School management software systems have grown in popularity in recent years as schools the world over have identified opportunities for efficiencies gained by use of software and the Internet.
However research suggests that schools in sub-Saharan Africa are lagging behind in the adoption of software for managing their school operations.
In a recent survey conducted by Quest to Reality Ltd, a software company specialising in solutions for the education industry, on average only 2 out of every 10 private schools in sub Saharan Africa use a software system to manage key operations. The study considered key operations to include admissions, student management, subjects and courses, attendance and reports.
One of the challenges schools face in the adoption of school management software systems is not knowing how to identify the right solutions for them. This can often be quite difficult amidst a myriad of software solutions on the market.
Below are 5 tips for choosing the right school management system:
Are the features of the software a good enough match?
Hopefully the main reason you are considering buying a school management system is to gain efficiency in operations. Before you start shopping around, it is advisable you write down a list of things you would like the software to do for you. Try making this list as comprehensive as possible by thinking through your daily, weekly and termly activities and processes you undertake.
Once you have your list, the next thing you need to do is prioritize the items on it. A great way to do this is to use a technique called MOSCOW (Must haves, Should haves, Could haves, Wouldn’t have). Ensure that the “Must haves” and the “Should haves” are at the top of your list followed by the “Could haves”. Each time you review a school management product, be careful to make sure that all items considered “Must haves” and most of the items considered “Should haves” are offered by the product. Going about it this way will help you narrow down the options so as to focus on only those products that can meet your requirements.
On premise versus cloud school management systems
Think carefully about what your needs in this regard are. Is it absolutely important to your school to have its software system and data on premise?
Having your school management system on premise can provide benefits like speed of access and some level of assurance that your data is less likely to fall into the wrong hands.
However, hosting on premise can be expensive if you have to fork out tons of cash to pay for the right specification of equipment and hire people with the right set of skills to manage the system. Also, unless the right infrastructure and processes are adopted, hosting on premise can significantly increase your risk of data loss from a system failure.
A cloud based solution can offer cost benefits as the overall cost of ownership is usually lower than that of on premise systems. Also, most vendors ensure that data is backed up regularly which reduces the risk of losing your data. Having a cloud based system also means that you benefit from instant access to latest releases and updates from the vendor. This can be very important when such updates include serious bug fixes and security patches.
On the downside, although most vendors are likely to run their software systems on high speed machines and networks, your experience accessing an online software system can vary depending on the speed of your internet connection. Accessing an online system over a slow internet connection can be very frustrating and upgrading to a faster internet connection will cost you more.
Backup and security
Disaster recovery and security are very important considerations if you are choosing a cloud based system. Be sure to enquire of the vendor about how frequently data backups are done. While most vendors will do at least one daily backup, others might do backups more frequently like twice a day or every hour. Generally, the more frequent the backups, the better for you.
While accessing the vendor’s website or the online product, watch out in your browser for whether the website address starts with “http” or “https”. Https means that the connection from your browser to the vendor’s website or online product is secure. Http on the other hand is unsecure and data travelling from your browser to the vendor’s site can be intercepted by hackers. If the data you capture is sensitive and the need for privacy and security is paramount, make sure that access is always over https rather than http.
Any vendor who provides a product or service via an unsecure connection is not worth giving much consideration.
What level of support do you require?
The level of support you will require will depend on the complexity of the school management system and the skill level of the users within your school. It is worth giving careful consideration to this before choosing a solution. Is e-mail support alone likely to be sufficient or would you like to be able to speak to someone at the end of a phone line if you have a problem? Better still would you like the vendor to assist you in setting things up?
If the vendor offers different plans for the product, generally the level of support will increase as the price of the plans increase.
Many users simply get frustrated and abandon software products when they run into problems using them. Making sure the vendor offers the right level of support to guide and help you is very important especially in the early stages of setup and configuration.
Research the vendor behind the software
It pays to do some research about the vendor and the product. Does the vendor have a reputation for reliability? Does the product have good online reviews? A cursory search on Google can be useful for finding out more about what others think about the product and the company behind it.
Although researching the company and product is highly recommended, it is worth bearing in mind that great products are sometimes launched by young dynamic companies without a strong reputation and brand visibility. However as a general principle, the more reputable a company is, the greater the likelihood that it would have a market leading product.
Hopefully these 5 tips will get you started on your search for the most suitable school management software for your school.