January 28, 2008 By Merrill Douglas
that it wasn't a big shock to the campus."
Using the money it saved as a beta partner, the university offered incentive pay to teams that met certain established goals. "It gave people a pat on the back when they were working weekends and long hours," Fox said.
That kind of encouragement proved important. With its numerous demands and aggressive schedule, the project took a heavy toll. "People were worn out. People quit," Fox said. "We made it by the skin of our teeth."
But they did make it -- on time and under budget. Angelo State completed Portico, which included a new user portal as well as the Banner implementation, in December 2006.
At about the same time Angelo State launched Portico, officials at the Plano Independent School District (ISD) began seeking an ERP system of their own. They started shopping, in part, because the vendor that had sold the district its student information and financial management systems no longer supported the software.
Also, Plano's management applications weren't integrated. