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Holmen School District

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Holmen School DistrictStreamline Data Flow with Tyler's VersaTrans SIF Agent

SIF ends the redundant entry of
student information

Since 1998, Holmen School District has used VersaTrans Routing and Planning to efficiently transport over 2700 students from five schools over an area of 88 miles. For Transportation Supervisor Roger Saxton, the efficiencies his department has gained from using an automated system are an essential component to providing safe and reliable transportation to students in the community. In addition to using intelligent automation to complete an otherwise time-consuming manual process, Roger also relies on accurate and reliable data. This is required for both routing and planning, as well as for staying in contact with parents of transported students throughout the school year.

Maintaining accurate student information was an ongoing challenge for Roger, since none of the software applications installed at Holmen School District were able to share data. Because each system within the district also had a distinct database that could not communicate with other district applications, Roger’s team often found themselves performing time-consuming data entry tasks, phoning district schools in search of updated contact information, and tracking down parents of students who had changed their phone numbers. According to Roger, “Frequent changes in cell phone numbers and other parent contact information means that the transportation department needs to call the main office and take up their time. We need to get up-to-date information so we can easily contact parents in emergency or other situations. Having this information improves the level of safety we provide to kids.”

The core of Roger’s problem: Data Isolation. But Roger was not alone. The challenge of keeping data updated and accurate, affected every other department in the district that used an automated system: the central office, the library, and the cafeteria to name a few. Sharing Roger’s data concerns at a district level was Pushpa Sudhakaran, Holmen’s Technology Supervisor. Not only were redundant data entry tasks being performed on a daily basis throughout the district (and often leading to inaccuracies), but at the end of the school year massive data updates were required to fix all of the data problems that had accumulated over the year. This was a major obstacle when it came time to prepare for the coming year with grade changes, new students and other changes to student information.

The solution to Roger and Pushpa’s problem: The Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF). The Schools Interoperability Framework is a non-profit membership organization comprised of over 100 software vendors, school districts, state departments of education and other organizations active in K-12, including VersaTrans Solutions, which has been an active member of SIF since its inception. The purpose of the initiative was to examine the issue of system interoperability within schools. The result was not a particular product, but rather an industry-supported technical specification that enables different applications in a single school district to interact and share data seamlessly.

When Roger first heard of SIF, he immediately understood the potential it held for the transportation department. He knew that redundant data entry and outdated information had his staff focused on clerical tasks which took them away from their main goal of providing efficient transportation services to students. Pushpa also understood the benefits that full data integration would bring to Holmen School District. “One of my ongoing goals for the district has been to reduce the amount of redundant data entry. When I learned about SIF compliance, that goal was the first thing that came to mind.” Ready to take the leap towards greater efficiency, Holmen School District applied for and won a grant to become a showcase site for SIF, along with 8 other school districts across the U.S. By June 2002, the implementation process had begun.

Holmen’s first step was to establish a “SIF Zone,” the basic network infrastructure needed for SIF to operate. Holmen’s SIF Zone is currently set up with a Zone Integration Server from Edustructures, which allows VersaTrans and SASIxp, the district’s student information system, to share data. Once VersaTrans was in the SIF Zone, Holmen’s transportation department benefited immediately. Whenever new student information is entered in SASIxp, the VersaTrans database is automatically updated. Roger and his team no longer have to spend time tracking down parents only to find that their phone numbers have changed, and they spend much less time calling the schools to look for updated information. They also do not have to perform redundant data entry tasks. Eliminating these tasks helped increase his department’s efficiency and, according to Roger, “Helps us with our main goal of improving service to the customer.” Increased efficiency was also realized on the district level and according to Pushpa, “There were both immediate benefits as well as benefits reaped at the end of the year.” These benefits came largely from the automatic data updates, which save time during the course of a single day, and also at the end of the school year, when each department’s data is updated for the coming year. The district has also benefited from more powerful reporting capabilities and a centralized network architecture, both of which became available as a result of implementing SIF.

While implementing SIF takes effort and planning, it does not have to be an all-consuming task. Says Pushpa about her experience getting the SIF Zone established, “I thought that this would mean a lot of extra work for me and my department, but it wasn’t. I was able to manage the entire project by myself and didn’t have to pull my staff away from their regular jobs.” What’s more, adds Pushpa “The ZIS has been an extremely stable system. It was well tested and supported via the Internet,” making the ZIS a fairly low-maintenance system. And with 17 servers and over 1500 computers scattered throughout the district, this is a much welcome benefit for Pushpa.

While Holmen School District was busy building their SIF Zone, in May 2003 VersaTrans Solutions became the first software vendor to receive “SIF compliance” certification for their routing application. This means that any school district that wants software applications within the district to share data can now rely on VersaTrans Routing and Planning to send and receive data to and from other district databases using the VersaTrans SIF Agent. Schools seeking to implement SIF in their district can start on the path to interoperability by taking these first steps:

First visit the informational website at www.sifinfo.org. Next download a SIF planning kit and select a ZIS Vendor. Then review the list of SIF-certified applications to see which of your district's software applications are developed by SIF member companies. Talk to your VersaTrans Solutions sales representative for pricing on the VersaTrans SIF Agent.




 

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