Competition, collaboration and leadership

Ewan McIntosh is blogging on collaboration at the moment and his words – and the discussions they’re catalysing – are well worth a read. I don’t intend to cover all the ground he is treading but I would like to pick up on one topic around which we exchanged comments: competition, collaboration and leadership. I want to raise it here because I think it brings to light a healthy debate about the role of competition and leadership in education. As an aside, it is also a great example of how to develop one’s thinking using a blog.

Ewan cites Morten Hansen’s book Collaboration (check out Morten’s new book ‘Great by Choice’ as well) and discusses one of the six ways (that Morten lists in his book) in which collaboration may fail, that is collaborating in a hostile environment. Ewan writes that schools exhibit many of the characteristics of the hostile environment and that this may explain why we see relatively little collaboration between schools and even less between teachers within schools. I pick up on his comments (using different colours to make it easier to follow):

Excerpt from blog by Ewan McIntosh: “Sony was a company that took pride in its decentralised specialist divisions, divisions whose pride led to them competing against each other. When five divisions were asked to collaborate to create a new music behemoth, Sony Connect, the result was disastrous.

The personal computer division based in Tokyo, the portable audio team behind the Walkman, the flash memory player team, Sony Music in the US and Sony Music back in Japan just couldn’t work together, so strong was their competition. The PC and Walkman groups released their own competing portable music players, and the Music and other electronics divisions of the company released three competing music download portals. The US group wanted to use flash memory and the MP3 format. The Japan group wanted to use minidisc and Sony’s proprietary ATRAC format for music downloads. By May 2004, a very disconnected Sony Connect finally launched and was taken apart by the media and users.

In the meantime, Apple innovated its narrow, well thought-through line of MP3 player products with no competition worth the name. Apple’s divisions had, through Steve Jobs and a culture of unity, collaborated on one perfect player. Sony’s interior competition had decimated any chance of creating one dream competitive product.

So, then, what does this mean for education? In a school there are many competitive units: individual teachers have, traditionally, been the kings or queens of their manor, the closed-door profession meaning that what happens in their classroom, good or bad, is their responsibility. The result can be a competitive one – “my kids”, “my class”, “my results”. Where teachers are recompensed on performance in any way, even in the form of feedback from superiors, this heightens the sense of competitiveness, making collaboration between teachers in a school impossible. The ingredients of competition – closed doors, one-teacher-one-class, rewards and praise for good performance – may have to be dismantled first, before collaboration can be encouraged.”

Comment by Phil Dawson: “I’d love to see hard evidence for the assertions put forward by Morten T. Hansen. They feel to me to be correlated with non-collaboration rather than causal. Competitive units cannot collaborate? I disagree and I think analysis of the nature of competition bears out my view.

The key psychological variable is goal alignment. Competition is social goal-oriented behaviour. Competitors become collaborators when both social and practical goals are aligned. For example, a competitive situation can be transformed into a collaborative one if individuals adopt a shared group affiliation (education rather than school) and perceive a shared opportunity for social gain (recognition or reputational enhancement) that is, at least, not in conflict with other group affiliations (the situation in Sony).

Through the BSF programme, I saw schools collaborate very effectively as they recognised their shared interests were served by behaving as a coherent group rather than individual schools. In fact, I think the removal of competitive elements is a mistake because I think, if focused appropriately, competition is also an engine of innovation and creativity. Successful businesses collaborate and compete in equal measure and I would say the same is true of schools. Effective leaders are, I think, a more important factor in establishing a healthy balance between competition and collaboration.”

Comment by Ewan McIntosh: “I think the notion of taking away competition is an interesting one, for which there is a LOT of evidence, particularly in the education of girls, whereas with boys competitive elements are often seen as helping progress.

