though the brand of the kit doesn't matter to me, the way it is presented does. It differs from the 'betca spec' of yore, and also differs from the strongly held views of some respected members of this board. If there were an updated 'becta spec' and a price list, the winning (i.e. cheapest) vendor would potentially be flooded with orders. I remember spending years of my life clearing up after a couple of vendors found themselves overwhelmed by orders following a few large contract wins - the resource simply is too thinly spread around for there to be a nationally recommended installer (which is what, in effect, a published vendor price list would create)

    Furthermore, I believe in what is often referred to as a 'stable hardware platform' for PC's and Laptops. They cost more initially, but they out last the 'value' options consistently and offer improved management features that reduce the time technicians need to be carrying out maintenance (both on hardware and software). I believe that everyone should adopt them. However, if a national pricing list were to be produced and the stable hardware platform was presented, there would be derision from the community (e.g. many people here) because they would view the kit as over priced and over specified. Yet if there were a selection of choices, most SLT are uniformed about technology (quite rightly - it take an awful lot of effort to keep this sort of knowledge up to date, and they are supposed to be running teaching and learning, not assessing the benefits of one processor revision against the benefit of more ram), it would therefore be difficult for a local team that sees the benefit of the high spec being able to convince them of the merits over the cheaper option "recommended" by procurement experts.

    The current IT commodities frameworks are great as they stand. Request a quick quote against a specification based on local requirements (e.g lights out management controllable through our existing MS System Centre management suite, 8Gb ram 22" 1080p+ small foot print) and get the vendor best pricing back. Works well.

    To return to the theme of the thread. I would like to see the services framework being based of a simple output specification, with each vendor publishing through the framework site up to three potential solutions with a headline price, suitable caveated that local requirements differ, and pricing is 'ball park' guidance only. As for general IT procurement advice, perhaps keeping it simple and just refreshing Becta - Technology, Advice & Information - Information Sheets would be a start.

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    Any specification/solution written by the commercial players in the education sector I would not trust, by default. Get the likes of HP, MS, Apple to publish exemplar solutions, and then let their partners add value to those.

    Which is actually what happens anyway if you know where to look and that may be the area that needs work, because knowing where to find these solutions seems to be the hard part, followed by SLT supporting in house IT teams to keep their skills and practice up to date.

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    @crispinw and I have had a chat on the phone in the meantime. Out of that discussion arose a mutual interest in petitioning EduGeek – and perhaps also the FITS Foundation – to consider submitting members to form part of a working group to discuss these issues at a wider level, perhaps much in the way that EduGeek was preparing to submit members to the Wider Review Panel for the BSI's proposed PAS standard around child online safety.

    Certainly I believe that Crispin stands a good chance of success if relevant bodies such as ours can support the initiative. It may also provide an opportunity for EduGeek to make use of existing links with the BSI, BESA, the DfE etc, via this initiative, to participate in round-table discussions involving its own agenda as the widest body of technical professionals in education. I have also highlighted to Crispin where my own agenda (promoting recognition of, and standards of practice within, the profession, as can be found in many of my longer posts!) stands in respect of this and I believe they mesh well.

    Accordingly we agreed to e-mail @Dos_Box, @GrumbleDook and @TrevorGreenfield suggesting this, which has been done, and then to invite further discussion of the matter here on this thread from the community itself.

  9. Thanks to Ephelyon from:

    crispinw (2nd September 2013)

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    * How easy is it to procure significant ICT infrastructure for your school/college?
    Piece of cake, to be honest. Frameworks have actually made it more difficult, if anything

    * How useful was the old ICT Services Framework (or indeed frameworks in general)?
    Never used the old Becta thing, the OJEU procurement framework was used for our campus rebuild and refit... but note the careful avoidance of describing it as useful.

    * How easy is it to get reliable advice about (a) what to buy, and (b) how to buy it?
    Again, piece of cake. We have plenty of sources of advice, and it's not difficult to ring up a vendor and say "I want to give you money, how do I go about that?" - even those that don't deal directly with customers will have a list of resellers handy

    * To what extent do you think your local requirements could be standardised (assuming that was a participative process) and to what extent do you feel that your local requirements are unique?

    We don't have that many unique requirements but we have a few. We've tried consortium bids in the past and they just don't work; everyone has their 'few unique requirements' same as us, and by the time these are accounted for the consortium either supports so many options that the cost savings are negated or the consortium machine spec is a horrible Frankenstein's monster that nobody wants

    * What are the main pitfalls that you need to guard against when procuring significant infrastructure (e.g. companies that go bust, proprietary lock-in, lack of pricing transparency, poor requirements analysis...)
    * What is your perception of the benefits of aggregated procurement as a way of saving money?
    I've never been convinced about consortiums as either money saving devices or as protection against risks

    * How important are OJEU (EU) procurement rules, which kick-in for public procurements valued at more than 150K?
    OJEU is a pain in the neck but it's one we have to deal with.

    * How easy is it to get information comparing the performance and value of competing products?
    This has never been an issue for me

    * How valuable would it be to have a "G-Cloud for Education" - i.e. an online catalogue of IT products for education, with transparent pricing, certifications and star-ratings?
    Not in the slightest little bit. We're already part of one and from what I've seen, it costs us rather than saves us money overall, especially when you consider the time and resources spent managing our membership of it.

  11. Thanks to Roberto from:

    crispinw (2nd September 2013)

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    crispinw's Avatar
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    Roberto, Many thanks for the comment and sorry for the slow response. August etc...

    Very useful feedback - two clarification/questions though

    1. the "G Cloud for Education" idea is basically an online catalogue or price comparison website thing. It would have the benefit of offering price transparency and user-reviews, and a reliable interface where products could be certified against education-specific standards (either minimum quality or technical/interoperability). Suppliers might pay to get on but there would be no membership commitment for you. I think you are referring to some sort of consortium buying service. Would you still think that such a catalogue would not be useful?

    2. My own view is that this would be useful for educational software, which is a market "yet-to-emerge" and specific to the education sector. Generic ICT services - hardware and networking infrastructure - is a well established market and one that, from your own feedback, sounds as it it is easy enough to navigate. That being the case, would you give a different response if the question were about education/learning services, esp. software?

    3. Are you a relatively large secondary or college and, if so, do you think your comments, even about generic hardware, would apply equally to smaller primaries?

    Many thanks again,
    Crispin.

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    Many thanks Ephelyon,

    I have been guilty of taking my eye off this thread over the last couple of weeks but I hope that EduGeek members, as they hit the new term, might now have a look at it and add their thoughts to the useful feedback that I have already had. I hope that we can then make the connections with the industry and the DfE, as Ephelyon suggests.

    Best, Crispin.

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