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Leveraging KM tools for public schools

This article appears in the issue May 2007, [Vol 16, Issue 5]
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Local school systems have needs as pressing as those in industry for the capabilities provided by knowledge management solutions. Especially in a security-conscious time, and when accountability for results is dominating educational discussions, schools cannot afford to ignore the leverage that can be gained by using KM tools.

However, schools often do not have the resources that are available in the commercial sector, so they must make the most of the technology they purchase. Business process management, predictive analytics and document management are three core KM technologies that are increasingly finding their way into the public schools.

In case of emergency

The Fairfax County Public School system (FCPS) in Virginia is one of the largest school systems in the country, with over 160,000 students and an operating budget of more than $2 billion. Maintaining emergency contact information for that number of students and making it accessible, whether students are in class, gym or on a field trip, is a challenge. Currently, information about student health issues and whom to contact in case of emergency is collected on paper forms and entered into a database by each school.

The Fairfax County Public School system has developed a Web-based system that will go live for the 2007-2008 school year to ensure access to timely and accurate information. The webMethods Business Process Management system will coordinate the collection, integration and presentation of that vital information.

Starting this fall, parents will log on to a site to enter their child’s emergency contact information. The school will then review the information and either process it or send it back to the parent for correction if needed. New health information in the form will be routed to the clinic in each school.

Ted Davis, director of the IT department for FCPS, says, “In the past, all this information had to be entered at the beginning of the school year, which was a huge job.” Now, accurate emergency care information will be available much sooner. In addition, the information can be made available on handheld devices, for example, for first responders, principals or security staff who might be responding to emergencies, or for teachers who are on trips with students. Parents will also be able to modify the information during the year if circumstances change.

Although providing access to emergency care information was a major impetus for the use of a business process management (BPM) platform, the vision for the FCPS system extended well beyond that application. “We have 80 information systems that are used to run the school system,” says Davis. “When they needed to communicate, we connected them point-to-point, which resulted in ‘spaghetti architecture’ that was difficult to maintain.” Moving forward, the school system wanted more flexibility as well as simplicity, so it opted to base its information architecture on Web services. The FCPS began an initial effort in 2001 that was completed two years ago. “We now use a brokered architecture that gives us a way to automate our work processes,” says Davis.

A number of other projects are in the works, including a system for tracking reservations and payment for school facilities that are used after hours by local community groups. Web services are used to access an externally hosted database that contains scheduling information. The webMethods workflow application also allows employees in the Office of Community Use to audit transactions and reconcile funds. As new requirements emerge in the FCPS, webMethods infrastructure will be used to add functionality.

“We have a continual process for enhancing the information environment, as we identify the needs and decide where we want to go,” Davis explains.

Process-oriented integration is a more sophisticated form of integration than services or data, according to Kiran Garimella, VP, Office of the CTO, at webMethods. “The education community needs all kinds of integration, but process visibility lets

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