Head of Technical Support and hi-impact veteran, Steve Walsh, grants us a humorous insight into our service provision, how we recruit to ensure our standard of work doesn’t slip, what he believes every school needs, what makes hi-impact unique, and what his favourite types of tech are.
Read below to get an insight into the man who is always too busy to pin down!
So Steve, you’ve worked at hi-impact since the beginning, what can you tell us about how the Tech Support team started and how it’s grown since?
Getting our first few schools was the most challenging, as one of the first questions a headteacher would ask, was “So what other schools do you look after?”. The first school we signed up was Spinney Avenue in Widnes and our first ever school technician, believe it or not, was Alan Crist (with me on the other end of the phone). Thankfully that was short lived, and soon it was myself and then a bit later, Simon Sloan delivering Tech Support to a handful of schools. Between the two of us we managed the early adopters (Oxton St. Saviors, St. Werburghs, Bedford Drive, Devonshire Park, and others) for a couple of years. However, I’d say the Tech Department really took off when Simon moved to another department and we hired a couple of real technicians in John Dyas and Dave Mather
It’s often talked about that, when hiring new technicians, one of the first things you look for is a ‘hi-impact mentality’, what do you believe are the key traits of this mentality? What makes it so important?
Personableness. There has always been a certain stigma attached to IT people. The nerd stereotype. This harks back to the days when IT was a very niche interest and a certain type of person was drawn to it. IT is now embedded into everything we do, so the type of people who are now attracted to this industry is much broader. When hiring a new technician, above all things I look for an agreeable person, who is well mannered, conscientious, and honest.
You can teach someone tech skills, but you can’t teach someone to be personable.
The importance of this is multi-layered. Firstly, it goes without saying that all hi-impact technicians will give a first rate technical service to whatever school they are in. However, if the school likes the technician and they find them personable and easy to talk to, then they will be happier for them to visit, which then in turn makes the technician enjoy the visit to the school more. Feeling like a member of the school’s staff as well as a member of hi-impact is quite commonplace amongst the team, and naturally leads to them trying their very best to make sure the school runs as smoothly as possible, often working above and beyond to do so.
It’s become quite common for members of your team to receive praise from teachers and schools they are assigned to. How much of this do you believe it to do with the mentality/personality identified in the hiring process?
The praise that comes from schools is usually because the technician has gone above and beyond, such as responding to a problem out of hours (evenings and weekends) or responding immediately to an important issue, whether it be remotely or physically. This is a lot to do with getting the right person in the first place, as the sort of mentality that we look for leads to that person taking ownership of their schools, and only wanting the very best for them.
Walking into the Tech Support office, there seems to be a real togetherness. Was this atmosphere difficult to cultivate?
Not really. It was never by design, it really just developed naturally over time. Early on when there was just myself, Simon and a handful of schools, we would bend over backwards for them as we were new and wanted to build a reputation. Internally we would help each other out as much as possible with issues and share as much knowledge as we could. As we hired more technicians they naturally adopted this culture, and now 10 years later and with a staff of nearly 20 technicians, we still have the same ethos. Go above and beyond for our schools, help each other out as much as possible and share knowledge and new ideas. We really do work as a team for the betterment of our clients.
What is the most valuable thing you have learnt about technology in schools over your time at hi-impact?
Reliability is key. If the technology cannot be relied upon to work, then the disruption to the school can be crippling. Schools used to have an ICT suite and that was where teachers and pupils would use IT. Now it has spread right across the school, and can be found in every aspect of school life. If this is continually disrupted by unreliable systems then the schools productivity will suffer greatly and the staff’s stress levels will rise significantly. Whether they are a member of the Admin staff, Teaching staff or a pupil, they all need to use IT as a tool to perform a specific task. It is the task that is important, not the means to achieve it. The fact that the means might or might not work shouldn’t even be a thought, and when it doesn’t this should be the exception, not the norm.
