This is part five of a series, covering the Education sessions at the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference.
Start at part one (The Microsoft Australia Education Team) here

The Decision Making Unit for Australian Education ICT

The Education Decision Making Unit in Australian EducationAlthough there are over 8,500 education institutions in Australia, like many sectors, there is a hierarchy of decision making, including for ICT procurement.

This is easiest to see when you consider ICT within each of the states, where there’s a CIO who will make critical decisions on behalf of all of the public schools within their state. Although it’s not as clear cut as a single decision maker (if it was, could you imagine how much sales and marketing effort would be focused on the inbox of just one person!) there is a clear focus for decision making at the centre of the organisation, rather than at the individual schools (think: more like Woolworths than 6,000+ individual corner shops).

Here’s a summary of the decision making units for each of the education segments in Australia (the wordy-version of the slide above!):

Public Schools - very centralised ICT decision making

The strategic ICT budget for the 6,752 public schools sits with the CIO for the state - they receive the budgets for ongoing ICT maintenance, as well as the strategic projects, and are then responsible for delivering a programme that meets the needs of all of their schools. Given the scale of some of the states - for example New South Wales - you’ve therefore got a CIO with one of the largest IT budgets anywhere in the country, not just in education. Schools may get some say in how they implement the programmes - for example, they may get a choice about which laptop they choose for the DER programme, but it’s always from a framework of suppliers selected through central procurement.

Schools can also buy their own ICT resources out of their own funds, but it’s limited funding, so tends to be for curriculum resources used by specific teachers or subjects. And the money for this comes from an overall school’s budget - the Principal will be deciding between spending on books, classroom resources, small maintenance projects - and ICT. Unlike central ICT projects, there isn’t a ring-fenced budget.

The general trend is towards devolving more control to schools - so expect more decision making to be devolved to schools over time, starting with less strategic projects. If you want to know what that might end up looking like, I can explain over a coffee how the system worked in the UK, where every school principal had their own budget, and no central procurement of ICT - leading to around 30,000 buying points for school ICT!

Public Sector TAFEs - ICT decision making balanced between independence and centralisation

Ultimately, the 60 TAFEs are part of the same public sector organisation as the schools - however, they are much larger, with more funding coming from external revenue streams. So they will often implement their own strategic ICT projects as well as benefiting from central projects run out of the Education Department’s IT branch. Often these are around business priorities where it’s easier to see how it will deliver an independent business outcome for the TAFE - things like student recruitment, employer engagement and grants management. So selling a corporate student management system for all TAFEs would be done at central IT, but a solution to help a TAFE to manage their marketing and student recruitment activities could well be bought by individual TAFEs.

Across there different states, there is also quite a wide variation in the amount of local autonomy TAFEs have - something you’ll want to check when working nationally.

Higher Education - local ICT decision making, national references

The 42 universities are their own decision making body for ICT procurement - each CIO in each university is the key decision maker, and they set both the ICT strategy, as well as control the implementation projects. Of course, it doesn’t all come down to one person - there are 1,600 people working in IT teams across Australian universities - but ultimately the strategic decision making sits within the individual universities. However, like many businesses, there are a range of other decision makers, and budget holders, who are critical to ICT procurement. For example, if your proposing to simplify the budgeting process for universities, then the key decision maker is likely to be in the Finance team, with IT being a supporter of the project. Or if you want to talk about a system for student recruitment, then it’s the marketing team who’ll be the primary driver. The benefit of this is that funding for projects can come from outside of the IT budget. For example, if you’ve got a way to recruit students more effectively, then you can expect that the marketing manager will be interested in how much it will save them - leading to a true Return On Investment discussion and decision making criteria.

The other thing to remember with universities is that they have a close network between them - the CIOs all talk to each other and make recommendations of what works for them. So if you deliver a great solution to somebody who’s a good networker, then you can expect word to get around. That rule also applies if you deliver a bad solution!

Catholic Schools - increasingly devolved ICT decision making

As we move on to the 1,700+ Catholic schools, decision making gets a little diffuse again. The Catholic schools are grouped into Diocese units of varying sizes - eg Brisbane Catholic Education has 134 schools, whereas there are 56 schools in the Diocese of Maitland and Newcastle - and in each of these organisations you’ll find a CIO and their ICT team. Like the IT departments in each of the states, they’ll be making strategic investments in ICT systems, which the schools will then adopt. But there is considerable flexibility that allows most of the individual schools to do their own thing, although they will often be attracted to the central deal that’s been negotiated by the Diocese. (For some ICT procurement, there are also some national peak bodies, which negotiate national agreements on commodity purchases, like internet connectivity). Oh, and some of the Catholic schools aren't part of a Diocese grouping - so they act as completely independent schools.

If you’re an ICT partner supplying Catholic schools, it may mean that you’re going through the procurement loop for the Diocese, and then having to go around each of the individual schools to convince them. But at least you’ll have the endorsement of their Diocese.

Private Schools - more than a thousand decision makers

So lastly, the 1,100 private schools in Australia. The message here is that they all act as individual schools - each making their own buying decisions, and developing their own strategies. Just like universities, you’ll be talking with the head of marketing about student recruitment systems and processes, and the head of operations for finance, and the head of IT about their infrastructure and learning systems. And just like higher education, they do watch what others are doing - so if you’ve got a good customer, you can expect them to tell others about what you’ve done for them - and people to listen.

Learn MorePart Six - What education customers say, and what they mean