It’s no secret that digital technology has become an essential part of education. Computers and other IT equipment are enabling fantastic new ways to teach and learn. This technology is constantly evolving, bringing with it a growing array of opportunities for schools to create smarter classrooms. But delivering on these opportunities isn’t always simple.
A good example of this is the recent shift towards students and teachers bringing their own technology into the classroom – a practice known as Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD. The advantages of BYOD are clear:
In theory, this is the ideal picture of the 21st Century Classroom. In reality, however, the process of connecting this varied mix of devices to a school’s IT system in an efficient, simple and cost-effective way can be fraught.
While this might seem like a specific technical issue, it can have repercussions for the entire learning experience. As was highlighted in a recent article from EdTechReview, “teachers already feel naïve when it comes to technology and students in this age are digital natives.” Disruption and delays due to technical difficulties or convoluted IT protocols can undermine teacher confidence as well as student engagement.
So, finding the best technological solution in these circumstances is no small responsibility, and it often falls to a school’s IT or business manager. Their decision-making process has to consider not only the in-classroom pros and cons of different options but, in the context of managing ever-tight school budgets, pragmatic factors such as upfront and ongoing costs, service and technical support, and product lifecycle. After all, the wonderful opportunities for learning presented by digital technology can only be realized if the desired solutions make business sense too.
It’s a point that was picked up on recently by UK-based innovation foundation Nesta, when they asked,
“Could the next big innovation be less about the learning experience and more about the business model that makes an existing approach sustainable and scalable?”
One emerging business model, which offers integrated hardware and software solutions, is starting to gain traction in the education sector for this very reason. It’s called Hardware Enabled Software as a Service, or HESaaS.
Put simply, HESaaS refers to a technological solution that uses proprietary hardware to facilitate the benefits of its software, delivered within an ongoing service relationship. It’s one of three relatively new business models, alongside SaaS (Software as a Service) and HaaS (Hardware as a Service), that are helping break down the barriers to accessing and benefitting from new digital technologies.
SaaS is currently the most prevalent of the three models, having established a foothold in the consumer space via the software licensing and distribution model used by Xero, Spotify, Netflix and others. In contrast, HaaS relies on the sale or lease of a physical device that only functions when a recurring fee is paid. As such, it’s a modern evolution of the conventional product-leasing model.
HESaaS, however, is a hybrid of SaaS and HaaS, with most of the technological intelligence built into the software side, and hardware mostly used to facilitate that intelligence.
One of the best-known examples of HESaaS is Kindle. Customers initially buy the physical reader, yet the true value lies in the abundant library of digital content which ensures an on-going service provided by Amazon – the hardware is required to read the content, however the real benefit comes from the software
There are plenty of other very successful HESaaS-based products too: Nest home accessories, such as smoke alarms and cameras, managed through a smartphone app; and GoPro action cameras, video editing software and sharing platform, to name just a couple.
In fact, many of the brands that you might think of as successful hardware businesses are, in the words of Ben Einstein from US venture capital firm Bolt, “software companies masquerading as a hardware company.” HeSaaS might not yet be a household name, but it seems that most of us are living with it and enjoying its benefits every day.
Schools have become familiar with the SaaS model through subscription-based software packages like Microsoft Office 365 and learning management systems such as Blackboard. And when Google for Education started packaging Chromebooks with a suite of software services, IT and business managers were given a taste of the potential of HESaaS to overcome challenges of implementation and on-boarding.
But the benefits of HESaaS for schools run deeper than this. Perhaps most importantly, it makes technology more accessible, by keeping upfront hardware costs down. More than that, it makes the latest technology accessible, on an ongoing basis. Because the majority of the product’s value is created through software, regular updates can deliver new features and improved performance without additional cost or any physical work being required.
This emphasis on software over hardware also means that the solution can be easily scaled as a school’s requirements change. The ongoing service relationship can include technical support too, taking the pressure of maintaining systems and solving problems away from schools and minimizing disruptions and downtime.
For IT and business managers, it means that the cost of their chosen technological solution can be spread across a longer period of time, and it eliminates the risk of being left with a redundant asset that will have to be replaced. They’re also likely to enjoy the benefit of managing this kind of technology via a central administration portal, which allows usage to be controlled and tracked.
In a sense, there are two layers to the benefits of HESaaS for education, in that it’s a framework for both developing cutting-edge technology and providing greater access to technology.
At a classroom level, specific solutions such as wireless presentation systems can generate greater student engagement and better learning outcomes; at the community level, the overarching business model is helping more schools actually make it happen.
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