5 Questions you should ask yourself when choosing a digital platform

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  Published on Tuesday, 10 July 2018

5 Questions you should ask yourself when choosing a digital platform

Library Home  >  Leadership & Service Management
  Published on Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The early childhood sector is changing. New generations of families are arriving with children in hand and screens in their pockets. Parents are asking us to email them, or openly asking us whether we have an app for that, whenever we hand them a notice or ask them to look at our beautifully designed documentation book.

Hand in hand with these developments come new companies, new technology platforms and new sales people knocking on our doors asking whether we’d like to sign up to help us communicate, document or administrate more efficiently and effectively.

It's ok for us to take our time and have a good think about what will work for us, as early childhood professionals, for our families, children and community. Whenever I present at conferences and workshops I remind people that the tortoise is who wins the race in the end and if we are going to make smart and informed choices, then taking our time and considering things is important.

The main strength of these technology platforms I see is that parents, extended families and the community get to see what is going on in early learning environment more often and in ways that are teaching them more about the value of play-based learning and the work we do in early childhood. The fact that we can share more, more often, and using not just digital photos, but videos and linkages to curriculum and frameworks means we are building greater understanding and knowledge of early childhood learning and development in the community – and this is a great thing.

If you are going to be part of this change, and also meet parents needs and interests here are five key questions that I think you should consider when weighing up what platform to purchase:

1. What do I want the platform to do?

Knowing what you want from a platform is important. Many platforms try and offer everything from payments to managing enrolments, along with documentation and communication with parents. Many platforms that try and do everything follow the old adage of doing it all, but none of it really well. The challenge of an all in one system is also that it often requires more work from more people at your centre and you can find yourself reverting to old systems that are more comfortable because when you try and change everything at once – there isn’t the time or motivation to do so.

I recommend really understanding what your service and staff are trying to achieve, what your families want and then taking the time to pilot an app or software platform in one room and build on it from there. You may just want something to document and communicate initially, rather than manage administrative processes.

2. Who owns the data and where is it stored?

Technology companies and their terms and conditions have a reputation. The documents are long and complex and sometimes you don't know what you are signing up to. It is important to understand who owns the data that is collected (that is photos, text, videos and personal details about children, families and your team). This can be significant, as some apps on the market actually claim that anything captured on their platform – they own, or that parents 'own' the data but only if they pay a monthly fee.

Others, like Storypark, actually give ownership to the user, which is actually the family who hold the account. This means that the company can't use or exploit the data, but also that families can take that data with them and keep using to it and adding to it on the platform once the child has left your service. It is also fundamentally important that you make sure the app meets your standards and legal obligations relating to privacy, data storage and security.

3. Who developed this platform, and do they understand our sector?

In early childhood we focus a lot on intention. We understand that the intent with which someone approaches teaching and learning is important, and this should be the same of any organisation, product or company wanting to work in our sector. So, get to know something about who developed your platform and why? Are they a technology company who are after a quick buck, or have they considered and engaged with the sector to make sure they develop something that works for children, families and staff.

This is the age of information, so Google the company, check what they talk about on their Facebook page and do searches on their founders and staff – we have an obligation to children and families to understand whether the people we are working with understand and value early childhood education in the same way that we do. If they do, we can be sure they’ll be best placed to support us and continue to make a quality product.

4. Do they offer support and help?

Things won't always go smoothly, so you want to make sure that the platform offers the type of support and training you need to make the most of your investment in their platform (and not at an extra cost). Do they have clear ways to contact them and a working help desk where people will deal with your problem? If all you get are a list of FAQs and a sense that once you've signed up the support and help offered by the sales representative will fade away, I would say, "trust that instinct". Apps and platforms to help early childhood professional are becoming easier and easier to use, but we also need help along the way.

5. What are the real costs to the centre of this platform?

The cost of the app or platform you choose to help you in your service is not limited to the cost of the product itself. Of course, assess prices and work out what your community can afford, but consider there will be other costs. First, what are you saving and how will this product improve the quality of your service? How will it improve the experience of children and families that you work with? Does it cost families to access children's information after they leave your service? Does the price include supporting you and your team, and if so what do they offer? Is the company (and therefore pricing) reliable and used by other centres that you trust?

Then, think about the time and resources you will need to put aside to make sure staff are trained, parents are supported to learn and adapt to the system and any work in managing the data at different times: who will enter children's and family details? Do you have a couple of tech-savvy staff who will be able to support the roll out and management?

Essentially, think critically about your decision. You don’t want to keep chopping and changing the way you do things. Find a technology platform that works for your service and your families and spend the time understanding its limitations and using it to meet your needs. Technology doesn't have to do everything and be everything. It is best to make sure we use it well and purposefully. All the best and make good decisions.

Daniel Donahoo wrote this article and it is reproduced with permission. Project Synthesis helps its clients learn new and better ways to do things.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2020