In January 2013, the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District (ISD) Services Consortium, which is based in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., successfully concluded a regional collaboration that selected and implemented the eFinancePLUS financial and human resources system for 18 rural school districts in Michigan. Through a collaborative effort that began months before even the selection of the software, the team sought to maximize the impact of the transition.
Steve Gordon, Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD’s director of finance and human resources, says the regional collaboration allowed the Michigan districts to apply best practices, experience efficiencies, and realize savings. “We have a number of small school districts in our region and, by working together, we were able to implement a world-class finance system and build in support for each other,” he says. “With the help of our SunGard K-12 Education implementation team, we standardized our various account structures into a single usable format. We also standardized many of our codes (deductions, etc.). This set the stage for us to share technology.”
Since going live on the software, the consortium members have experienced saving and operational efficiencies by using one system to manage their finances and human resources efforts from a common set of servers. For example, the organization achieved considerable savings by bidding its annual audit contracts as a region. This savings is a direct outcome of their work to create a common account structure and use a single financial system.
Looking back on the effort, Gordon and Dena Mayer, Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD business manager and team lead on the project, emphasize four factors in their success:
Collaborate for success in change initiatives. Mayer says, “Change is difficult. Collaboration is vital to making a transition like this. Our region has a long history of collaborating on efforts to support efficient operations. During this process, there was a lot of really good discussion and compromise that, in the end, created a system that works for all of us.”
For this regional initiative, discussions actually began a few years before the solution was selected. All business operations personnel were made aware of the decision to implement a centralized financial and human resource solution. They were invited to participate in the selection and implementation process and given time to consider what their role might be. According to Gordon, those who participated brought enthusiasm to the effort. “These were some long days and the energy that SunGard K-12 personnel and our implementation team brought to the effort was a huge contributor in our success,” he says.
Put everything on the table. According to Mayer, the implementation team approached their work with a willingness to put everything on the table and negotiate decisions that were in the best interest of all districts. “Everyone was willing to compromise. Because nobody was the driving force for how this would be accomplished, there was a lot of really good discussion,” she says. “Everyone was willing to listen, and no one dominated the conversation or the decision making.”
For Gordon, the conversion was an opportunity for introspection. “We just took some time to step back and think about how else we could organize our data to make it cleaner and allow us to tackle our work a little more efficiently,” he says. “Time is a precious commodity. We budgeted more time than a typical conversion takes so that we could meet and discuss this. And, now the standardized structure is really paying off.”
Partner with the solution provider. To lead the discussion, Gordon says the implementation team partnered with SunGard K-12 Education’s Professional Services. “A SunGard K-12 Professional Service team member was there while the implementation team was meeting,” he says. “He was really helpful in driving the conversation and ensuring that they were discussing aspects of this conversion that we needed to focus on.”
Seek advice of other districts. “We talked with other school districts that implemented SunGard K-12 solutions and asked, ‘If you could go back, what would you change?’ Standardizing the account number was a big thing,” says Mayer, noting that effort is paying off. “We have some district staff that do work for multiple districts. When we’re bouncing from district to district, it’s nice to know that the ASN and the accounts are similar.”
In June 2015, the Eastern Upper Peninsula ISD Business Services Consortium was recognized as Information Technology Innovators in SunGard K-12 Education’s Lead without Limits Awards Program. From nominations from educators and school administrators from across the country, the organization and business leaders from 18 Michigan districts were selected as those who best leverage technology to innovate their operations.
The Lead without Limits Awards Program recognizes school districts, schools, departments, administrators, and educators that leverage technology to help improve student achievement and/or school or district efficiency. Information Technology Innovators, one of the Lead without Limits Award categories, enhance the educational process with technology. Nominees’ information technology efforts support student achievement and/or improve school/district efficiency.
Nominations for the Lead without Limits Awards are accepted through an application form available on SunGard K-12 Education’s website. For guidelines and selection process, please see the Lead without Limits Awards Program information online.