From automated vehicle-location (AVL) systems that track school buses via global positioning satellites to smart production systems that know whether it’s cheaper to photocopy and or duplicate a stack of documents based on the number of copies needed, technology has become a central element in every aspect of school business operations. And attendees at this year’s Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) show saw some of the most innovative solutions.

At the conference, held Oct. 31 through Nov. 4 in Charlotte, N.C., 1,538 school business officials from the United States, Canada, and elsewhere learned about a brand-new communication system that will alert parents instantly via cell phones, pagers, eMail messages, and web sites in the event of school emergencies. They found computerized payroll systems that will cut just one payroll check for an employee even when that employee’s position is funded from half a dozen separate budget accounts.

Approximately 200 companies were represented at the ASBO show. Here, in alphabetical order, is a quick review of the offerings from some of the most notable:

AIG Technology, a developer of middleware workflow management software, demonstrated its intelligent laser printing, imaging workflow, and web-based form filler solutions. Using platform-independent solutions, AIG’s products–Doc e Serve, Doc e Scan, and Doc e Fill–aim to provide increased business productivity, foster better decision making, and help eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies in the distribution and administration of documents, the company said.

Doc e Serve enables schools saddled with old, poor-quality dot-matrix printers and publishing tools to produce clear, laser-quality transcripts and student reports without purchasing brand-new equipment and changing processes from the back end. Simply put, this add-on solution allows school users to step up their printing quality without making additional changes to their existing systems, AIG said.

Doc e Scan is an electronic filing cabinet that allows educators to move and group important documents, whether it be health forms or disciplinary records, from the file cabinet to the computer screen. Once the paper-based documents are scanned into the system, educators can search for information using key words and search terms, from Social Security numbers to last names and more.

Doc e Fill is a tool for filing out forms online. Instead of filing paper-based forms and then scanning them into the computer, Doc e Fill allows educators to fill out administrative forms online and can be configured to send those forms automatically to the appropriate channels. Users also can track the progress of documents to determine whether a form has been received. Schools can create electronic versions of the forms they need themselves, or AIG will work with schools to develop customized electronic forms for a one-time fee. http://www.aigtechnology.com

Brother International touted its Macintosh and Windows network-compatible laser printers, color inkjet and laser multifunction centers, and facsimile and cool lamination systems for schools and businesses. In the front office, school business officials can turn to one of Brother’s Color Multifunction Centers to provide color printing, copying, scanning, and fax services all in one portable, easily storable unit, the company said. Other featured tools for schools include the Intellifax-4750e High Speed Business Class Laser Fax and the HL-2460N Network-Ready Laser Printer. http://education1.brother.com/index.asp

ePlus, a provider of supply-chain management solutions, demonstrated a number of eBusiness tools for schools and other public-sector institutions, from financial and asset management software to procurement services. Through the company’s Enterprise Cost Management framework, school leaders are invited to implement a multidisciplinary approach to controlling and maintaining cost savings related to purchasing, life-cycle management, and financing. Company executives say the idea is to create a better return on investment by improving total cost of ownership for technology products and other goods, while leveraging an organization’s strategic spending power and reducing its overall enterprise costs. http://www.eplus.com

The Video Systems Group at GE Interlogix now offers schools a mobile digital recording system called BusSecure. When installed in school buses, the mountable video recorders store images from up to four cameras mounted inside or outside the vehicle. School leaders and other authorized personnel can access the stored footage using a laptop or desktop computer. The company also offers a host of security measures for school buildings, including electronic locks and keypads for doors, motion sensors, digital video recorders, and ceiling and wall surveillance tools, as well as advanced video identification tools that can single out possible intruders on campus automatically. If drugs or weapons pose a potential risk, the company offers IonTrack, a unique detection device used to sniff out contraband substances in lockers and in other popular hiding places throughout a school. http://www.geindustrial.com/ge-interlogix/index.html?SMSESSION=NO

Honeywell, perhaps best known for its aerospace and engineering services, has also been a leader in school security solutions for nearly 50 years. During the show, the company unveiled its latest in school building solutions, Honeywell Instant Alert for Schools. This automated emergency notification and communication system enables schools to broadcast information about an emergency situation to parents and guardians instantly through the use of various communication devices. According to Honeywell, the service allows parents to choose multiple points of contact; a single communication can be broadcast simultaneously to a parent or guardian’s cell phone, eMail program, and pager. Plus, a web site enables parents to update their contact information whenever they choose, ensuring they can be reached in times of an emergency. If, for example, a school is forced to close early because of inclement weather, the administrator can record a single voice message that is then relayed to the Instant Alert system and automatically broadcast to parents through their specified means of communication. The product already has been piloted by a number of schools. It is expected to be released nationwide in January. http://www.honeywell.com/instantalert

Lawson Software provides an entire suite of management solutions for schools and other public-sector organizations. Lawson’s enterprise applications are designed to help organizations improve operational efficiency, accountability, and results. For instance, educators at the Harford County Public Schools in Maryland recently began using the company’s Human Resources Suite to manage the district’s day-to-day payroll responsibilities, from hourly wages to salaried employees.

