Sonoma County Office of Education

Technology for Learners

Technology Purchase Tips: Total Cost of Ownership

Author: Rick Phelan
Published: 07.15.13

Tablet with Dollar Sign Technology can have hidden costs. Some expenses present themselves when you unwrap devices from their packing materials. Screen protectors and cases are two examples with tablets. Other costs aren’t recognized until after you've had devices for a period of time. Maintenance and service costs are examples with laptops. Thinking about technology expenses over the life of a product is popularly known as the “total cost of ownership.” Some points for thinking about the total cost of ownership for schools are offered below.

Consider the Impact on Existing Investments
How will the proposed technology interface with existing classroom technologies (eg. projectors, laptops, document cameras)? If you can’t project images from the proposed technologies with existing classroom LCD projectors, that may be a problem. Schools also need to understand the impact of new technologies on wireless access points and Internet broadband capacities. It’s not uncommon for organizations to find that they need to expand their broadband capacities after they buy new devices.

Seek to Understand Costs through Pilots
When buying new technologies, buy conservatively with a pilot set. This gives you the opportunity to:

  • Understand the management issues and not overwhelm tech support staff.
  • Understand deployment options for best use. That is, how will the technology work best in the education setting: whole class activities throughout the school? small group learning centers? 1-1 learning areas?

Stagger Technology Purchases
Recognize that classroom technologies have a very short shelf life. Put another way, a district superintendent once said, “Buying technology is like buying an ice sculpture in July.” With this concept in mind, it’s best to stagger technology purchases over a three- to four-year period so that technology can be replenished in a planned renewal cycle. This way, all devices won’t become obsolete at the same time.

Consider Technology Professional Development Costs
Planners would do well to factor in professional development costs with the price of every device. This may seem obvious, but organizations frequently leave these costs out of their budget planning. (You wouldn't buy an airplane without getting lessons on how to fly, right? Same with school technology...)

Good professional development planning focuses on personalizing learning with a variety of options, including classes, site mentors, and individual coaching. It's not unreasonable to double the cost of every device when you think of professional development.

Plan for Maintenance and Software Purchases
Add at least $200 per device for software, apps, and maintenance. Most technologies come out of the box with basic applications and tools. It’s rare to find a technology that doesn’t have extra programs and features that can be added to extend and enhance the capabilities of your investment. Technology maintenance staff time should be added to software costs for loading and updating device operating systems.

Finally, know that it’s better to have a few devices that work and are in good repair than a bunch of devices that don’t work very well. Think about the total cost of ownership when planning for school technology.

Blog: Technology for Learners