School Asset Management: Five Reasons to Ditch the Spreadsheet for a dedicated software solution
Reason 1: Save time. Save money.
Top of the list of reasons is the prospect of saving both time and money in moving to an asset management software solution. A dedicated system can have big financial benefits for schools and academies – making sure the budget is used for providing pupils with an excellent education, instead of paying for excess overhead.
Savings in manpower
An automated asset management system dramatically frees up time across the board for a school’s IT, finance and admin staff. Manual asset counts usually fall to the ICT department which is responsible for managing a portfolio of high value equipment. Eliminating the repetitive task of locating and tracking software, laptops etc will save an ICT technician significant man hours. Additionally the time saved in managing capital depreciation, insurance claims, procurement planning and budget forecasting lets the whole management team focus resources where they really count.
Insurance is a product that we all buy hoping we’ll never have to use it. It’s hardly surprising that many people don’t pay it too much attention until the worst does happen - when it’s too late. Schools and academies have their own specialist insurance requirements. Arson is the largest cause of school fires and a well-appointed IT department or ICT lab can be a tempting target for thieves.
While it’s easy enough to buy insurance, if the cover isn’t right, a cheap deal can turn out to be very expensive. One of the most important questions to ask as part of an insurance review is, “what is the value at risk?” Establishing the correct sum insured is the foundation of good insurance and can avoid a shortfall in a claims settlement. Setting the amount insured for contents can be tricky unless the school has an accurate asset register with each and every item included. A dedicated asset management system will ensure a school has:
• An up-to-date record showing proof of purchase and photographic evidence
• An automated depreciation calculator to ensure insurance premiums accurately reflect the real value of your assets For example within two years after purchase, the price of a used computer falls to one-third of its price when new (Source: National Bureau of Economic Research)
• Off-site, secure data hosting meaning your asset register is held safely off-site if you ever needed to make a major claim
Reallocation of resources
Without a sound asset management system it is difficult for schools to build a picture of how efficiently assets are being used. An asset management system makes it easy for schools to know the location, usage and value of all of their assets, across classrooms, buildings, even campuses so business managers can allocate resources where they are needed and avoid the pitfalls of purchasing new equipment when there is undocumented spare resource already available. For example, many schools purchase software using a concurrent licence for a defined number of users, accurately tracking actual use takes the guess work out of licence renewals so you are not paying for spare capacity. Being able to accurately track licence usage also makes it easier to negotiate volume deals across affiliated schools and educational bodies.
With over £9 billion spent in total by schools each year on resources other than teaching staff, deciding what to buy and when can be one of the most important decisions made by a school or academy’s business manager.
PC Drift and Theft
PC drift is a significant problem in schools, particularly those with large campuses. It’s very easy for laptops to be moved around or taken home with no record. Many resources are wasted simply tracking equipment that has "drifted" and been forgotten. Theft is another major concern. Most asset management systems can track mobile IT products across a network so you can see if they have been moved and know immediately if something has gone missing. With asset management you have a deterrent in place and are immediately alerted when items go missing.
Reason 2: Too many spreadsheets, not enough useful information
There’s a number of different school departments who can benefit from the information contained in an asset register, information such as licence usage, warranties, capital depreciation, PAT testing schedules, even power consumption. Each department will be looking for a different set of data presented in a specific way – it would be problematic for a spreadsheet to accommodate all of these requirements.
An asset management system is designed to easily record any supporting asset information and output that information in the form of automated reports giving different users the information they need in the format they want – often as a one-click operation.
Even assuming everyone who needs to touch the asset spreadsheet has the advanced computer skills necessary to generate the figures they require, there are potentially many users dipping in and out of the same spreadsheet or a situation where information is spread across a number of different spreadsheets. Just like with any manual process, creating and updating spreadsheet reports by hand is error prone: it is easy to cut and paste the data into the wrong cells, over-select the cells when defining a formula, mistype an expression, etc. With larger numbers of rows and columns of data, more often than not things slip through the cracks, no matter how skilled the user. Spreadsheets also lack a data audit trail. Without a trail, it is near impossible to manage the risk of inaccurate or inconsistent information being passed around the school.
An asset management system will keep all your asset information in one place, with a structured data entry format. User logins can be also be set up to give staff access to just the information they need protecting data from inadvertent or intentional data corruption.
Reason 3: A spreadsheet can’t give the full picture
A spreadsheet is only designed to hold information in a certain way – costs and basic descriptions work well but useful supporting information such as photographs , purchase receipts and warranties are difficult to accommodate in a spreadsheet format. Asset management software can accept many different types of field data on individual assets, giving a complete picture.
Additionally asset management software will display assets as a virtual map of your school using icons to represent different kinds of equipment. Asset locations are viewable at the room, building and campus level, making the user interface very intuitive and accessible to all levels of user.
Reason 4: Does a spreadsheet ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines?
Schools and academies are both governed by their own sets of regulations. Following the SFVS (Schools Financial Value Standard) is a mandatory requirement for schools:
“Does the school have an appropriate business continuity or disaster recovery plan, including an up-to-date asset register and adequate insurance” Question 23 Section D, SFVS
Although Academies have the freedom to make their own decisions and manage their own budgets they carry the full responsibility of managing their own finances and assets:
“The academy trust must have in place sound internal control and risk management processes.” Academies Financial Handbook
Neither set of guidelines defines what method a school must use to ensure the asset register is under sound management. However, adopting a dedicated solution over a spreadsheet demonstrates a focused approach to asset management and a confidence that the asset data used in strategic investment decisions is both accurate and up to date. Poor financial performance has been recently highlighted in a 2012 PAC report, concluding that the Department for Education (DfE) and the Young People's Learning Agency have not been "sufficiently rigorous" in requiring academies to comply with financial guidelines. The report concluded “too much in the current framework is permissive, and there is insufficient mandated practice to prevent individual academies adopting practices which do not comply with basic standards of good financial management and governance”. This may signal the need to introduce stricter guidelines for academies in managing their assets and finances.
Often a school appreciates the benefits of making the move to an asset management system and wants to make it happen but it looks like a daunting task. Choosing a provider with specific experience in the education sector will help a smooth transition. Additionally most asset management software will include features which make it easy to input asset data information, csv imports for existing datasheets, bar code scanning applications for mobile phones and a user friendly interface.
Leaving the spreadsheet needn’t be painful
It is advisable to work with a supplier who can provide a good level of support and training as part of their standard package. Also consider a provider who offers an asset auditing service option alongside their software. They will be able to come in and do everything for you over a couple of days, showing your staff the ropes. You are now in a position to pick up the system and run with it or alternatively you may decide to use this external auditing resource on an annual basis. The key is finding a provider who can give you as little or as much support as you need.