How to select an e-marking supplier: 7 key questions to ask
Choosing the right fit for e-marking within your organisation or institution is a big decision. So how do you know which one is right for you? Quality and collaboration should be at the forefront of your mind when selecting a supplier; focussing on some key questions will help you to discover whether their vision and values align with yours.
Every organisation is different, so it’s important that before you ask questions you’ve done some internal work around what you need now and what you want in the future. Matching a supplier with your plans for the future is a wise choice that will ensure you can grow together. Have a good grasp on some of the key things you’re looking to achieve with e-marking and then think about any potential challenges this might throw at you.
Thinking about challenges can actually be a helpful stepping stone to start the e-marking supplier search. You want the journey to be as smooth as possible, so finding a supplier that has solutions for your specific challenges and needs is critical.
1. Can your e-marking solution integrate with our existing internal and external systems?
Don’t assume that all e-marking providers can integrate their solution with your existing databases or software. A good e-marking supplier will be able to talk you through your options and help you come up with a solution that gives you exactly what you need.
It’s also worth bearing in mind what you might need for the future, as your institution or organisation expands. Does your new supplier have the capabilities to grow and develop solutions alongside your needs? If e-testing is something you want to explore in the future, finding out details around how these might integrate is a valuable conversation to have at the very beginning.
2. What procedures do you have in place to cope with peak periods?
Of course, your e-marking provider isn’t just providing online marking solutions for you. They’ll have hundreds of clients all using the software, potentially at the same time around peak periods like school leaver exams.
By using an externally hosted solution for marking, there is an element of risk that an influx of users could overwhelm the system and cause it to crash. It will also place additional demands on their technical support teams with more users likely to be raising multiple enquiries at any one time. Response times could be slower and this could impact your ability to mark papers on time.
By asking what provision they have, or additional measures they put in place, during busy times you will be helping to eliminate a potential risk factor further down the line.
Be prepared to ask detailed questions:
Do they hire temporary support staff during busy periods?
Do they extend their support opening hours?
How do they manage queries and support? Via a ticketing system or another management system?
How do they ensure the system isn’t placed under undue pressure due to increased volumes of users?
The answers you get will give you an insight into how well your supplier will manage extra demand and what steps they take to mitigate pressure during busy periods.
3. What project and quality management methodologies do you use?
When you’re selecting an e-marking supplier, you’re entrusting them with your data, a lot of which is sensitive, your operations and your commitment to delivering quality to your students and stakeholders.
Having recognised qualifications or certificates in place will help to reassure you that the supplier you are choosing is reliable and capable of meeting your needs.
Your supplier should be able to give you a project scope that is manageable and controlled, avoiding any sudden changes that could have a negative impact on your productivity or processes.
Alongside that, security of your data ensures that you are compliant with data protection laws and have protection when it comes to data breaches. E-marking is a fantastic tool to start using but it’s important you ensure that you are protected from any potential problems that could have legal implications.
4. What is your business continuity protocol? What processes do you have in place to deal with disasters?
You’re entrusting your e-marking supplier with sensitive data that is also time sensitive. Any delays, breaches of security or downtime could impact university applications, professional advancement and career security for the people whose information is entrusted with them.
Asking your provider how they deal with the potential for disaster will give you the peace of mind you need so that if the worst happened, you’d be confident they would deal with it smoothly. Demanding detail on the steps they have to manage risk will help you make a more confident choice of provider.
Do they have a data risk management policy in place?
How would they manage a potential breach in data?
If there is a system failure, do they regularly back up and update files so that they can be easily retrieved?
If there is a fault, how do they commit to fixing it? Do they have a guarantee to fix problems within a certain number of hours?
Are they compliant with data protection regulations?
Good and thorough solutions to any of these problems shows a commitment to providing service that is reliable and trustworthy. Preventative steps like these can safeguard your business, organisation or institution
5. Who are your exciting customers? Can we contact someone there for a reference?
Recommendations are a powerful way of getting the reassurance you need that your e-marking supplier will be a good fit for your needs. Often, suppliers will use testimonials on their websites and marketing materials which can act as a good indicator of the level and quality of clients they are working with.
But sitting down for a detailed chat or having an email conversation with existing clients will help you to explore how they have implemented e-marking, any similar problems they encountered that you may have and how their supplier worked with them to create solutions.
Take time to look at their list of existing clients; getting a feel for the breadth and level of client your supplier works with allows you an insight into their ability and who trusts them to look after their e-marking.
It’s worth bearing in mind that not all e-marking suppliers will still be working with companies listed on their website. By asking them for a list of current clients, you will have an up-to-date picture of who they’re working with and what their rate of client retention is – another good indicator that they’re providing quality service.
6.What are your plans for future growth?
A simple question like this can give you a fantastic insight into how driven and focussed your e-marking supplier is at making a difference to the world of education and assessment. A long-term strategy shows that they are looking to the future and are capable of growing alongside your organisation or institution.
Here are some key areas to look at when trying to gauge what their future looks like:
Implementing e-marking is a long-term process – once you’re up and running you need a supplier that can keep pace with you and your needs. An investment and commitment to growth is a good match for you and a supplier, so you can be confident that they won’t hold you back when you need to change and adapt with the times.
It could also be worth downloading credit reports on the suppliers so that you can see what their financial position is. Length of trading time is also another indicator that they are adept at planning for the future and maintaining a foothold in the industry.
7.What do you think the future of assessment looks like?
When you’re choosing to align yourself with an education service provider you want to make sure they’re as passionate about education and results as you are. This can be difficult to determine at the very beginning but if they have knowledgeable and informed staff then they should be able to give you solid opinions and clarity around the future of assessment.
A good e-marking company will be closely aligned with educational policy and reform, will have staff who are invested and involved in educational boards and organisations and keep a close eye on how assessment and learning is changing.
You need your e-marking provider to be as informed as you are in the assessment and education arena. This way you will ensure you enter into a partnership rather than simply a supplier-customer relationship.
Engaging in these discussions early on will help you to build a solid foundation of trust that allows you to identify whether your supplier is a good partner for a long-term investment like e-marking. Connecting or following their CEOs on LinkedIn is also another great way to see how connected they are to industry influencers and see how engaged they are within the education sector.
Choosing the right e-marking supplier is a long term decision so it’s crucial to consider the service, reputation, reliability and quality they are offering. Be thorough in your research and make sure you go and visit your shortlisted suppliers if possible to see if they are the right fit for your organisation. Once you find a supplier that meets your needs, be open and frank in expressing any issues or challenges and you will develop a solid relationship that will benefit both you and your supplier.
RM Results is one of the world’s leading providers of digital assessment services, enabling e-marking, e-testing and the management and analysis of educational data. We mark around 200 million exam pages per year in over 150 countries and are proud to work with the world’s leading awarding bodies, universities and governments.