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Dave Millett: "There is a danger of suppliers confusing buyers with jargon and hidden costs"

Hold the phone

Dave Millet has some advice for academies procuring telephony and broadband services

Posted by Stephanie Broad | November 03, 2015 | Technology

Last week The London Grid for Learning, which supplies broadband to many of London’s schools and academies, was accused of blocking emails from alternative suppliers and using ‘strong arm’ tactics to get headteachers to sign-up or renew their contract. This serves as a timely reminder of some key lessons when purchasing services such as broadband and telephony.

The broadband market is changing rapidly and with the ongoing rollout of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) Technology the costs are falling dramatically, with unlimited high speed services now available for less than £30 a month. It is therefore extremely important that academies examine the offers of multiple suppliers and have the chance to review the options. Another technology or supplier may well have now superseded what may have once been a cost effective solution. 

This also highlights the need not to make long term commitments, so that schools and academies do not end up locked into paying for an expensive service when cheaper services become available.

Costs in the telecoms market have fallen rapidly, most notably in the area of calling mobiles, which is where academies call most frequently, to get in touch with parents. These costs have almost halved in the last three years. 

Some suppliers benchmark new costs against a term time month ignoring the fact that for three months of the year call levels drop dramatically when pupils are on holidays

We know from the research that we carried out last year that eight out of 10 schools have not checked what they should be paying for telephone calls and lines in the last two years. With most councils having devolved telephony procurement, it is unsurprising that this is the case. We know that some academies have simply kept the same deal negotiated by the local authority. It may have been a good deal at the time but it probably isn’t now.

There is a danger of suppliers confusing buyers with jargon and hidden costs. For example, academies have been sold capped calls, ignoring the fact that many calls are very short. The minimum cost of each capped call can actually raise telephony costs – not reduce them. At the time, we estimated that London schools were overspending by around £6million a year - in one case we found they were overpaying almost 90% on their calls. Some suppliers benchmark new costs against a term time month ignoring the fact that for three months of the year call levels drop dramatically when pupils are on holidays.

Then there are the ‘too good to be true’ deals. In the same way a lot of schools got caught out with dodgy leases on photocopiers, there is a similar trend with phone systems. Unscrupulous suppliers are offering a phone for free and we will reduce your costs at the same time. In most cases these are long very expensive lease hire deals, which actually cost the academy far more money than they were previously paying.  

So the overall message to headteachers is: shop around, read the small and resist any pressurised selling. From our experience, sales people only create pressure if they know their deal is actually not that good and can be beaten by going elsewhere - or they just want it in this month to get a bonus regardless of whether it’s an appropriate deal for the academy. 

Check the supplier is listed on the telecoms ombudsman scheme site. It is interesting to note The London Grid for Learning is not there. 

Dave Millett runs independent telecoms brokerage, Equinox

www.equinoxcomms.co.uk    

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