Things to Consider Before Deciding to Implement an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems

Written by Debbie Karcher

In the last article, the funding pipeline for systems were discussed. As mentioned, systems are often implemented without the full support of the district and without fully understanding the impact of a new system to the district, the Information Technology Department, and the overall budget. Because of ongoing district budget constraints, this practice is not going away.

However, this does not mean that districts should not have a strategy for replacing or retiring legacy systems. They are expensive to maintain and will eventually go out of support and/or the expertise to maintain them is lost to retirement or other organizations. Instead this article discusses the types of ERP systems in the K12 sector, critical systems needed prior to implementing an ERP system, reasons for keeping older systems, and near-term improvements that can be made to existing systems to extend their use while developing a long-term implementation and resource plan for the districts’ systems.

First, to understand school information technology systems one needs to understand that school districts have several sub industries that need to be supported by unique systems.  There are three core ERP systems and many ancillary systems in school districts. The first is ERP for your business operations that include human capital, finance, time and attendance, payroll, and purchasing. The second is the Student Information System (SIS) that manage core student data including demographics, grading, scheduling, attendance and transcripts. The third, which is usually owned and managed by the academic unit, are the Learning Management Systems that maintain, report, and deliver education systems and several ancillary systems such as Food Service Management, Transportation Management, and Facilities Management. Adding to the lack of clarity, some School Administration Software can include many of the above components mentioned in one product. 

Implementing each of the above systems individually can be risky and any search will provide numerous examples of failed ERP projects in all business sectors; no business is safe from failure.  School districts are especially at risk because of limited resources and competing priorities.

Outlined below are some recommendations that should be considered even before adding system replacement to a district’s strategic plan:

  • Make sure all back-office requirements are met such as:
    • Identification management
    • Active directory
    • Password management
    • Class rosters
    • Single Sign-On
    • Portal access for all systems
    • Some type of extract, transform, and load (ETL) system or process to leverage the data available in different sources
  • Inventory current systems and all modules available. This will be an enlightening experience because recruitment software may be available in several ERP systems already owned, but because of the nature of teacher recruiting, they may have a niche third-party system.
  • Survey your users on the systems that need replacement. It may turn out that using existing reporting systems or combining data from multiple systems may provide the same result.
  • Ask your users what other pain points they have. This may reveal that there are other systems that would provide a greater return on investment, reduce operating costs, and increase efficiency. Also, simply making a change in a process or workflow may make the system friendlier and easier to use.
  • Do not replace working systems unless the district has a very high Return on Investment (ROI) or the system is no longer maintainable.
  • Review the enhancements, requirements, and defect backlog; this will provide insight into what the new system should include.
  • If you are replacing the payroll system, make sure employees’ timekeeping  has been automated. This is essential and under no circumstances should an organization move forward without this. Timekeeping systems can streamline payroll processes, improve accuracy, and prevent fraud.

The decision determined at the end of this exercise may still result in either a need for a system replacement or a re-prioritization of the systems replacement. There is a chance that you will need to upgrade your Human Capital Systems particularly if your Student Information System is out of support and no longer providing the capability needed for today’s mobile workforce. Going  through this process will result in the identification of system requirements and new requirements, elimination of enhancements that were once important but are no longer needed, and the start of a business case to persuade leadership to prioritize systems replacement. 

Unsure of the next steps?  Worldgate has the expertise and K12 business experience to assist you and your District to identify the current state and requirements needed to reach your future vision.