21 Questions to Ask Before Purchasing New Tech

February 3, 2021

In 2020, the average U.S. school district accessed 1,055 EdTech tools each month, and there’s no shortage of new EdTech solutions vying to get on your roster. As schools strive to improve remote and blended learning strategies, EdTech products are becoming increasingly important and increasingly difficult to evaluate.

Purchasing new tech is a time-consuming effort. Your district’s standard procurement process may include vetting tech products for compliance with state and federal laws, or employing a pilot program. In conversations with vendors, it’s difficult to determine how effective a product will be for your students and teachers and whether it will add enough value to match its price tag. Unfortunately, many vendors fail to set their potential customers up for success — and many district decision-makers aren’t sure what questions to ask to properly vet a vendor’s product.

Aside from discussing product features, here are 21 questions you should be asking during the procurement process in order to properly vet EdTech vendors and their products.

Support Service

Not enough districts ask questions about the level of support they can receive from their vendors. This is something a responsible vendor takes seriously and will be willing to tell you what you can expect.

1. What is your Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the level of support you can provide our district?

2. Who responds to support requests?

Is it a low-level customer support agent, or a senior engineering staff member assigned to your account?

3. What is your average response time based on the size of my district?

4. Is there another support tier I need to purchase beyond what is standard?

Some vendors offer different tiers of support. Find out if your vendor does, and discuss whether you will need to pay more for an added level of support based on your district size.

5. If you don’t meet these needs, what type of fiscal refund can you provide? 

If an EdTech vendor cannot fully meet the support needs of your district, ask if they can provide some financial refund to your contract to ensure you get the value you’re paying for. If you’ll need to seek additional support (at an additional cost), a responsible vendor will take this into consideration.

Health and Future of the Company

Signing a contract with an EdTech vendor is not just a fiscal investment — it’s an investment in professional development, training, and support. It’s important to evaluate the company itself and their roadmap for the future, to ensure it aligns with your district’s future goals.

6. What is the financial health of your company?

If the company doesn’t seem financially stable or have a strong roadmap for the future, you may find yourself going through the procurement process again next school year.

7. What SOK security audits do you perform?

Look at background checks, security clearance, and audits that the vendor performs.

8. What is the quality and experience of your employees?

Ask whether the vendor’s employees have experience in the American education system. Browse the company website or LinkedIn to research the team that builds, maintains, and offers customer support for this product.

Integrations with Other Tech

No EdTech solution stands alone in a vacuum. Any product that you purchase must be able to integrate with the tech your teachers and students already use, as well as potential products you add in the future. Bring a list of your district’s current tech stack with you, and ask the following integration questions.

9. How do you integrate with the existing technologies my district uses?

Ask what types of restful APIs are available and their recommendations for the tools on your list that they don’t have integrations for.

10. How seamlessly can data be shared between tools?

11. How do you vet the vendors you integrate with?

A responsible vendor will do their own vetting of other EdTech tools on the market when forming an integration with them.

12. What integrations do you have for Single Sign On (SSO)?

Single Sign On (SSO) is more important than ever during distance learning. Ask vendors about interactions with Clever, Classlink, and other popular SSO tools.

13. How does your product handle rostering? Do you integrate with my SIS directly?

A quality EdTech product should be able to understand the rostering of your students and staff, automatically authenticate them, and work alongside both the Microsoft and Google environments.

The Procurement Process

It’s great to find a tool you love that seems to fit within your budget. It’s another thing to carry through with purchasing it. Often, vendors won’t have time to do a RFP on every purchase opportunity. When considering a vendor, ask the following procurement questions.

14. Are you on my state or local contracts?

15. Is there value in working with a reseller or partner?

16. What do you do to help streamline the purchase process?

Ask the vendor directly what steps they take to help meet the deadline of being ready to go to market by the time the summer season is over.

Student Data and Privacy

It is crucial to understand how an EdTech vendor handles student data and privacy. Aside from being compliant with COPPA and other important privacy standards, ask the following data questions.

17. What student data does your company track and monitor, and for what purpose?

Vendors should only monitor data that’s necessary for legitimate educational purposes. If it’s not needed for learning, it’s likely the vendor doesn’t need to be tracking it.

18. Where is student data stored and who is responsible for it? 

Do they store data on company servers, back it up in the cloud, or a combination of both? Ask who at the company has access to the data and how they authenticate and protect that access.

19. How do you handle security and privacy of the data you track?

Vendors should back up student data regularly, and keep additional backups in case of outages or computer failures. Ask if they have firewalls in place that keep student identities private, and what their policy is for destroying student data if you stop using their product.

20. What policies do you have to prohibit the sale of student data? 

Check that your vendor has clear written policies that prohibit them from selling student data to advertisers, or otherwise mining data for profit. Ask how often they review and update these policies.

21. How are possible data breaches handled?

No technology solution is immune to a data breach. A trustworthy vendor will have a prepared response plan in case a breach occurs, which includes communication to customers. Ask if they’ve ever had a breach in the past — a responsible vendor will be transparent in sharing past breaches and explaining how they were handled.

A trustworthy EdTech vendor will be happy to answer these questions, and may even offer up some of this information before you’ve asked. The more documentation you can review, the better you can vet the quality of their service. Most importantly, these questions will help you assess whether the vendor is invested in your district’s future and the success and wellbeing of your students.

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