from Technology & Learning
14 Tips for Negotiating Software Agreements
Avoid contractual mishaps and get the biggest bang for your buck.
Purchasing software license and service agreements can be daunting for any district. Greg Lindner, director of information and technology services for the Elk Grove Unified School District in California, and Steve Midgley, program manager at the Stupski Foundation, advise taking the following steps to successfully negotiate contracts.
1 DEFINE WHAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THE SOFTWARE BEFORE SIGNING THE CONTRACT.
"There's often a mismatch between what the client wanted and what the vendor provides," says Midgley. How the software will be used to achieve its goal has to be clear, which means end users—generally teachers and principals—should be part of prepurchase committee discussions.
2 IF A DISTRICT LACKS NEGOTIATION EXPERIENCE, TURN TO A CONSULTANT.
Consultants who walk a district through the process can be well worth their cost, Midgley says. Examples are Davidson Services in Sussex, Wisconsin; ViKiwi in San Francisco; and the BLE GROUP in Washington, D.C.
3 REMEMBER THAT CONTRACTS ARE NEGOTIABLE.
While a vendor might say a district is getting its standard contract, it is only standard because the vendor says so, Midgley points out.
4 THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS…OF HOW AND WHEN A DISTRICT MAKES PAYMENTS.
Spread payments out. Just like working with a home contractor, paying for everything at once can reduce leverage with a vendor if there's a problem later. Also be sure contract cancellation policies are clear.
5 SPELL EVERYTHING OUT.
Although it's more work, put "deliverables"—specifics of what a product will do at what time—in the contract. It can even include consequences if software doesn't perform as expected. A servicelevel agreement might say, for example, that for every hour a server is down past 24 hours, the vendor credits the district $1,000. "This is the place where a good business consultant can really help," Midgley says.
6 DON'T ACCEPT THE FIRST PRICE THEY OFFER—USUALLY.
"It's kind of a balance—you've got to push as hard as you can without destroying the long-term relationship," Lindner says. If that relationship isn't working, a district could get a good price one year, commit to a product, and then see the price increase the next year. Sometimes the long-term relationship with the vendor outweighs a product's cost.
7 GET VENDORS TO BASE PRICING ON AVERAGE DAILY ATTENDANCE (ADA).
Elk Grove originally purchased inventory control software on a per-computer basis. Although it took a few years, the district persuaded their vendor to change to ADA-based pricing, enabling it to save money and plan more efficiently. The cost dropped from $10 per-computer a year to 30 cents-per-ADA.
8 SIGN A MULTI-YEAR CONTRACT IN CERTAIN CASES.
For emerging technologies, it may be better to go year-by-year, but for some software, a multi-year contract makes sense. The Elk Grove district did just that to get a better price for its anti-virus and video streaming software.
9 REMEMBER THERE'S STRENGTH IN NUMBERS.
Consider being part of a larger group of buyers by joining a district consortium. This increases the vendor's potential customers and can result in lower prices. Elk Grove is a member of the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium, a group of Kâ€“20 educational institutions. The district parlayed its membership in the group into substantial price reductions for video streaming software.
10 GET INFORMATION FROM PEERS.
Talk to other districts. Lindner turns to the California Educational Technology Professionals Association e-mail list to compare notes on products and vendors.
11 BE CREATIVE AND PERSISTENT IN EFFORTS TO LOWER PRICES.
"Keep hammering away," Lindner advises. "We say, 'This is education, you've got to do better'." If the account executive can't or won't lower prices, ask who has the authority to do it and go to him or her. Also, use the influence factor. Lindner reminds vendors that if Elk Grove adopts a new technology, other districts will follow. "We're seen as a tech leader in our area and statewide, so we play that up," he says.
12 PILOT A COUPLE OF SCHOOLS.
When districts do this, they get leverage and can suggest the vendor offer a better price in order to expand the product to all district schools. That can backfire, though, if a particular school doesn't like the product and lets the vendor know, Lindner cautions.
13 BE CLEAR ABOUT THE RIGHTS TO YOUR DATA.
Vendors should be bound by a confidentiality agreement. At contract termination, a vendor is required to give all district data back in a usable format.
14 FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM.
"Keep in mind it's not always the vendor's fault," Midgley says. "The vendor can't be responsible for everything."
Sheila Riley is a San Franciscoâ€“based freelancer who also writes for EE Times and Investor's Business Daily.
The Zen of IT Portfolio Management
CIO Charles T. Thompson, Sr. reveals his district's decisionmaking process. Hint: It's not ad hoc.
By Amy Poftak
PROFILE: Charles T. Thompson, Sr., CIO of Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Florida.
DISTRICT STATS: The twelfth largest district in the state serving 179,000 students.
INNOVATION: IT portfolio management.
Q. WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF IT PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT?
A. Simply put, IT port folio management is mapping the district's overall business needs to the specific programs, initiatives, and projects within IT. A program for us means a multi-year initiative. A project is a one-time event with specific outcomes.
Q. HOW DOES THIS PROCESS WORK?
A. We manage initiatives using an application available on our Intranet. Any office in the district wanting to initiate a project has to log on, submit a "request for project," and provide details around the initiative. The executive cabinet prioritizes the projects and votes on what gets done. Everything must be tied back to the superintendent's strategic goals, which are academic achievement, operational efficiency, employee professionalism, and constant innovation. Each major division in the district has an integrated business plan (IBP) that's tied back to the vision and mission of these goals. Any initiative [you propose] must support your IBP, and performance is evaluated against this plan on a quarterly basis. Here's an example. We wanted to improve home-to-school communications. IT worked with the communications department and we built a business case for a parent notification tool. We posted information on our initiative management application. We went to the financial folks and the board and said 'here's the finances behind it; here's the business case; here's the cost over a three-year period.' Once the board approved it and the funding fell into place, we then executed the plan.
For the full text of this interview, visit schoolcio.com.
Amy Poftak is former Executive Editor of Technology & Learning and former Editor of School CIO.
Stay tuned for a look at cyberbullying in the November issue of School CIO. Below, an excerpt of terms from "Terror in the Classroom: What Can be Done?" by Ryan E. Winter and Rebert J. Leneway.
Nancy Willard, author of "An Educators Guide to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats" breaks down cyberbullying into the following categories:
FLAMING. Online fights using electronic messages with angry or vulgar language.
HARASSMENT. Repeatedly sending nasty, mean, and insulting messages.
DENIGRATION. "Dissing" someone online. Sending or posting gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships.
IMPERSONATION. Pretending to be someone else and sending or posting material to get that person in trouble or damage their reputation.
OUTING. Sharing someone's secrets or embarrassing information or images online.
TRICKERY. Tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information and then sharing it online.
EXCLUSION. Intentionally and cruelly excluding someone.
CYBERSTALKING. Repeated, intense harassment and denigration that includes threats or creates significant fear.