If you had to recommend one tech service for every school, what would it be? Which one is one you don’t think they can live without?
Weekly Tech support. Some tech support companies offer a very reactionary service. They get called when something goes wrong, they turn up and fix it. This means that the IT stagnates, and there is no momentum to drive the school forwards. Weekly tech support not only means that the issues are getting fixed, but the schools IT is being proactively looked after, and an overall strategy is being developed and implemented. The school moves forwards, always progressing, and always getting better.
What is your go-to tech brand?
Depends on what the technology is. Servers, PC’s and laptops, probably HP. WiFi would be Ubiquiti. Interactive panels – BenQ. Anyone who knows me would know that I dislike Apple, however I do see that the use of iPads in schools is very beneficial, it’s just the setting up and management of them that is overly complex. I am increasingly seeing huge benefits to both the school and our department with the use of Chromebooks. They are a powerful tool that are relatively cheap and easy to administer and in conjunction with Google Classroom have become almost essential for the current remote learning environment.
You provide services for a wide variety of schools; enough to know that one size does not fit all. How do you work around this to effectively support those with tight budget constraints or limited technological access?
Each school is bespoke, however over time we try and get them all to some degree of uniformity. We take a top down approach to how we prioritise this. It starts with the Internet, then the server (especially how it is configured), then switches, then WiFi, then finally the PC’s/Laptops and other devices. The most varied section of these are the end devices. Keeping the Internet, servers, and infrastructure similar in all our schools is advantageous to both school and our technicians. We know our systems work very well, and we are always developing them with improvements. It also means that any technician can support any school effectively, as they all have similar systems that they are trained in.
As for budget constraints, we have always had the same ethos. As the tech support was born from a need that the Curriculum consultancy identified early on, the business has always been driven by the wants and needs of the end user. This means that we are focussed on staff and pupils, and all the exciting things that they can achieve through IT. If we can prolong the life of equipment or make better use of equipment that the school already has, then we will. The money that the school saves can be reinvested into more equipment rather than replacing existing equipment. Good servers, switches, WiFi, etc, are all vital to the running of a network, but they are ultimately not exciting to pupils or staff, so finding the balance between cost, functionality and reliability in this area, and not going overboard from a technical point of view, means that more of the budget can be spent on the things that really enhance teaching and learning. To steer the school in the right direction, we produce an audit of all equipment with our recommendations as to whether they should be replaced, upgraded or if nothing needs to be done. As with all hi-impact advice, it is an honest evaluation of the state of play, and combined with the Curriculum consultancy, can really help the school form a long term IT strategy.
What is something unique you feel hi-impact offers over other tech support services?
I think hi-impact is unique in many ways, but I would say that the most significant aspect is our real understanding of the needs of teaching staff, admin staff and the pupils. The Managing Director is an ex teacher, the head of the Curriculum Department is an ex teacher, his department is full of Curriculum Consultants who are all ex teachers, even our Business Growth Manager is an ex teacher, and I personally have only ever been a technician in schools. This deep rooted understanding flows through the whole business so we know what a school needs when it comes to equipment, new software, new Curriculum ideas, and from a tech department perspective, why we understand the stress and disruption to teaching and learning that can occur when the systems fail. This is the reason why we try to build the most reliable network and why we respond to issues as fast as possible. It is why we are always on site before lessons start, why we have a business class remote support system, a ticket system that is available 24/7, a permanent helpdesk technician available all day, and why we have alerts to inform us if servers go offline, or the Internet runs slowly, or even if a particular machine is running out of hard drive space. We understand that even little issues can have a knock on effect that can greatly disrupt a teachers lesson, or an admin staff members ability to send a crucial report, or a pupils ability to learn. This understanding means that we want to know about all issues, and don’t hide from them, as we really do want all our schools to run as smoothly as possible.
With the team numbers continuing to swell; now approaching close to 20 technicians, what future do you envisage for hi-impact’s tech support services?