Where (generally) men have not seen competition help is in the cockpit. This is why, when landing and taking off, it is often the copilot flying the plane while the pilot gets ready to comment. This became a rule of flying thumb after a terrible Air Mexico accident when the copilot was too nervous to fight with the hierarchy of the pilot – the competitive element inspired by a hierarchy led to the plane flying into the sea instead of the runway.

In Hansen’s book there are ample examples from the professional world and business world showing why competition, more often than not, destroys collaboration, but this is because the competition is INTERNAL. He argues that competition, to help collaboration thrive, needs to be directed outside the organisation: so a school staff uniting to get something (at the expense of another school getting it); a district of schools uniting (so that other districts get less); a country of districts collaborating (so that other countries or commercial organisations don’t realise the same gains).

Competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive – but the competition needs to be directed OUTSIDE the organisation, and it is this competition, WITHIN the institution that will break collaborations. It’s also this kind of competition, I’d argue, that we see most often inside schools and inside districts.”

Ewan McIntosh update to blog: “Competition within an institution breaks collaboration. But competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive. If a leader can unite an organisation in collaboration and turn competitiveness to the outside, then the collaboration will work very well – think: football teams, corporations, or a country of school districts uniting to realise the benefits of scale that come from a nationwide online learning community, rather than letting commercial organisations pick up the financial benefits by uniting to pick off 32 Local Authorities at once.)”

Comment by Phil Dawson: “I agree that the issue identified in the cockpit of planes (first I think with North Korean airline pilots who are almost always ex-military) is about hierarchy (status). Although the purpose of having two pilots in the cockpit is to provide a cross-checking and therefore resilient environment, North Korean co-pilots would not challenge their captains because their military training and culture placed very high value on the chain of command (for general review of cockpit dynamics see: Status and Cockpit Dynamics: A Review and Empirical Study 1998, by Milanovich, Driskell, Stout & Salas). As a consequence, captains became the single point of failure and the airline had a poor safety record. However, this was not manifested as competitive pressure in the cockpit; quite the reverse: it manifested as dominant/submissive behaviour.All people (both sexes) are socially hierarchical but the manifestation of this behaviour may be different in boys and girls. Hierarchy and competition are discrete but linked concepts in psychology, both of which, if undirected, may lead to conflict.

My point is that the boundary between outside and inside is not definitive. It is relative and fluid and may be manipulated. Hansen’s examples (picked to make his point I think) are – in my opinion – the consequence of poor management, culture and leadership, not an inherent incompatibility between internal competition and collaboration.”

Comment by Peter Hirst: “Enjoying this series so far Ewan. Thought I’d link you to an article that intrigued me and certainly got a lot of comments in the US. The main basis is that by removing competition in Finnish schools collaboration thrives and they succeed – there’s no private schools, no school league tables, no performance pay and no standardised tests…”

Ewan McIntosh update to blog: “It is no surprise, therefore, that international collaborations of the kind that eTwinning encourages might work better for teachers and schools than collaborating closer to home, but the question that now remains, is collaborating for what? If there’s nothing to be lost through competition, there is also, perhaps, a perception that there is nothing to be gained. Cue: collaboration for collaboration’s sake.”

Comment by Phil Dawson: “I strongly recommend reading Pasi Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? By coincidence I mentioned it on Twitter only last week. Having read it, I think the key point Sahlberg makes is that Finland’s education system is successful because it it is uniquely egalitarian and every young person believes she or he will be treated equally and fairly. It creates a healthy meritocracy. I’d venture to suggest though that this does not mean there’s no competition; just that the playing field is a level one and that the competition does not manifest itself in a culture of failure. Healthy competition is when one’s reaction to others’ success is to be inspired.”

OK, so that’s where we’ve got to so far… I would just sum up by saying I often ‘discuss’ by adopting a standpoint that is (slightly) more extreme than my actual view. I find it helpful to test how far an opinion might be stretched before it breaks. In this case, the key points that I’m continuing to think about are the role of good leadership in creating a balanced culture of collaboration and competition, both inside and outside an organisation.

