3 Key Education Technology Leasing Trends to Watch in 2021

3 Key Education Technology Leasing Trends to Watch in 2021

In 2020, COVID-19 rocked the education landscape. Every K-12 educator, administrator, student or family was impacted by the pandemic. New challenges and unprecedented circumstances left a lasting impact. Education IT departments, in particular, carried a heavy responsibility to ensure staff and students had the technology and tools needed as schools rapidly shifted from on-site to at home distance learning.

Prior to the pandemic, most districts began the year with at least some devices in hand and an initial one-to-one (1:1) device plan in place. When COVID-19 hit, the need to achieve 1:1 accelerated and the demand for more devices skyrocketed. Fortunately, many districts were able to access funds through the CARES Act that supported the ability to acquire additional technology to fill the current gaps. But, even with the CARES Act allowance, it hasn’t been easy for any district to manage the process of technology acquisition and distribution on the fly.

IFS has been grateful to be able to tap into its extensive K-12 leasing experience to support the technology needs of school districts across the country, as they made the transition from in-school to home-based learning without missing a beat. Our technology leasing solutions for schools make it possible for districts with limited resources and budget to acquire what they need, when they need it. Predictable pricing, flexible schedules, and full service including disposal and refresh solutions for end-of-term equipment, are the necessary ingredients for the sustainable planning, rollout and ongoing management of educational technology programs.

“We’ve learned a lot this year. COVID-19 has changed the game and now there’s no going back,” explained Colleen O’Donnell, Senior Vice President, Director of SLED. “Next year and beyond, the ‘new education technology normal’ will require a greater emphasis on planning and management of the entire technology lifecycle. We will continue to emphasize solutions that help districts navigate the changing landscape.”
As we look ahead to the coming year, three important trends are rapidly emerging.

1. Ensuring Device Equity

In 2020, most districts were able to get the devices needed to support home-based learning. But in order to make it happen so quickly, many had to use whatever equipment was available, resulting in a mix of different types and/or quality of devices. Going forward, starting in 2021, districts will need to assess their inventory and create a plan to provide equity among their distributed devices. Doing so is important to help the education process continue smoothly. The technology refresh process will be critical to enabling equity across the technology landscape.

It is very likely that the first refresh of devices will include those that were in already in place prior to the pandemic. In addition, districts will need to plan for the eventual refresh of the technology that was purchased using CARES Act funds. Because that was a one-time grant, IT leaders will need to be strategic about managing the refresh cycles to achieve a predictable and sustainable budget in the future. This critical process will be a key priority as 2021 develops so that districts can maintain support with equitable equipment across students, teachers and staff.

2. Focusing on Teachers and Staff

COVID-19 forced the acceleration of 1:1 technology initiatives already underway as all devices needed to immediately accommodate distance learning. Initially, the focus was on making sure that students had Chromebooks, laptops or tablets that could be taken home. With this largely achieved, in 2021 we will see some of the focus shift now to keeping teacher and staff devices and tools up to date.

While the majority of devices are now mobile, it is important to remember that there is still a need for equipment on campuses. Many districts will be transitioning back to in-person learning, and for those districts still teaching remotely, some will continue to provide online instruction from empty school classrooms. Teacher and staff technology including laptops, desktops, cameras, audio and more will need to be maintained and upgraded to stay current. With a renewed focus on in-building equipment, 1:1 may start to look more like 1.5:1 in 2021 as both on campus and take-home devices will be needed.

In order to successfully manage all education technology including teacher and staff equipment, strategic planning will be key. With tax revenues down and budget cuts expected, creating a leasing strategy with a full technology lifecycle plan will be critical to creating an affordable and sustainable approach for the long term.

3. Rethinking the Planning Cycle

In 2021, we can expect the strain on the educational technology supply chain to continue. Production is simply not meeting demand resulting in ongoing delays and longer shipping times. COVID-19 has created global competition for technology devices that did not previously exist. In order for districts to get the laptops, Chromebooks, tablets and other technology they need going forward, they will need to rethink their planning cycle and ordering schedules.

Starting now, districts will need to determine when to get in the ordering queue to receive needed devices on time. Previous buying cycles no longer meet school year timeframes. Many have already experienced this painful reality first hand. Shifting the planning and purchasing cycle forward will become a necessary trend in 2021 to avoid delays in shipments that are expected to persist for the foreseeable future. Engaging with IFS experts will help districts to appropriately adjust their planning and buying cycles to become more proactive and successful in securing and receiving the needed technology, on time and within budget, in 2021 and beyond.

There’s No Going Back

Everything changed in 2020 and if there is one take-away from the year that informs the future of education technology, it is the fact that there is no going back. And if there is one overarching theme for education IT leaders in 2021, it is to prioritize planning.

Strategic thinking will make all the difference in this challenging time. Whether districts are now working with blended learning structures or facing the challenges of the digital divide, a full cycle approach from ordering to end-of-life will support changing technology strategies. It’s no longer simply about the acquisition of technology, but rather the full and strategic lifetime plan for the assets in the environment.

At IFS, we work every day with education IT leaders to create sustainable and affordable plans that allow them to provide their teams with the technology and equipment they need in order to continue the critically important work they do in the community. Our experience in the market and our ability to be flexible to changing dynamics allows us to help prepare districts for whatever the future holds. As 2021 begins, we look forward to continuing to help organizations achieve strategic leasing plans that put them into a position for success not only today but for the years to come.

Contact us today to learn how IFS can help you finance all your technology equipment.

Colleen O'Donnell
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Colleen brings over 25 years of experience in the technology leasing industry. The last 5 of which have been focused on leading the K12 Initiative at Insight Financial Services. As Senior Vice President and Regional Manager of the K12 team, Colleen has managed and mentored a team of sales professionals that have a focus on providing solutions for K12 organizations. The team has had tremendous success helping organizations build a sustainable refresh strategy on a predictable budget. The Insight Financial Services Solution is customized to help with these challenges, on a platform that provides complete transparency and communication not only at the beginning of a lease but during and when the lease is at the end of term. As a K12 thought leader, Colleen has been a speaker at the following conferences: ACPE Northwest (Association for Computer Professionals in Education), IETA (Idaho Education Technology Associate), IASBO (Idaho Association of School Business Officers), and the RTM CIO Congress. On the personal side: Colleen is a volunteer for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Colleen has been married for 31 years to Patrick and has two sons, Liam and Colin.