WA Education battles SOE funding squeeze

 

Will version four reach schools before version five is ready?

The WA Department of Education will roll out the fourth version of its standard operating environment (SOE) to 228 schools by September, amid concerns over a lack of funds for the project.

Departmental CIO Bevan Doyle told a parliamentary standing committee in March that it did not have enough funds to roll out the new SOE4 to all high schools in the state.

His comment came two days after the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) raised concerns that without additional funding, the SOE4 rollout could fall over (pdf).

The department's SOE version four includes "wired and wireless infrastructure, improved data security and centralised management", according to a systems integrator that has performed rollout work on behalf of schools.

SOE4 was intended to make it easier to provide IT support to schools across the state.

However, an "extremely slow" rollout and lack of funds meant it was "questionable that the full rollout will ever be achieved", the CPSU noted.

Doyle told a parliamentary standing committee (pdf) that the department had spent $14 million of a $47 million pot of money on the SOE4 rollout.

The $47 million pot is derived from the national secondary schools computer fund, but it is meant to last four years.

When quizzed by the committee chairman Dr Janet Woollard on the timeline for SOE4 to reach high schools in regional and remote parts of the state - such as the mine-rich Pilbara - Doyle noted the rollout was "subject to available funding".

"If schools choose and have the necessary money, they can pay an amount to have the SOE installed in their school," Doyle said.

"But we do not have funding at the moment to do all schools."

The committee aired claims - that went unanswered - that schools without the latest SOE could be hit with higher IT support costs.

The CPSU claimed in its submission that schools without SOE4 "cannot be remotely accessed" by the outsourced IT support desk service used by schools in the state.

The State Government reported in October last year that it had rolled out SOE4 to 115 schools.

A spokesperson for the WA Department of Education told iTnews this week that SOE4 had been deployed at 128 schools, and would reach a total of 228 schools by September.

The average SOE4 rollout time was between three and four weeks, although "core school business services are restored within four working days", according to a response to a question placed on notice.

The CPSU raised additional concerns over the rollout process.

"The process for conversion to SOE4 requires systems to be taken offline for up to two weeks, which has serious ramifications for school operations during this time," it noted.

Further delays in the rollout of SOE4 could render it outdated before all schools even receive it, according to the CPSU.

"SOE5 is in the process of being developed, so even if SOE4 is rolled-out over the next three years to all schools, it is likely that by this time schools will need to upgrade to SOE5 to be up-to­-date with the latest technology," the union said.

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