I’m also interested in how competition can be a positive and creative force, rather than a destructive one. I think that there is wariness in education of the concept of competition that arises from the assumption that it is about winners and losers rather than finding creative solutions to problems. Once again, I believe leaders have an important role in steering the culture of their organisations to be about healthy and inspiring competition.

UPDATE: Check out this video by Rachel Botsman on ‘Collaborative Consumption’. She has a really progressive view on web-enabled collaboration per the likes of and The collaboration is a product of both the material value and the social capital it builds. Trust is a vital part of collaboration because it means we understand and accept that the group’s goals are aligned. Reputation is a primer for trusting relationships and therefore for collaboration.

Gove on ICT

I’ve just read a great blog post from Josie Frasier called ‘Computer Science is not Digital Literacy’. I completely agree with her sentiments when she says: “I’m a huge fan of the current wave of enthusiasm and political will to transform the way that ICT is delivered in schools.” She also name checks Code Academy and Coding for Kids, suggesting you check out the #codingfokidrs hash tag on Twitter for related links, discussion and resources. I repeat them here because I agree! However, I also agree with her that Gove’s speech at BETT 2012 crashed together some terminology and ideas that are best differentiated.In the comments on Josie’s blog I can see some disagreement on how to define Digital Literacy and Computer Science, particularly whether having a grasp of Computer Science is necessary to be proficiently digitally literate. Personally I see the distinction as quite clear. Computer Science is a subject area and Digital Literacy is a skill-set that could be deployed across all subjects. Naturally there may be some Computer Science in Digital Literacy (and visa versa) just as there is Maths in Computer Science. The key point is that Computer Science is a discrete subject area in which skills such as logic and coding may be learned. The thrust of Gove’s argument is that the IT industry needs the skills and knowledge represented by the qualification in Computer Science.

In Gove’s speech, the current ICT curriculum is targeted as the root cause of the lack of relevant computer skills in young people and for being “dull”. I would remind everyone that a curriculum is a framework and that the ICT curriculum isn’t dull, the teaching of it is (or too often is).

Digital literacy is a set of competencies and knowledge that all young people should be taught for application across all subjects, much as literacy and numeracy. See Josie’s blog entry for a more in depth exploration. However my key point is that the current ICT curriculum does nothing to inhibit the teaching of Digital Literacy (nor indeed does it specifically encourage it). Neither does the ICT curriculum prohibit the teaching of Computer Science material.

In my opinion, if Digital Literacy and/or Computer Science material are not taught, either as discrete subjects or part of another (Maths or ICT, for example), this is a function of education leaders, teachers and exams, not the ICT curriculum per se. Unfortunately teachers are not, in general, well prepared. Out of 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010, just 3 had a computer-related degree. In my opinion, the deeper issue here is threefold:

1. Leaders who accept a “lock and block attitude” to the digital age
2. An exam system that tests knowledge and skills that lack relevance in the current digital age
3. Teachers that lack the mandate and the skills to fully embrace the digital age

Whilst I welcome the initiatives that Gove has outlined in his speech in the spirit in which they’re intended, I think that they risk casting adrift, in a large ocean, many leaders, teachers and schools who were already adrift and lost in a pond.

The reason that so many schools turn out pupils inadequately prepared for the IT industry and the digital age is that they use the ICT curriculum as a lifeboat, clinging to it for dear life and keeping the water of the digital age as far away as possible. Taking away the lifeboat and ‘asking’ them to sink or swim… Well, I can almost feel the sharks circling.

