The way the world works was thrown into uncharted waters as a result of Covid-19, and educational establishments were no different. Never before has technology been more important. Technology and remote working has become central to keeping the education system running, and exactly how the new way of working will affect schools going forward is still as yet unknown.


What is a given is that technology is here to stay. But how do those in the education sector make best use of what’s available within the budget constraints placed upon them?


We’re finding that multi-academy trusts (MATs) are benefiting hugely from the increased buying power they enjoy when it comes to investing in technology. Behind the scenes of MATs coming together they face a number of challenges: there are overlaps and duplications in technology, and the associated costs of bringing individual academies together are both financial and operational.

What have we learned?


At Charterhouse we call upon our 15+ years of experience in the private sector of multi site centralised telephony from a WAN perspective and take these MATs on a journey of confidence, helping them reap the technical benefits that the technology has to offer.  Our experiences gained from working in the education sector lend themselves perfectly to the changing world of education from a technology perspective.  With old style LEA schools now becoming academies and then multi-site academies, we are in an ideal position to use the skills, knowledge and ideas we’ve learned along the way to assist this new world of education.

What are the challenges?


Let’s take a conversation we’ve had just this week with an existing customer. They have 3 sites connected by MPLS. Their current infrastructure consists of 3 traditional on-prem, disparate phone systems with legacy support contracts, a legacy ISDN service and a legacy physical box on site that offers no high availability. It currently works but there’s nothing flash about it. But it also presents a collection of negatives against the tech: it’s risky, there’s no form of centralisation and it’s likely to be expensive to operate going forward.


If this was a single site academy there are likely to be 2 main options available to them:


  1. Bring the telephone system into the 21st century by replacing the box with a piece of hardware and some handsets and move to SIP trunking.
  2. Opt for cloud on a subscription model, either through traditional cloud or Teams as a credible option.


But attractive as the cloud option may be, it tends to be frowned upon from a budget perspective as the costs can soon run away with themselves. Take costs of £5-£10 per month per user x 350 users and it soon adds up to a large monthly outlay for what essentially is straightforward… voice. This becomes even more complex when there are multiple sites.


Understanding buying criteria, what is value to them and what is innovative is key.


But there is also another option – and this is especially crucial for MATs: private cloud.


Private cloud acts as a hybrid option – using a capex route of buying a telephone system outright (including handsets and installation) but putting the system into their own network – their own private ‘cloud’. It gives the ‘feeling’ of a cloud based solution for all sites attached to the network – but without the heavy per user monthly subscription. The system sits at a higher level within the core of their network and is not stored on site so if there’s a failure they won’t lose their telephony. It offers resilience, high availability, and the chance to operate a single image solution which means every user gets a common extension list and a common feature set, enabling them to move between sites and log in/out between handsets. It caters for as many sites and users as is needed on the single common platform but all procured within the budgeted cap ex model.


And what’s particularly attractive is that the running costs of the platform are much smaller. We largely see the annual cost ending up being around what a public cloud solution would cost on a monthly or even quarterly basis.


It really is a win-win for everyone.

Why The Charterhouse Group?


Quite simply, we know what works. Our consultative approach means we take multi academies through the journey as a partner and trusted adviser. We can talk through the various options, what the exposure will be in terms of costs and what the functionality is with all the options. It’s all about not ruling anything out initially, but showcasing what is available and helping the customer make the decision that’s right for them.


The journey itself is all about high level consultation, documenting and fact finding. Where is the customer now? What’s stopping them from being able to change in short to medium term? Building on a relationship of trust and working in partnership with them, we help them ask the right questions internally, help them understand why the particular solution is needed and then build a solution around their aspirations, including the vitally important element of cost.


We look to deliver a solution that provides ultimate flexibility, allowing them to bring new technology and new sites on a case by case basis as contracts wind down, helping them to build a roadmap for the future rather than being forced to act immediately and cancel existing contracts (although some may still choose to do so). We create a storyboard so that they can make those choices, and handle small objections along the way rather than all at once. It truly is the ultimate in customer empowerment, using our experience to guide them through the journey to get the best results.


We’ve found that the challenges with the private multi academy sector that we’ve learned from over the last 15+ years are essentially the same as those within the public sector: legacy systems with disparate technology that have different maintainers with different end dates. We take customers on the journey to bring them all together as a consolidated solution. This can take time to work through but with the right preparation, detailed data capture, the right advice to the customer and the right actions for everyone it means we can deliver a solution that has been designed and created together, one that works for them.


It means multi academies come away with an end product that is fit for the 21st century. For more information, speak to the team.