Most school districts face more mandates and less funding each year, so many search for solutions to save across the board. The Alvarado (Texas) Independent School District turned to technology to save money. The district, which has 500 staff members, 11 of whom are IT, sought to find a way to leverage technology to help bridge the gap in business processes that can in part lead to high overhead operational costs. And the district wanted to streamline the business process of paperwork when a student enrolls and fills out paperwork to get network accounts.
As the district’s executive director of technology, I began in 2005 to lay the groundwork for a system of automation and unity between various network software packages and to better control identity management within the district. All the databases work independently of each other and are used daily. With so many databases, and many containing the same information, the technology staff looked to link all the data and to streamline the data entry process.
With limited staff, I needed to leverage the district’s investments and build on the existing IT foundation. (By state staff levels the district is understaffed by roughly four people, as the IT staff includes only four computer technicians that handle over 2,400 computers and all the printers.) The first step was to evaluate the daily routines and yearly actions within the technology department, including tracking student accounts. In the Alvarado district, all students are given network accounts and network storage, making for over 3,300 student accounts across the district. Adding and deleting accounts took time, as district personnel did basic data entry and file moves almost daily.
Tying Information Together
That the district needed a solution to help tie its Novell network software to the student management system was clear. Alvarado had to establish a zone integration server (ZIS), which is the main communication server that helps link all the applications together across the network that Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) enables. Using Edustructures as the ZIS, the district linked its student management system and Novell network.
The process of creating a student network account went from a five-day manual process to a five-second automated process. This automation helped free IT staff from the overhead required of the previous solution, and it also gave students more time with the computers. The first step was a simple one-to-one automation based on the SIF standards and saved the district $5 per student upon enrollment.
With a ZIS in place, entering students into multiple systems was seamless. The technology staff entered a student once in the student system, which populated all systems with the appropriate data. And more power comes when new pieces of software are integrated onto the network. In the past it would take data from one application, clean it up, format it and then upload it to the new application before bringing it online. Now the systems are synced with like data instantly, and the other systems see any changes in the student system. SIF and ZIS cost about $47,000 over three years for the district, out of a total annual ITdistrict budget of $460,000, including local and state money.
A Growing Link
After the success of a one-to-one tie-in, streamlining business processes across the district was next. The district’s Destiny Library System and food service applications soon fell in line and were integrated into the ZIS, creating an additional return on investment (ROI). The district is now saving on average $18 in personnel costs each time a student enrolls. This savings is calculated for the IT area only but is substantial when considering time saved with data entry by the library personnel and food servers. The overall effect is having accurate data in all systems at all times.
When Students Leave
What happens after enrollment? Do the savings stop there? Previously, when seniors graduated, the IT staff had to remove their names from the programs and delete their network files. Now the entire year-end process is automated as well, using the power of several different Novell tools and the SIF integration. When a student graduates or leaves a school, the system automatically disables the network accounts, holds the network storage for 30 days, and removes the student from all other applications. The ability to automate deleting accounts and holding data has saved time for the staff each summer, adding to the overall savings.
Do all systems have to connect to a ZIS or use SIF to achieve the same outcome? No. The Alvarado district’s automation approach goes further than the basic SIF standards and applications. With Alvarado’s partnership with EST Group, which provides technical consulting and implementation services for data integration and role-based access solutions, the district can take the Novell solutions to another level in identity management. Since not all of the district’s systems are SIF-enabled, the staff needs to connect and interface with other applications and get the same integration. Using Novell’s Identity Manager software, the staff can use SIF without the standardization involved. This solution was helpful when the district wanted to expand automation to employees, allowing the staff to tie the HR system to the network software to achieve the same savings on the student side. Not wanting to invest in new HR software to get a SIF-enabled application, staff looked at identity management (IDM) as a solution. Using IDM, staff could delve deeper with account creations by automatically assigning network rights to staff, setting up e-mail, adding to mail lists, and assigning network storage when students enter the system. Coming out of one application and into the district’s network software, IDM gives more flexibility and control of the data. The process, similar to that of the student enrollment, went from several days to only seconds for network access and e-mail account creation.
Now when a staff member leaves the job, once a final date is entered into the HR system and that date arrives, all network rights are removed, network data is stored for 60 days, and e-mails are retained. With the Novell IDM solution, the staff not only archive cost savings in data entry and account management, but they also have better security with account creation and deletions overall.
The true savings, which is estimated at more than $50,000 over the past three years, as stated by the district’s ROI in all areas and what it has done for the district, is impressive. Using the existing technology and bridging the gaps in business processes has given the district the ability to turn the focus to the classroom for technology integration, as opposed to being focused on the nuts and bolts behind the scenes and on daily operations. I see it as a way to use my staff more productively. The level of automation and overhead reduction on IT staff has allowed the Alvarado district to start a one-to-one solution. The savings that the district created by cutting personnel time in several processes have allowed administrators to give every student in grades 4-6 a laptop, the true effect of making technology work for the district.
Kyle Berger is executive director of technology at the Alvarado (Texas) Independent School District.