Denver Public Schools (DPS) has nearly 14,000 employees-just about as many as IKEA does in the US or Facebook does in total. DPS is among the 50 largest school districts in the country (and growing) with almost 200 schools and offices and an annual budget of more than $900 million.

Within DPS is the Business Information Systems (BIS) group, an organization which provides support of Financial and HR systems at the district. Like most large school districts, BIS spends a considerable amount of time investing in internal systems and technologies designed to automate manual work and increase efficiency for its customers, track compliance, and provide a consistent set of processes to form the foundation of operations at the District.

Not too long ago, BIS relied on a combination of Google spreadsheets, Google slides, and Google forms to manage project requests and resources. They didn’t even have a central document tracking system.

And according to Lynne Ly, the Business Information Systems program manager at DPS, even the Google product suite was an improvement from a few years earlier when project requests were tracked on a list as “to dos” and IT requests were tracked by e-mail and SharePoint.

Supporting the Strategic Tech Vision

BIS has a 5-year road map outlining how they want their systems to support and enable academics. Without a global way to view and manage the entire technology backbone, implementing and supporting that vision was a major challenge.

“Before, it was difficult for us to manage data, difficult for our senior managers to see and understand what BIS and business departments were doing, and to know what resources were needed and how those could be effectively allocated,” explained Ly.

Not having a proper IT service management platform and business processes made it difficult to prioritize project requests and allocate resources to projects and service requests that provide the highest value to customers.

“Because we were so challenged with our project data, we were spending a lot of time planning and refining project lists and communications” she said. “I was spending 30 percent of my time managing the portfolio from spreadsheets and extracting data from the spreadsheet to create reports for senior management. Now I spend less than 10 percent of my time doing that.”

(Next page: Improving IT maturity; system consolidation; and data-driven decisions)

Improving IT Maturity

That is a classic symptom of an organization not reaching its full potential in terms of IT maturity. DPS was not using their data to drive operations and get the most out of their infrastructure and learning technology investments, so Ly set out to change the way they were working, ultimately improving efficiency of resources and most importantly, the outcomes for students.

Ly and her colleagues’ solution was to shift the entire BIS and IT Service Management operation to TeamDynamix, which combines service and project management on a single platform. This approach allows different departments to look at and optimize resources across tickets and projects, improves communications, and allows a shift in focus to strategic goals rather than routine operations.

System Consolidation Across All Departments

DPS, Ly says, has used the new tool as a resource manager and been able to quickly integrate several segregated systems into one cohesive solution. “In any organization, if you’re struggling to manage projects, it makes sense to take a step back and ask, ‘do you want to have these five different systems or do you want them to come together?’” she said.

“Allowing us to integrate all these pieces has made better decision-making possible and been very valuable,” Ly said. “With better data and systems, we can now conduct process improvement evaluations around how our teams and departments and leaders use the tools–we can map it out. And we can be agile and flexible. If something isn’t working, we just say, ‘let’s change it.’ And we change it.”

Making Data-Driven Decisions

At the same time, it’s been the ability to make better, data-driven, long-range planning and resource decisions, while keeping flexibility, that has been the most valuable benefit of using the integrated TeamDynamix tools. A planning and deployment process that used to be time-consuming and error prone because of a lack of information access and awareness about actual resource allocations, is now happening in real time with real data. DPS can now efficiently make realistic long-range plans and meet them.

With an integrated IT and systems management platform, when someone says they can fix something on Thursday, it actually means Thursday. And when education or business leaders say a new tool will be up and running in 90 days, they are not guessing if the work can actually be completed.

That’s a big shift in information and project management for any organization, especially in such a short time (less than five months). The key, said Ly, was in realizing what DPS had in common with any large organization – they needed better and consistently flexible access to their data, up and down their organization.

“What we do for students and teachers is special,” Ly said. “But data is data and good data and project tools will work if you and your teams give them a chance.”

With their new IT and data tools, DPS is cutting their planning and response times dramatically and making better use of their human resources. According to Ly, this will unquestionably show up in better performance and happier and more satisfied end users, whether they work in payroll, HR, or a classroom.

[Editor’s note: Lynne Ly is a certified PMI (PMP), ScrumMaster, and ITIL v3 IT professional whose background is a combination of ERP implementations, SaaS application implementations, program and portfolio management, software development, consulting, business analysis, and database administration. Following is an overview of how Ly and her team are working to more effectively support the District’s technology needs.]

About the Author:

Derek Newton is a writer based in New York City who has written about education for The Atlantic, Huffington Post and other publications. He attended Columbia University and served as Vice-President of the progressive think tank, The Century Foundation.