Beyond eSafety

While exploring yesterday, I discovered a blog entry about what is generally termed eSafety, a subject I’ve been meaning to blog about. The editorial slant was not victim-oriented, but rather led with the potentially undesirable consequences of using the Internet in terms of privacy. In particular, it referenced MMS sexting by minors and the potential longevity of the personal consequences. The phrase that caught my attention was “permanent and public”. That is, everything and anything that one puts out into the aether (mobile or Net) may be, or become, permanent and public. For me, the key challenge is – if you’ll excuse the semantics – not so much eSafety as eSense; that is, an understanding of how to use technology in such a way as to avoid undesirable consequences, most of which have little to do with safety in the traditionally understood sense of the word.This is a subject that interests me because I believe that technology has a central role to play in facilitating learning and that means introducing young people to technology in an authentic but responsible manner. For simplicity, we can talk about three broad stages: primary (to age 11), secondary (11 to 18) and tertiary (18+). These stages broadly align with the same categories in the UK school system. I think there’s justifiable clarity about a zero tolerance approach to inappropriate content and contact in the primary stage. Equally, I think it’s clear that individuals over the age of eighteen take full responsibility for their actions.

The challenging category is the secondary stage as it represents the transition from child to adult with the associated dynamic boundaries and, inevitably, conflicting views. It is the stage during which schools are, at least in part, responsible for ensuring there’s a managed transition from complete technology regulation to free choice. At least it should be, but actually I think in many cases schools abrogate their responsibility by adopting a default position of full regulation, usually by blocking access to personal devices and undesirable Internet sites. A common refrain from frustrated students is that their technology experience outside of school is far richer than in school. This is a deplorable position but one which schools may justify using three broad categories of argumentation:

1. Legal – regulation justified by schools’ legal obligations
2. Protection – regulation justified by concern for general well-being
3. Education – regulation of technology justified by distraction

In my opinion, full regulation during this transitional period is unjustifiable, both in a purist educational sense, and in terms of schools’ more general social responsibilities. With regard to the former, schools must prepare young people for a digital world through engagement with the full Internet experience and all that it brings. This means a 21st Century digital curriculum that embraces technology and the experiences it facilitates across all subjects and stages. With regard to the latter, young people must be allowed to learn how to self-regulate their behaviour in the digital world as they would in any other environment.

There are two fundamental reasons I believe schools have, in the main, adopted an undifferentiated approach to the regulation of technology. One is that they do not understand the risks and fear the worst, for example a parent backlash, potential legal implications and/or adverse publicity. The second is that they do not think they can manage the undesirable behaviours such as texting while the teacher is speaking. It is simply easier to impose a blanket ban on mobile phones and all undesirable Internet sites and avoid a whole range of undesirable behaviours altogether. Of course, in so doing they also vastly diminish the educational experience of technology and the opportunities for learned self-regulation. My antidote to this approach begins by redefining the challenge as follows:

1. eLegality: ensuring the school organisation operates within the law
2. eSafety: ensuring young people understand how they might be harmed
3. eSense: ensuring young people learn how to use technology positively

The reason for the obsessive semantics is that this differentiation demands a strategic differentiation rather than a homogeneous approach. The protocol that describes a school’s response to eLegality issues such as data protection, freedom of speech, privacy, plagiarism and copyright is unambiguous. A breach of these protocols by any member of a school, staff and students alike, would carry appropriate consequences.

The eSafety protocol would reflect the more generally understood meaning of the word as intended by such organisations as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. It is focused on preventing young people from placing themselves in potentially harmful situations or indeed causing harm to others through their actions, for example by cyber-bullying. The key word in this context is “harm”. There is a process of education involved in recognising potentially harmful situations but it is quite clear-cut and well suited to being addressed through a protocol or code and delivered as a discrete eSafety module.

This leaves eSense as the purer educational strand of the three. I define eSense as learning how to make good judgements about the use of technology, fully cognisant of the consequences of one’s actions. In other words, the pursuit of self-regulation. It’s a set of skills that takes time to learn and although may be summarised in a protocol, is actually the substance of a 21st Century digital curriculum that is threaded through all subjects and stages. It also embraces a more values-oriented element in terms of acceptable behaviour. For example, young people generally know it’s not OK to text while the teacher is talking but the broader principle is: we demonstrate respect for educators by giving them our full attention when they request it. It doesn’t matter whether the distraction was a mobile phone or a magazine, it was a breach of a core organisational value.

