Technology has progressed to the point of disbelief in education. Almost anything you can imagine exists; therefore, standardization is key for any efficient education institution. With the variety of technology products in the school marketplace, IT staff members may find it almost impossible to service equipment after warranties have expired.

Once a warranty expires, it is up to a school district or university to maintain its systems. This means the maintenance and technical staff must learn new systems continually if they want to keep up. Now more than ever, administrators must take the reins of their technology and building systems by developing a set of standards that all facilities, architects and general contractors must follow. From networked data systems to security systems, district- or campus-wide standards ensure that the same type of technology is installed, and maintenance and technical staff can troubleshoot, maintain and provide parts for all systems.

Education institutions, if they haven't already, should develop minimum required standard specifications for hardware and software. These specifications can be used to maintain a standard approach and guide technology purchases based on a technology plan. Specification standards are an essential tool to maintain a clear, productive hardware/software system. They enable a school system to grow along with new, evolving technology. These standard requirements provide consistency and compatibility among all schools or campus facilities, faculty and administration. They allow technology to follow curriculum standards, and maintain a complete and consistent learning environment for all students. They also provide a basis for maintaining system operability and reliability.

Standardization appears to be the emerging model for education institutions, but don't forget that dependence on one vendor increases costs and creates the potential for orphaned systems should the vendor go out of business or choose to no longer support that system. When an education institution standardizes, its specifications must be detailed and inclusive.

For those educators who prefer their own brand of electronic whiteboard and projector and have grant money to spend, the policy is simple: If you buy a product not covered by the standard, then don't expect the school system to support it. Any grants that require exceptions to these guidelines should first be approved by the grants coordinator and the director of IT before acquiring any equipment.

It doesn't take long for everyone to march in step once the level of support is raised; stocking parts is a simple process when everything is the same. The bottom line: the most attractive benefit of standardization is the savings in operating costs.

Day is former senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Young Harris, Ga., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning.