Selecting the Right Software for Your Setting – An Approach

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Introduction

So – you’ve decided to take the leap and join the future of education. To join the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – see our previous article on this subject. Perhaps you are the first Child Care Centre in your suburb to make this decision. Perhaps not. No matter.

Just be assured that you are heading in the right direction. Automation, Management Information System (MIS), Software, Child Care Management System (CCMS), Child Communication System (CCS) – call it what you like. It is the future of (Child Care) education, and the sooner you hop onto the bandwagon, the quicker your adoption rate, and the shorter your learning curve.

But – and this is a big “but” – what software do I purchase? I mean, there are so many options! You can just Google a few search terms and we guarantee you – you will come up with 20 to 30 options at least!

What to do? What to do?

We’ll tell you what to do – you use a scientific approach to decide; one that fits your budget, your teachers, and your primary stakeholders – the children and parents. In this article we will show you how to do exactly that.

Aim

The aim of this article is to provide the reader with a framework by means of which a decision may be made as to which software to purchase for his/her Child Care Management System (CCMS).

Identifying Your Selection Criteria – What to be Aware Of

As we mentioned in the Introduction – there are many types of software available within the CCMS space. In fact, the challenge is not to find software; the challenge is to identify the correct software that will suit your Purpose (We accept that you have a Strategy for your Child Care Centre, with a Vision, Mission, and Objectives in place, so your Purpose should be crystal clear. If not, we can assist with that).

Why may some software packages not be suitable? Well, there could be many reasons, but some of the potential explanations could relate to the following:

  • Too Pricey. Price is always a consideration in most Child Care Centres. So yes – you should be price-sensitive. Be careful though for packages that are offered as “free.” One invariably finds that the basic functionality is, well, very basic, and that you eventually end up paying for proper functionality anyhow.
  • Too Complicated. Who wants to be saddled with complicated software that takes ages to master?
  • Not Pitched at the Right Level. This is an important one to keep an eye out for. Some packages are really focused on primary school level, and some even only at secondary school level. Some vendors may not point this out to you when they do their sales pitch, with the result that you may purchase a package that has many functionalities that you will never use!
  • Not Pitched at the Right Functionality. Coupled to the previous point – some packages, even for Child Care Centres, are marketed as CCMS packages, but in essence what they are, are teaching aids. In other words – they include games, songs, and other things that may be curriculum-related, but that is it! Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but if that is what you want, try and find an all-inclusive package, rather than purchasing two separate systems, which is what you will likely end up doing.
  • Scale-ability Comes at a Price. Some packages only provide add-on functions at an additional price.
  • Data Security Issues. Some packages are stand-alone only, with nowhere for your data to be stored, but on a hard drive or local area network (LAN). If that should crash, you could lose all your data. If you can select a vendor that is also ISO (International Organization for Standardization) accredited as far as its information management approach is concerned, so much the better.

Other considerations to keep in mind, are the following:

  • How simple is the look and feel of the software? How easy and quick is it to use, and how intuitive? Some packages’ look and feel are very outdated.
  • Does it really save time, money and effort, or is it just a fancy-looking tool?
  • Is the interface modern or outdated? In other words – if we use basic systems like Microsoft Office and e-mail daily, will we be able to quickly adapt?
  • How easy will it be to overcome resistance to change by my personnel if I select this system, considering that they are not all equally PC-literate?
  • What is the extent of after sales service? Are there present users that I can contact to check on this? Will my on-boarding by the salesperson include assisting me loading all the relevant data on the system to start with?
  • What are our parents likely to think of the system? Will they think that we are being very progressive, or that we just want to add costs?
  • If we have elements of STEM in our curriculum, will this software support that? We all realise that children at this age should learn by playing, and not be forced to learn complicated scientific technology. However, we also all realise that children’s exposure to tech is inevitable. If so – how cool will they or their parents view this app to be?
  • Will this software assist us as a responsible institution to contribute to our CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility – by saving paper?
  • Is my software provider’s primary business Child Care, or is it just an add-on solution that they have among many other packages that they provide? This is an important consideration, because it may indicate how serious this vendor is likely to take your problems, and how much time they are prepared to invest in you after the purchase.

So – deciding which package to select is an important decision to make if you really want to optimally ride the 4IR wave. Because, let’s face it – going paperless (and by implication automating) your processes, is not a question of “if,” but rather of “when.”

Identifying Your Selection Criteria – How to Go About It

When selecting your CCMS there may be many reasons for picking the specific option that you do. Above we listed some potential considerations. But in the final analysis, what you really want to achieve is to realise the following benefits: Automation of Routine Tasks; Improved Communication; Better Analysis of Learner Performance; and Increased Transparency.