An important consequence of a more granular and differentiated approach is that risks and consequences are more clearly defined and placed in perspective. There is risk in every action and it is the responsibility of leaders to put in place protection proportionate to the risk. I take the safety of young people very seriously, especially as a parent of a 14 year old daughter. However, I also know that the statistical risk of her coming to harm as a result of her behaviour online is a fraction of the risk I allow her to take when she rides her bicycle on the road. As a parent I must balance the risk with the rewards. This is the very same judgement education leaders must make and, in my view, a lack of understanding is leading to a significant over-reaction to the potential risk, the consequence of which diminishes the educational experience.

In developing differentiated, granular and clear protocols, schools support learned self-regulation, thereby managing the transition through the secondary stage in a constructive and progressive manner. Understanding the nature of the digital environment through feedback of this sort is also more likely to lead to the generalisation of appropriate behaviour beyond the school gates in partnership with parents. For example, part of eSense is the recognition that the fingerprint we create in the digital world through our behaviour is very persistent. Ask Eric Schmidt about his Google fingerprint! Even he couldn’t get Google to erase his tracks. “Public and permanent”.

In order to be successful, the learned self-regulation approach needs two key ingredients:

1. A system to monitor behaviour
2. Consistent consequences for inappropriate behaviour

N.B. The positive reinforcement is unregulated access to a rich digital experience

Well, seeing as we’re talking about technology, you won’t be surprised to learn that there’re a variety of audit systems available which can record both Internet and local network activity down to individual users and devices. These systems often integrate a rules-based alerting system that will ensure there is timely feedback of inappropriate behaviour. Most young people quickly learn to modify their behaviour through consistent and rational feedback. As with most systems of this type, there is an initial investment of time to re-set expectations, but the reward is well worth the investment.

So rather than ban the technology, why not embrace it using learned self-regulation as the core approach?Take the opportunity to thread an eSense strand through your existing curriculum, focusing on using technology to enrich and extend the entire learning experience. Use this as the basis for creating a 21st Century digital curriculum.

Leading technology

We have a lodger staying at the moment – a primary school teacher. While chatting I discovered that the laptop she was using was a school-supplied unit from the Laptops for Teachers (LfT) initiative, a programme kicked off by the DfES and Becta in 2002. “Of course I can’t do anything useful with it,” she said. “Huh?” I replied (in my usual articulate fashion). “They don’t like me to put any of my own stuff on it.” I’ll admit this floored me. One of two things was possible:

a)  Working on national projects with aspirations at the cutting interface of education and technology has unhitched me from the reality of technology in schools at the coalface, or
b)  My lodger’s school is at the end of a, no doubt, long, trailing technology tail.

I think it’s probably a bit of both. I won’t go into the conversation that ensued, but it became clear to me that the technology in her school was being managed, not to enhance learning and teaching, but to minimise technical issues. Even now, it seems this is far too common.

I’ve been very lucky in my career so far to have visited many hundreds of education organisations. I’ve engaged with all manner of staff from leaders to technicians. What’s become clear to me over time – and please accept that this is a generalisation to which there are notable exceptions – is that the majority of education leaders built their education experience in a pre-digital age. They are not digital natives and regard technology as something between an expensive distraction and an interesting diversion. They don’t intuitively ‘get’ technology and they certainly don’t trust it to make a significant difference to learning outcomes or life chances. Their perception is that budget allocated to ICT is displacing spend on things they do understand, like teachers, and this is uncomfortable and so unwelcome. Furthermore, technology is evolving rapidly and so the knowledge they do have is constantly challenged and there’s relentless pressure on them to refresh their investment in terms of stuff and skills.

