Think about the challenges facing a typical business today: from diminishing headcount to the pressures and changes of legislation, from balancing practicality with the demands of your target audience to balancing your budget, businesses are facing a huge span of common issues—and that's not even delving into the problems that are unique to each and every organization. It can be easy to think of these things as just another price of doing business and making money, but these struggles play out on a larger stage, making themselves known even in unexpected places: schools and other educational institutions.
Looking at schools through this lens, particularly kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) institutions, yields a number of similarities. What are some of the business challenges today's schools face, and how can suppliers help?
Shrinking budgets – This one's almost a given. After all, shrinking budgets have hit everyone from solo-preneur businesses to Fortune 100 companies, resulting in a near-global belt-tightening. Schools in particular have seen funding from both public and private sources decrease, while class sizes, parental demands and legislative pressures increase. Doing more with less is never easy; doing more with less when it comes to educating our next generations is even harder.
How can suppliers help? A supplier who provides good value and who can make recommendations on how to stay supplied on a budget is low-hanging fruit. School purchasers and administrators should also keep an eye to suppliers who have relationships with education consortiums and other group buying cooperatives to help maximize value and boost adoption.
Evolving technology – From consumers all the way up to powerhouse global businesses, we all struggle with knowing how and when to keep up with the head-spinning pace of technological advances. Schools are no exception, and in fact are in a unique position of blending conventional, proven methods with the latest tech. Just a few short years ago, the mere presence of one computer in a classroom was revolutionary; now, according to education expert MDR, 58% of K–12 technology directors rate one-to-one computing as a high priority over the next three years, and another 28% rate it as medium priority. But even as expanding on schools' tech capabilities is a priority, many schools don't have the infrastructure needed to support the latest technology, like wireless capabilities, appropriately secured networks, and more.
How can suppliers help? It's important that your suppliers not only have the right selection and range of technology products for you to choose from as you look to implement standard technology across classrooms or even schools, but that they also have the experience and expertise to answer your questions, make recommendations and even provide access to the manufacturers' experts when appropriate.
Smaller teams – Your team's headcount has been reduced, but your workload has most definitely not. Sound familiar? Where there may have once been a team or department responsible for supplying a school district, this job is falling on fewer shoulders, sometimes landing squarely on one person. This slimmed-down model means efficient, streamlined, smart buying is more than just a nice-to-have: it's a necessity. And fewer people means a loss of knowledge and experience, as well, meaning key partnerships with outside experts and suppliers are more important than ever to fill the gaps left by those personnel changes.
How can suppliers help? Being a one-man or one-woman purchasing department means you need all the backup you can get. In addition to the consortiums and cooperatives mentioned above, be sure to evaluate suppliers for streamlined ecommerce and other buying options, and demand collaborative consultation from your suppliers for benchmarks and insights that can help you maximize your purchasing power.
For more information about how Staples is working with K-12 schools to answer these challenges, check out our K-12 page here!