To ensure this, we would suggest that you list the following criteria (at this stage not in any sequence of priority, and – your criteria will be largely determined by your setting, your strategy, and of course, your budget):

  • Does it have a billing and invoicing function?
  • Can it assist with classroom management?
  • Is it cloud-based with ISO 27001 information security standard?
  • Can it assist with managing my employees?
  • Can we use it to communicate with parents?
  • Can I add documents, like curricula or lesson plans?
  • Can it provide detailed reports, internally and to parents?
  • Does it have permissions (who can see what, who can pick up the child, check-ins, etc).
  • Is it intuitive and easy to learn?
  • Can it accommodate food plans and menus?

You may add other criteria, like affordability, but the above ones are to our way of thinking the most important.

To decide as to which system to purchase, we will use an approach called a Weighted Scoring System. This is a technique for putting a measure of objectivity into what is really a bit of a subjective process. Using a consistent list of criteria, weighted according to the importance or priority of the criteria to the school, a comparison of different products can be made. If numerical values are assigned to the criteria priorities and the ability of the product to meet a specific criterion, a “weighted” value can be derived. By summing the weighted values, the product most closely meeting the criteria can be determined.

So, let us say that we have reduced the number of possible options to three – Products X, Y, and Z. You can have more, but we use only three for ease of illustration.

Next, we decide which of our options are the most important. This is, granted, a bit of a subjective exercise, but may be determined by your specific priorities. For our example we listed them as follows in priority order:

  • Does it communicate with parents?
  • Can I add documents, like curricula or lesson plans?
  • Can it provide detailed reports, internally and to parents?
  • Does it have permissions (how can see what, who can pick up the child, check-ins, etc).
  • Does it have a billing and invoicing function?
  • Can it accommodate food plans and menus?
  • Can it assist with classroom management?
  • Is it cloud-based with ISO 27001 information security standard?
  • Can it assist with managing my employees?
  • Is it intuitive and easy to learn?

Next, we give each of the above criteria a point out of 10 (eventually all the scores should tally up to 100). This is done in the following table:

Table 1: Weighted Criteria

Next we populate the table. For each criterium we give a score out of 10 and then multiply it with the weight given that criterion.

The results are to be found in Table 2.

Table 2: Completed Table

From the above it would seem as if Option Y would be your best choice. There is however still a degree of subjectivity involved in this table. For instance – deciding on what score to give a criterion out of 10 is to a large extent subjective. You can decrease the level of subjective bias in this exercise by using one, or all, of the following methods:

  • Involve your whole team in deciding (a) the weight for each criterion, and (b) the actual score assigned to that criterion for each option.
  • Compare the options per criterion, in order words – rate each option at the same time per criterion, and do not do each option in isolation.
  • Maybe there are certain criteria which are not negotiable as far as you are concerned. Highlight them in bold and decide on a minimum figure for each. If an option does not achieve that figure for the non-negotiable criterion/criteria, it is automatically discarded. For example – you may decide that the ability for the software to also communicate with the parents is non-negotiable, and you may assign that criterion a weight of 9. Any option that does not allow for this is automatically eliminated (note that we only list three options above for ease of illustration – you can develop a table with 20 or more).
  • To further reduce uncertainty in awarding the scores, you can, beforehand, draw up a table which indicates how each value is defined. The following is an example:
    • 10 out of 10 = Absolutely meets this requirement 100%.
    • 9 out of 10 = Meets the requirement, but we need further clarification.
    • 8 out of 10 = Meets requirement, but one or two functionalities not.
    • 7 out of 10 = Meets requirement to an extent.
    • 6 out of 10 = Just meets the requirement.
    • 5 out of 10 = Does not meet requirement but can be developed for free (by vendor).
    • 4 out of 10 = Does not meet requirement but can be developed at a price.
    • 3 out of 10 = Does not meet requirement and is not likely to be added.
    • 2 out of 10 = Does not meet requirement.
    • 1 out of 10 = Absolutely does not meet requirement.

Conclusion

Choosing the right software for your setting is an important, but ultimately a very personal and subjective decision, related to many criteria/variables, as we indicated above. At the end of the day your Child Care Centre Strategy and the purpose for which you require it, will determine which system you will pick. We have also illustrated that there is a method – Weighted Scoring System – by means of which you can largely reduce subjective bias in your decision-making process.

At the end of the day the software should suit your requirements and should provide the best trade-off between daily operational needs of your establishment, and satisfying your primary stakeholders, i.e. children, teachers and parents.

References

https://www.iso.org/isoiec-27001-information-security.html (accessed on 01 February 2020).

https://www.parent.eu/ (accessed on 01 February 2020).

Karen. Preschool Inspirations. https://preschoolinspirations.com/parent-teacher-communication-apps/. June 2017. (accessed on 01 February 2020).

Unknown. Software Advice. https://www.softwareadvice.com/school-management/ (accessed on 01 February 2020).

Unknown. Successful Software. https://successfulsoftware.net/2011/05/26/evaluating-software-product-ideas/ (accessed on 02 February 2020).

Unknown. Child Care Software. https://www.capterra.com/child-care-software/ (accessed on 02 February 2020).

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