There's an expectation that the smart deployment of analytics is bound to make public schools run services more efficiently. After all, if analytics improves performance for enterprise, healthcare, transportation, and government agencies, there's no reason it shouldn't benefit school districts, too.
But Palm Beach County has actually seen a dramatic increase in school revenues through a partnership with IBM.
Initiatives at three of the nation's largest school districts -- Palm Beach County, Clark County, and Portland -- have brought IBM software solutions to bear on cost and management challenges, in an environment of tight finances and stringent budget cuts. Workplace and asset management solutions promoted efficient and profitable use of campus resources.
For Clark County, Nevada, this meant deploying Maximo software to organize more than 100,000 maintenance work orders generated by some 392 schools and administrative facilities. This enabled predictive, data-driven decisions about where maintenance was likely to be needed.
As IBM's Jim Fletcher told me, this didn't require installing equipment like external sensors. Much of the data was already available in the county's existing energy management systems. "What IBM brings to the table is the ability to drive analytics against the data and get actionable information."
Fletcher is IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect for IBM Smarter Infrastructure. He described Maximo as IBM's number one enterprise asset management tool, a solution that can be used to manage anything "from nuclear facilities to an airplane engine."
For schools in Portland and Palm Beach County, the deployed product has been Tririga, IBM's primary workplace management system. As Fletcher explained, Tririga drives analytics to manage everything from equipment, to catering, to allocation of space. It can be installed locally, or hosted for the customer by IBM.
While Portland used Tririga to prioritize modernization efforts across campuses, Palm Beach County mobilized it to turn a paper-bound bureaucratic nightmare into a remarkable revenue source.
Joseph Sanches, Chief of Support Operations for the Palm Beach County School District, told me: "Back in July, 2010, we were generating $1.5 million dollars per year." The business was leasing unused campus space to churches, tutoring services, and other clients. It also meant processing some three thousand leases per year, by hand.
With a district of 185 schools spread over a large county, the process badly needed automation. Using Tririga, the district is now generating $4.5 million a year -- and this isn't just cost savings, it's new revenues. "Sundays in a school, you'll see church services, maybe several. We have not just tutoring services, but SAT and ACT prep courses, as well as other odd things -- weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs."
Leasing is just one of the Tririga modules the district is using. Previously, work orders would be entered on a form; the form was then faxed to a call center, which input the information in a different system, and then sent it out to work crews. The procedure is now automated, allowing not only savings in staff time, but helping to identify trending maintenance problems.
Tririga also eliminated the need to use emails and phone calls to organize transit for 6,000 students per day.
Jim Fletcher admitted that, five years after the commencement of IBM's Smarter Planet journey, he sometimes reflects on "how far we still have to go." The experience of these three school districts shows how far smarter technology has come already -- and a revenue increase on the scale seen in Palm Beach County wins the ROI debate hands down.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution