Managing a nursery is a complex challenge, involving balancing the needs of the children with the demands of administration. The opportunity to move away from paper records to use computer-based solutions should be considered very carefully. There is a selection of products available designed specifically for the early years sector, but great care is needed when making a decision about which system to invest in. Every setting manager must develop a core understanding of what is required of the software and fully involve the staff in the selection process.
There are five key stages to be followed, and these are detailed below.
Firstly, select the functionality you require:
• Administration, including record keeping, financial accounting and reporting, managing invoices, fee administration and funding implications.
• Business and operational planning (e.g. occupancy ratios).
• Data, including information about staff performance, training and career development.
• Records about the children.
• Providing parents with information regarding the progress of their children through email and a ‘parent portal’.
• Monitoring of the children’s progress and the delivery of good practice in the Early Years Foundation Stage.
• Records maintenance to meet the requirements of Ofsted.
• Security of the setting to ensure the safety of the children, checking family members and visitors on site.
2. Hardware & software
Next, determine the software and hardware platforms you need. Which of the following would suit your requirements:
• An integrated solution covering all aspects of managing a setting, or a series of separate solutions for specific functions (this may not easily integrate with other systems or databases)?
• A solution to be managed in-house or a managed service from a supplier?
• A single-site or multi-site solution; a system able to expand to reflect the setting’s growth plans?
• A service in which equipment is maintained on site, or an Internet-based alternative where the data and systems are managed by a thirdparty (‘cloud based’)?
The use of tablets and other ‘smart’ devices? You should remember to factor in the ease of use when making your decisions.
When you have arrived at your decision, the potential solutions need to be analysed, using demos and a trial or pilot system. At this stage you should identify any specific requirements that will need development, and how the existing information you hold will be migrated onto the new system. Remember to review the documentation available to you (e.g. training and user manuals).
4. Commercial terms
Don’t forget to think about the costs involved. Consider the following:
• Is the system bought as a Licence (a capital purchase), or is it a pay-by-use service, based upon the number of users and children?
• Length of contract; is there flexibility to vary the terms according to volumes?
• Supplier references concerning quality and service levels.
Review the agreement before you commit – remember to complete due diligence and get a legal opinion
This is always the most difficult part of the process. Here is what you need to do:
• Test the solution by running a dummy service; concentrate on the data migration; involve the parents with the ‘parents portal’ if you have one.
• Prepare the training and user documentation tailored to the setting’s requirements.
• Ensure that there is proper back-up of the data and a fall-back solution if the system fails (hardware, telecommunications, software, supplier default).
• Migrate existing information.
• Implement on a step-by-step basis.
Implementing an IT solution is a complex issue but the goal is to make a setting or group of settings more efficient, reduce their workload and improve their performance. Selecting the right solution can also provide opportunities for parent/child engagement and be a strong selling point to potential families.