As a general rule, leaders are not very good at being out of control and I think technology is one of those areas where many leaders feel exactly that. I’ve met many heads who’ve been proud to tell me they don’t even own a computer, yet their organisation’s raison d’être is to prepare young people for a digital age. It’s also not uncommon to see a head wielding his or her iPad as evidence of a progressive attitude to ICT while their school languishes in the middle ground of technology adoption. It is one thing to be a user of technology and appreciate its merits, but quite another to develop and drive an ICT strategy for an organisation.

So technology is often perceived by leaders as a threat rather than a valuable ally in achieving successful outcomes. The usual responses to a threat are either to marginalise it or dominate it. Given that the former is becoming more and more difficult in a digital age, the latter is the usual course of action. The most common way of dominating technology is to regulate it into submission by creating ring-fenced, in-house control structures, both curricular and technical.

An internal structure is far less likely to expose or challenge than an external one. Better the devil you know. The technology manager in a secondary school usually becomes the trusted source of technical advice, despite the fact that he/she is probably under-qualified to be making learning-focused, strategic decisions about technology adoption. Yes, I know there may be another member of the SMT with the  portfolio for technology, but I’m as wary of technology enthusiasts as I am of Luddites. I can count with the fingers of one hand the number of technology leaders I’ve met in schools who have any significant professional technology experience outside of their school. They usually mean well but lack perspective.

My contention is that in-house technology management is almost always inefficient and a distraction from the core organisational mission. In my opinion, the necessity for an ICT department has become a self-perpetuating myth in most schools and colleges. To change would involve asking the turkeys to vote for Christmas. This is of course why leaders need to get to grips with technology and lead their organisations from the front, not by becoming experts, but by taking expert advice.

To be clear, this is not a gratuitous critique of education leaders. The reason for making these observations is to shed light on the current state of technology in education organisations. In general, we see a very conservative landscape, with significant tracts of technology experience out of bounds for learners, let alone staff. We see tragic waste through under-utilisation of technology assets. We see technology managed to reduce support rather than to enhance learning and teaching. We see inefficient procurement. Mobile phones are a threat. Social networking is a threat. Parental access to school data is a threat. Data is a threat!

I see the proliferation of Interactive Whiteboards as a symptom of this malaise. It is a comfortable choice of technology because they simply perpetuate the same didactic techniques as before but delivered with elevated anxiety. Do they improve learning outcomes? Where is the evidence? Yet the idea of engaging young people through their mobile phones in social learning is almost non-existent in schools. Did you know that 1 in every 5 minutes of Internet time was spent using Facebook in 2011? Where does the opportunity really lie?

My intention over the coming few weeks is to challenge the status quo and blog about how technology in schools can be different and better while costing less. I want to engage education leaders in a dialogue that’s about relinquishing technology control and focusing all their effort on their organisations’ core mission. The trend is already well underway in business, with many SMEs letting their CIOs go and outsourcing their ICT. They see they get better advice, better value, a more agile organisation and better outcomes. I think the education sector is ripe for a revolution and I’m delighted to be one of those waving a red flag.

2012 and beyond (part 5)

I know, I know, this flurry of blogging activity is more than you can keep up with. Don’t worry, it’ll ease off in the New Year. I blame Techmarketview for running their 2012 predictions in five parts. This is the fifth and final part of their series in which John O’Brien does business process services (BPS). You know the routine by now: my edu-speak comments in blue… 1. ‘BPS’ term will become mainstream – The term ‘business process services’ (BPS) will replace the outdated acronym ‘BPO’, very much associated with old era ‘lift and shift’ and delivering ‘your mess for less’. ‘BPS’ in our view, is BPO coming of age, using technology as an enabler, to help drive business process change, and delivering measurable service outcomes back to the customer.

In K12 education, the traditional provider of most business process services has been the Local Authority. The current economic pressure on the public purse combined with acceleration in the number of schools breaking free of the Authority by converting to Academies, means some Local Authorities are losing their advantage of scale. The creation of Free Schools is relevant because, as new schools, they usually have to scale slowly to full capacity and therefore need services to scale with them. It is also a general truth that LAs are often less competitive and agile than they’d have us believe. The consequence for schools is that they’re having to take decisions about how they procure services more efficiently and they’re trying to work out who the successors to Authorities will be. I think we will see a small but perfectly formed proliferation of education-specific BPS providers in 2012 and beyond.

2. Market leaders will cede share – Newer and more agile platform-based BPS players will see their market shares grow. Indian tier ones will continue to gain momentum through new platform innovations, and specialists such as Diligenta and The Innovation Group (TIG) in hot areas such as life and pensions and general insurance will gain further market share. However we expect a fight back by the ‘old guard’ as they embrace M&A in both vertical and platform capability, and flex their muscles on new business and renewals. 

The large BPS providers like Capita and Northgate already have a strong foothold in education but their current offerings are products of a previous world that is rapidly slipping away. Their lack of agility may well leave room for other education-specific BPS offerings to proliferate in 2012 and beyond, delivering value into areas such as Management Information Systems, HR, payroll, Learning Support and CPD. 

3.Unusual suspects’ will disrupt the market – The construction sector is now looking to partner or acquire support service and BPS capability for ‘bundled’ BPS deals, notably in local government and the broader public sector. Costain and Interserve made moves on Mouchel during 2011, although in the end pulled out after spotting ‘something under the covers’. Nonetheless, there are plenty of other partner or M&A opportunities, so we expect one of these ‘unusual suspects’ to make their first big move in 2012. 

In education, the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was instrumental in forcing those Authorities and schools who were involved to look at the lifecycle costs of running schools. Towards the end of the programme, we saw the ‘Facilities Management’ and ICT offerings broadening their scope to include BPS as a way of driving down the overall lifecycle cost of schools. Once again, this is all about scale. The Local Education Partnerships (LEPs) created through the BSF programme were supposed to act as points of aggregation to generate the scale required for more effective procurement of a range of services. The termination of the BSF programme put paid to that ambition. In the ensuing vacuum, there is yet to emerge a clear pattern of aggregation and this will act as a brake on the adoption of BPS. 

4. ‘Big will eat small’ – The big players will look to buy up platform-based BPS rivals as they attempt to close the gap. Insurance specialist TIG, and HR and public sector player Northgate will find themselves subject to M&A approaches. Weak players are also likely to be approached, albeit at far lower valuations. Embattled Mouchel for instance, is likely to sell off larger, more attractive chunks of its business in 2012 in an effort to stay afloat. 

I refer my esteemed reader to (2). Ever has it been thus that big players look to absorb the small in an effort to stabilise their borders. In the education space, I think the players are still feeling their way and so it will be a while before a clear map for BPS in education emerges. After a generation of labour education policies, the upheaval in the political landscape has brought an equivalent upheaval in education. Nevertheless the ‘more for less’ mantra will drive activity. 

5. Perfect storm of disruption – These trends will create a perfect storm of disruption for the UK BPS market in 2012. The risks to large BPS incumbents like Capita, Xchanging and Serco will only increase as a result, making new business wins and retaining client relationships at renewal a far tougher prospect. ‘Staying relevant’ amidst all of this change has to be the number one priority in 2012.

I think I’m in danger of trying to say the same thing in a slightly different way if I give this prediction an education context. Perhaps I’ll just summarise by saying there’s everything to play for. There’s political disruption, economic disruption and, if the 2011 UK riots are anything to go by, social disruption. Against this backdrop, schools are trying to work out how to do the best by their young people. But they’re not business specialists and learning and teaching should be their central focus. Even though the adoption of BPS makes real sense for schools, it will no doubt take both schools and the market some time to work out how to make it work.

