By Jay McCall, Business Solutions magazine.
Whether you’re a POS (point of sale) VAR or networking MSP (managed services provider), the education market is one vertical you need to pay attention to this year.
Education is a top vertical among Business Solutions’ audience, and considering the latest research in both K-12 and higher education, VARs are going to be playing a key role in education’s future. Industry analyst Gartner reports that in 2011, IT spending at the higher education level was $12.1 billion, and K-12 schools spent $9.1B in IT solutions and services last year. Market research firm IBISWorld estimates there were 33,509 K-12 schools in the United States in 2011, serving 56 million public and private school students. By 2016, the total number of students is expected to reach 59 million. Higher education enrollment numbers are increasing, too. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 19 million students enrolled in two- or four-year colleges and universities in the fall of 2010, an increase of nearly 4 million since fall 2000.
On the downside of the growth stats in education, federal spending on education is down this year. Don’t get too down by this news, however; all it means is that educational organizations are going to need more help from companies like yours to figure out how to serve a growing population of students with fewer IT resources. Following are a few trends and opportunities you need to keep top of mind.
VDI Solves Multiple Education IT Needs
When I first talked with RMC ProIT, a California-based MSP that has 22 employees and is projecting $2 million in sales revenue growth this year, I was surprised to learn that the company is attributing a significant portion of its growth to new opportunities in the education market. Specifically, the MSP is seeing a trend in California where K-12 schools are migrating from traditional PC environments to VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) environments. After digging into things a little further, I discovered VDIs’ popularity is becoming widespread. According to ABI Research, the VDI market is forecasted to grow from $500 million in 2009 to $5 billion by 2016. K-12 schools are a perfect fit for this technology for a few reasons. “Education organizations face a dilemma — they have limited IT funds that enable them to replace only a few PCs at a time, but simply swapping out old PCs for newer PCs does not reduce their management problems,” says Erick Miller, VP of technology at RMC ProIT. “Additionally, these organizations are being tasked with lowering their energy footprint.” VDI addresses all of these needs. “A virtual desktop can be implemented for about half the cost of a traditional desktop,” says Miller. “Plus, as legacy PCs age, they can be converted into virtual desktops for very little investment.” Plus, since VDI migrates all software applications and computer processing from the individual PC to the data center, desktop maintenance and support costs are nearly eliminated. Not only are software installs and updates simplified, but a lot of security threats are eliminated as well. For instance, students can no longer bring in their own apps and files via CDs, DVDs, and jump drives, which are a primary source of network infections. And finally, because all the spinning disk hard drives are replaced with solid state drives and most of the computer processing happens at the server level, energy consumption is reduced by more than 50% and some organizations claim as much as 80%.
Like VDI, cloud computing is a way VARs can help education clients reduce costs. One VAR that’s been successful in this area is CSI Technology Outfitters, an Easley, SC-based solutions provider that attributes 80% of last year’s $53 million revenue from sales in the K-12 market. According to Keone Trask, vice president of business development at CSI, one of the biggest trends he sees in this space is more and more schools are looking to outsource their technology infrastructure by pushing applications and hardware solutions to the cloud. “Within the past year we jumped on the cloud computing bandwagon and developed a set of solutions for school systems that involve hosted, payas- you-go collaboration and communications capabilities,” he says. “In some instances, we’ve moved key communications tools like email and voice to the cloud and cut our customers’ hard costs by as much as 50%.” One of the other keys to CSI’s success in this space is that it’s learned how to help education customers leverage the federal government’s E-Rate program, a $2.25 billion fund that provides discounts for schools and libraries on various technology solutions and services.
In addition to moving your education customers’ applications (e.g. Microsoft 365) to the cloud, cloudbased storage is another opportunity you should consider selling to your education clients. In the February issue of Business Solutions magazine, I spoke with five industry experts, who offered advice on how to successfully sell cloud storage. You can access this article, titled “Become A Cloud Backup Strategist” at www.BSMinfo.com/go/0212CloudBackup.
Help Your Higher Education Customers Secure Their Networks
IT industry association CompTIA conducted a research study in 2011 called, “IT Opportunities In The Education Market.” The study comprised feedback from 500 U.S. educators and administrators (353 K-12 employees and 147 higher education employees). One of the key takeaways from the study was the technology-purchasing drivers. The top driver among both K-12 and higher ed educators and administrators is improving the overall education experience for students. Beyond the top driver, subsequent motivations differ considerably. Not surprisingly, higher ed respondents indicated that improving data security was the next most important driver for adopting new IT solutions. Surprisingly, this topic barely made the top 10 list for the K-12 group. The fact is that network security is a major problem for both groups, even though the K-12 group seems less aware of this importance.
Here’s some ammo you can use the next time you discuss this topic with an education client. In February 2012, Websense revealed a global survey it conducted in conjunction with the Ponemon Institute. The survey, titled “Global Study On Mobility Risks,” includes feedback from 4,640 IT and IT security practitioners. According to Jason Clark, chief security officer at Websense, “One of the biggest findings is that BYODs [bring your own devices] are outpacing any security controls organizations are trying to put in place, and they’re becoming a major vulnerability point.” In education, this problem exists not only among employees within the organizations, but students as well. What kind of sensitive data is leaving with employees when they walk out the door with their smartphones? If a student’s laptop or smartphone becomes infected with malware after accessing a link via Facebook, is the educational organization immune from that malware when the student logs back into the organization’s network? “More than half of those responding to the survey indicated they had no policy in place to protect themselves against new mobile devices being introduced to their networks,” says Clark. “Of the minority that indicated they did have a policy in place, 59% said employees circumvented their policies and only a small percentage ever enforced their policies.” Executives were the biggest violators of these policies. You can gain full access to this report at BSMinfo.com/go/0212MobileSecurity.