The software is sophisticated enough to draw from multiple budget categories and create a single paycheck for a teacher who also might earn money as a coach or other extracurricular leader. “The Lawson system eliminates duplication of effort, increases accuracy of data, and allows each department to enter and maintain its own data,” said Bob Smith, software administrator for the Harford County Public Schools.

Lawson also offers solutions for financial management and procurement. Each solution is designed to help schools stick to their purchasing policies and improve upon current inventory practices, the company said. http://www.lawson.com

Bearing in mind that technology often moves too fast for schools to keep pace with–especially when it comes to buying and upgrading video and computer systems–Philips Electronics showcased its latest SmartCard devices. Perhaps most notable were the company’s television cards, which can be inserted into standard commercial television sets to expand the devices’ capabilities. Certain cards enable educators to network wirelessly with several televisions simultaneously to coordinate broadcasts. Other cards make it possible for classroom TVs to interact with computers to broadcast streaming media, display applications, and browse the web, among other functions. According to Philips, the idea behind the SmartCards is to provide a cost-effective solution that enables schools and other customers to upgrade their television equipment without investing in entirely new systems, which often are expensive and out of the question for most schools, especially during a tough budget year. Several schools around the country already are using the technology, according to the company. http://www.itv.philips.com/naeducation.asp

Riso Inc. demonstrated its intelligent document management solutions for schools and businesses. The company’s products include the Riso Document Management Solution, a combination of hardware and software tools designed to copy, scan, fax, eMail, and print documents across multiple platforms. In one scenario suggested by Riso, suppose a school superintendent wants to distribute a warning to all students, faculty, and parents regarding a health emergency. Using the Riso Document Management Solution, someone from the district’s central office can send the warning to various school building printers. At the same time, the system also will broadcast the document automatically to all parents via eMail and will begin faxing the warning to local radio and television stations–all from a single, centralized location. The idea, according to Riso, is to provide a quicker, more efficient system for producing information and getting it to the public quickly. Company executives say the automated system can save time and money, offering a reprieve from what often is a highly labor-intensive distribution process. http://www.riso.com

SchoolDude.com displayed its online suite of more than 50 facility management tools to help schools save money and operate more efficiently. The subscription-based web site offers a number of business services, including Community Direct, an online forum that allows education leaders to exchange best practices and tips for better business management; Maintenance Direct, which contains a tool called the Internet Maintenance Management System that lets schools streamline the upkeep process by tracking repair requests, orders, and assignments; FS Direct, for managing and scheduling after-hours use of the school building and campus; Inventory Direct, an online tool to keep track of your school’s goods and services; Survey Direct, which enables school leaders to build surveys and questionnaires that will enable them to better determine the efficiency of their business units; and Utility Direct, for analyzing the costs associated with utility services. According to the company, the service starts at $995 a year and comes with a 15-day free trial. The South Carolina Energy Office recently chose SchoolDude’s Utility Direct to help schools in that state better manage their energy costs, the company said. SchoolDude is easily searchable by topic and also provides a place for school personnel to hunt for potential vendors and service providers, according to the company. http://www.schooldude.com/default.asp

Software Systems Unlimited, a distributor of products for school management software provider GICSOFT Inc., unveiled a number of new resources for schools, including Document Intelligence, an advanced software tool that enables school districts to organize and store all their paper-based documents in one secure, web-based location. Another product, Human Resources Plus, enables HR employees to post information such as job openings, recruitment schedules, news, and other required documents online, helping the district open better lines of communication between itself and current or prospective employees. Software applications also are available to redesign school web sites and to improve teachers’ instructional web pages, among other things. http://www.ssuinc.net

Trapeze Software Group, a maker of technology to better manage public transit systems, announced that its MapNet AVL interface is now operational in Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools. According to the company, this is the first live implementation of the MapNet interface to automatically locate and track vehicles in a school bus fleet–and one of the largest installations of its kind in the country.

“With more than 1,100 buses performing 6,000 daily routes, we wanted to pinpoint the exact location of our buses in case of an emergency and to make sure safety restrictions were being followed by our drivers,” said Grant Reppert, director of transportation for Gwinnett County. “The Trapeze MapNet AVL interface [along with bus transceiver hardware from West Lawn, Pa.-based Everyday Wireless LLC] will allow us to monitor our entire fleet of buses and extract route and other data to analyze our operations.”

The MapNet AVL interface provides real-time location information and history for school buses. Additional features include driver alert notifications, safety zone alerts, and speed limit alerts. The information is compared automatically with the district’s school bus schedule to develop compliance information, ensuring accurate route planning. http://herecomesthebus.com/RealTime/RealTime.htm