Today's technology for new school buildings is more advanced — and more complicated — than ever. Many school administrators and technology directors have to make technology decisions with little experience in what is necessary to do so. A few years back, decisions on telephones, data networking, media retrieval, paging, security cameras and other systems were more clear-cut than today.

Administrators must choose not only which manufacturer of technology systems, but also which medium they run on. Examples: IP vs. PBX for telephone systems; digital streaming vs. analog for media-retrieval systems; and wired vs. wireless for data-networking systems. If that isn't complicated enough, there also is the decision of multiple intermediate distribution frame (IDF) locations vs. one main distribution frame (MDF) with classroom technology cabinets and fiber-optic cable vs. copper cable for all the systems.

Many vendors may try to become technology consultants in school building projects. Once the word is on the street that a new building or addition is in the works, vendors appear on the scene attempting to skew decisionmakers' judgment. This may leave schools and universities with technology systems that teachers won't use or don't need. A vendor may influence a buying decision based on what it has to sell instead of what the institution needs. These kinds of purchases are shortsighted and impede the goals that schools want to achieve.

Vendors may assert that their solutions will accommodate a school's needs for the next 10 years. But these claims and promises rarely can be substantiated based upon history. In most cases, vendor data is what might be called “testimonial research” — based on experience with another school.

A technology consultant can bring a fresh perspective that is based on an institution's true technology needs and futuristic goals, not on products. He or she can work with departments and share with the school all the available technologies for instruction, and work within a budget to make it happen. From this viewpoint, a specification is formed, and an institution can determine what manufacturers and products are acceptable. In today's technology environment, a technology consultant is needed more than ever to ensure that a new building has the right equipment.

A phrase often heard is “going for a great deal that wasn't even a good deal.” Selecting a particular vendor's hardware solution has resulted over and over again in schools being saddled with soon-to-be-obsolete systems.

Although the lens to view the future is clouded, and must be filtered through the past and present, the task of standing back and thinking about where schools have been and where they are going isn't hard. Schools must view the coming changes with-the understanding that the technology infrastructure will provide access to learning and may well control it.

Day is senior analyst at KBD Planning Group, Bloomington, Ind., a firm specialized in educational facilities and technology planning. He can be reached at bday@kbdplanning.com. www.kbdplanning.com