The Rudd Government’s digital revolution has turned the education market into a lucrative one for all players. From hardware to infrastructure, and with some emerging new opportunities, it is proving to be a strong vertical to work within.
Finding new ways to deliver content to students is one area of investment. Enabled by increased spend in hardware and infrastructure, the channel is being tasked with skilling up teachers and helping students engage through technology.
Intermedium head of consulting, Kevin Noonan, said PC hardware represented the tip of a very big iceberg in education spending.
“They’re a good piece of enabling technology – the big growth areas [in education] are in curriculum and delivery mechanisms,” he said. “There is a great deal of work going on quietly in the background in curriculum – the Queensland government is doing a lot of interesting work in that area, such as accrediting teachers for online delivery.
“Education is one of the good, growing areas of activity – we’re seeing that it [PC hardware] is being counted as core infrastructure.”
Institutions also stood to benefit greatly from the national broadband network (NBN), Noonan added. This would allow integrators and resellers to make a bigger play into the space by providing online enablement technologies.
“We’re also starting to see more than just the delivery of coursework material in an email sense – you can imagine the interactivity of Skype, for example. The combination of the NBN and new PCs in schools promises to deliver across all areas,” Noonan said.
Hardware needs software
Government investment in hardware has also opened doors for software vendors and their resellers. Adobe director of education Asia-Pacific, John Treloar, pointed to the recent NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) netbook tender as an opportunity for software resellers.
“There’s lots of money our there for Adobe software, Microsoft, networking and notebook programs,” he said.
For Adobe’s channel, a key product generating interest in the education sector is the collaborative work processor, which can be used as an online shared presentation tool, Treloar said. The increased demand for software in the classroom has in turn presented new inroads for making sales to students on an individual level.
“One of the big areas our channel is working on is our student products – we’ve changed all the pricing of our products so students can purchase quite sophisticated software at reasonable prices for installation on their home machine,” Treloar said.
Accessories vendor, Targus Australia, also reported the netbook was gaining significant traction in the education market. With students looking to personalise and claim ownership over their devices, accessories in education had seen substantial growth, managing director, Alenka Tindale, said.
“We’re doing very well with the slip cases. There’s a personal attachment issue with netbooks, and users will be interested in keeping a product scratchfree when it stays with them a lot,” she said. However, being too focused on just the device was risky, Tindale said. While the netbook was in a high-growth phase, and IT providers could bounce off the spike, the reality was hardware sales were low margin.
“The issue with netbooks is the low RRP – which raises the question of where the opportunity is for the reseller to be adding value,” Tindale said.
She advised resellers to maximise their education business by linking products with productivity and taking a trusted advisor position.
“The channel needs to pitch what the educational outcome of a technology will be, and not just the product – it is important for the reseller to be a knowledge provider and not just a hardware provider,” she said.
Relationships are critical
Like the SMB or corporate community, building relationships with customers continues to be critical in the education space, and will help partners develop a long-term view of technology with a client.
Scholastic media and technology manager, Wayne Cooper, hadn’t observed any dramatic changes to the industry in reaction to the economic conditions.
“The main thing I would stress is that if a company has a long-term view, anything is possible. We’ve been working for 20 years and set-up longstanding relationships with our partners – we work beyond the hiccups and work on a yearly basis. I think overall the education space is tracking quite nicely,” Cooper said.
“Margins get squeezed because of all sorts of factors – when it’s running down a bit it can cause some concerns, but those with the reputation as the trusted advisor are still trading quite well.”
For national manager of hosted solutions and services for education reseller Computelec, Darren Elsby, one of the biggest problems in the education space was lack of skills to deploy server and storage infrastructure, networking infrastructure, security infrastructure and capitalise on technology in the classroom.
Computelec’s answer is to offer a managed services solution [see below], as well as become actively involved in the back-end technology.
“Most of the spending is around end-user devices,” Elsby said. “However, personalised learning requires good infrastructure in the background. There is spend for that out there for people who have the proficiency and the understanding of the vertical.”