TCO for schools - Why schools need to understand Cost Metrics

One of the major consequences that happen with intriguing regularity when schools invest in computerization and/or modernization of existing computer labs is that the governing boards often fail to factor in long term costs for the efficient utilization of the assets. Schools need to evaluate options, form a sound judgment as to available options and plan accordingly i.e. keep Total Cost of Operations & ownership. They also need to establish strategic short-term goals that would help in producing results – establish targets and formulate plans for achieving them.

TCO as a tool for metrics has been popular for quite sometime now. And it is only recently that usage of the same metrics to justify software and/or hardware expenditure is in vogue. Such analysis is not new. For the purchase of a school bus, the management factors in costs for petrol/diesel, maintenance, repairs, insurance etc. Similarly in case of IT layout, costs for software, maintenance, repairs, downtime, and support, utility costs need to be calculated.

Given that most schools in West Bengal are government aided in some form or the other and numerous subsidies and cross subsidies ensure that education till the 10th standard is free, the onus is on the schools to prove value addition while seeking assistance in a IT spend from the budget. Moreover, ongoing IT expenditure needs to be arranged for from the budget itself. Thus proper allocation and judicious use of available resources help in meeting costs. TCO has been used for business houses since the mid-80s as a means of arriving at strategic decisions and control technology costs. TCO can be utilized to measure and value all the costs associated with the creation, implementation and maintenance of a computer network.

However, TCO issues between business houses and schools differ. Studies [IDC 1997] conducted in USA that TCO for business houses hovers around $ 4,175 per computer/year while the same for schools is in the range of $ 2,251 per computer/year. While no such data exists in the Indian scenario, it can be concluded that the disparity in TCO can be attributed to the fact that schools in general tend to use computers for longer periods of time as well as the fact that to some extent tech support is generated in house. The article titled “TCO – a case for Linux in schools” [available at the ilug-cal.org website] lists out the various cost centers that need to be kept in mind while investing in a computer network setup. A recent report in the Economic Times of India indicated that over a span of 5 years the rising prices of software have made hardware costs involved in a system setup look insignificant. In such a scenario, the school boards need to have a clear goal and vision for the future. Investment should actually be on technologies and knowledge repositories that are linked with the syllabi. And commitment of the boards should be sustaining and continuous to see the project through.

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