2012 and beyond (part 4)

Here we go again with my edu-speak interpretation of the next  flock of predictions from Techmarketview. Flock? What is the collective noun for predictions? I checked here but it’s not yet listed although I did like “an annoyance of mobile phones.” Perhaps I could propose “an inaccuracy of predictions.” Anyway, I digress. This time Phil Codling picks out the headlines for the UK infrastructure services market. My comments in blue…1. Cloud-based infrastructure services will grow at double digit rates – But where cloud is replacing an existing service, it’s a more-for-less substitution that is shrinking the overall market. 2012 is another year of clients putting costs first.

Cloud is a paradigm shift in technology that represents a partial displacement of existing spend. The effect of cloud is to improve utilisation and efficiency while driving down management overheads. Sometimes though, on-premise is the right answer. Optimising the blend of off and on-premise infrastructure will be the evolutionary trend of 2012 and beyond. A consequence of moving off-premise is an increasing requirement for high quality bandwidth. Taken in the round, we may be seeing a redistribution of budget spend rather than an absolute decrease in 2012 but as scale bites, the overall cost-base should be driven down leading to lower prices. What is clear is that the economic climate is helping to drive the speed of transition to cloud services in business and this trend is beginning to emerge in the education sector too. Technology delivery in education, particularly in K12 is often highly inefficient with inadequate local technical support. Cloud infrastructure and services offer schools a real chance to shift their focus away from managing technology to managing learning while at the same time reducing IT budget, if not immediately, then certainly over time. Bring it on!

2. Public cloud won’t make it to the mainstream – Private cloud remains the preferred option in 2012. Small businesses and niche/non-critical applications provide the exceptions to this rule.

A public cloud is one in which a service provider makes resources such as storage and applications, available to the general public over the Internet. The term ‘public cloud’ arose to differentiate between this standard model and the private cloud, which is a proprietary network or data centre that uses cloud computing technologies, such as virtualisation. A private cloud is managed by the organisation it serves. A blended model, the hybrid cloud, is a combination of cloud services managed by both internal and external providers. In fact it is this latter category that will, I think, emerge as relevant to education in 2012 and beyond. Scale is all important here and clearly it is SMEs and education-equivalent organisations that benefit from public clouds because private isn’t really an option. However, larger educational aggregations such as the Regional Broadband Consortia (for example SWGfL) do provide the scale for private clouds. Thus education organisations will probably find themselves in a blended environment.

3. Bring Your Own Technology becomes a market opportunity – Forward-thinking players will seize the chance to help CIOs turn BYOT [Bring Your Own Technology] into a positive for their organisation. Meanwhile the technology in question will include a major new entrant, as Amazon “Fires up” competition in the tablet space.

I’ve already blogged on BYOT and I make no secret of the fact that I believe education is ripe for this trend. The benefits of personally owned tech, for the organisation and the individual, are numerous and profound. Addressing the issue of equal access in education is the challenge. The mention of the Amazon Fire tablet does however give me an opportunity to evangelise about a parallel trend that I think is just around the corner: eTextbooks. Having a 14 year old daughter as I do, I know how many textbooks she lugs around the place. Not only that, but her teenage brain is adept at forgetting most things, including textbooks, at crucial moments, such as the day before an exam. One of the huge benefits of personally owned technology would be anywhere, anytime access to eTextbooks. I find it astounding that it has not taken off. Not only would eTextbooks offer a better quality of experience including multimedia assets and links to extended or remedial resources, but they would be available whenever and wherever a learner required them. It would be possible for teachers and learners to annotate them and otherwise add value. As electronic documents they could also be subject to the range of social tools, such as reviews and rating. Imagine as well being able to measure how a young person used their textbook. That data would be extremely valuable in identifying patterns and trends for understanding learning and timely interventions. The list goes on and on. Yet it hasn’t happened. Perhaps 2012 is the year…

There were a couple of other predictions too but they were very tech-infrastructure-sector-specific and I couldn’t see how I could add any edu-value. So there you have it for this instalment.