How to Eliminate a 40-Year-Old Mainframe

For the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Technology Services, switching from an ancient mainframe to a series of state-of-theart information systems was not a one-size-fits-all initiative.

The OTS team decided to create three different information systems: one for student information, dubbed the Instructional Management Program and Academic Communication Tool (IMPACT); one for humanresource information, called CPS@Work; and a third for back-office functions such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, and budgeting.

When all three systems are fully functional–and all staff members have been trained to use them–these systems will have the potential to revolutionize how CPS runs its operations. Here’s how district officials have gone about this massive undertaking.

Making an IMPACT

IMPACT is a $41.4 million project that brings student data together into a single point of contact, allowing principals and teachers to access student information more easily, reducing paperwork, and giving teachers more instructional time with their students.

The project is the single most important initiative of the CPS tech team, “and if anyone else tells you different, you send them to me,” jokes district CIO Robert Runcie.

IMPACT has three major components: the Student Information Management (SIM) system will replace the district’s current student information system; the Curriculum and Instructional Management (CIM) system will provide helpful tools for instruction; and the Specialized Services Management (SSM) system will manage information for students with special needs.

Powered by software from Chancery Student Management Solutions, the SIM will allow teachers and administrators to access and manage student information such as grade reporting, progress reports, failure notices, enrollment, attendance, scheduling, behavior reports, and discipline issues. Users also will be able to schedule and build calendars.

A significant challenge to implementing the database is the fact that OTS cannot simply build a new database and then shut off the old one, because there are bound to be kinks that must be worked out. While the IMPACT system is rolling out, OTS must maintain the original student information system and run both systems simultaneously. Only after all stakeholders have been trained in IMPACT, and after it is guaranteed to work as it should, will OTS be able to turn off the old system.

IMPACT’s CIM, powered by SchoolNet, is “leading the charge on how teachers pull [all of the data] together,” says Sharnell Jackson, chief eLearning officer. “They’re learning to make data-driven decisions.” CIM will include modules for gathering and managing information for such tasks as data analysis and reporting, standards- based curriculum and instructional management, comprehensive benchmark testing, and web-based communication and collaboration.

The SSM component of IMPACT is the result of an effort by the CPS Office of Specialized Services (OSS) to analyze and improve its internal processes and the delivery of special-ed services. This endeavor will affect more than 55,000 students classified as specialneeds children, as well as approximate-ly 7,000 faculty members, case managers, clinicians, and support staff.

A major focus of the SSM project is the creation and management of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), including the referral process and measurement of progress for specialneeds students. By June 2007, OTS expects that more than 500 staff members will have been trained on SSM and that 450 schools will be using it.

“The reason we’re rolling out in phases is because there’s a large component of professional development,” says Runcie. “We go into the school, teach the core team, make sure they can do enrollment, attendance, et cetera. Then, when they can do that, we move on to the next set of schools.”

Financials that make sense

As important as IMPACT is to the Chicago school system’s enterprise, the switch to Oracle for its back-office financial systems such as budgeting, accounts receivable, and accounts payable was actually the first project to move away from the mainframe.

Payables and purchasing were the first to go, with modules such as iSupplier, iPortal, and Mission Control implemented. Soon, OTS saw a dramatic shift taking place, from a school system where decisions were made at the central office to one that was more school-focused.

Later, budgeting was switched over to the Oracle platform. Modules such as Public Sector Budgeting and Position Control allowed principals to go into the system, create a job description for an available position, access the budget, and get it approved. “[Principals] can open and staff a position in less than a day,” says Jerome

Goudelock, director of financial and HR systems. “That’s incredible.” Goudelock adds that before, “there were a lot of paper-based systems, particularly in budgeting.” Forms had to be printed out from the mainframe and filled out manually by school principals. The principals would deliver these completed forms to the budget analysts, who would enter the information back into the system.

The legacy budgeting system was deactivated, but not disabled completely, when the new system was implemented. “We couldn’t just turn off [the legacy system], because it was tied in with the other systems,” Goudelock explains.

Working with Oracle, Goudelock’s team had to do plenty of customizing to make the product easy to use. They gave it a web-based interface so that it could be accessed quickly and easily. “Principals can go in, do what they need to do in budgeting, and get out. They can put their [efforts] toward instructional time,” he says.

As training was rolled out, OTS noticed that having multiple logins was a sore spot among users. Moving forward, the team will work to create a single sign-on approach, Goudelock says.

No more ‘administrative headaches’

The CPS@Work initiative will see the final elimination of the mainframe. The initiative is a $19 million partnership between HR and OTS that will replace the current benefits, HR, and payroll systems.

Using PeopleSoft software, CPS@Work will “take away administrative headaches–the things that keep people up at night–and enable them to focus on the things that are really important in schools, which is the children,” says Goudelock.

Why PeopleSoft, when OTS already was using Oracle for its back-office financial systems? (The question might not seem as important today, because Oracle now owns PeopleSoft. But the decision was made before Oracle purchased its business rival.)

Goudelock explains: “When going through the requirements of the HR processes, we wanted to buy best-inbreed [software], not simply a ‘product.’ PeopleSoft won.” In other words, the OTS team chose PeopleSoft as its software vendor for CPS@Work, because it was the most effective system based on the needs of stakeholders.

Suppose a teacher has a new baby. She has to make changes to her list of insurance beneficiaries, to her healthcare coverage, and to other related benefits. Traditionally, this paperwork would have to be filled out separately and mailed or taken by hand to various departments. Later, the teacher might go to the doctor because her baby was sick, only to discover that something wasn’t covered, because a certain step in the process never happened.

With CPS@Work, employees will be able to enter all of this information into the system online. The system will take users through the various steps, ensuring that everything is completed. “It will walk you through all of that, online, in one sitting,” says Goudelock. “At the end of the day, you’ll get notification that you’ve made the changes, payroll will be updated automatically, the [insurance] carrier gets notified … All of these projects take paperwork out of the equation. [Staff members then] can focus on teaching.”

The CPS@Work team started by mapping out the district’s business processes, which took about a year. Deputy CIO Maurice Woods was an important driver in this area, because one of his core functions is to challenge established business procedures. (“How can we streamline? How can we improve?” reportedly is his mantra.)

Then, OTS picked PeopleSoft as its software provider and brought on CherryRoad Technologies for the implementation.

CPS@Work is planned to roll out within the first quarter of next year. For three months, both systems will run side by side, performing functions in the legacy system and also in the PeopleSoft software, to make sure the new system works. “We’ll be going through check by check, person by person, to make sure that everything either works the same or has a reconcilable difference,” Goudelock says. –JN

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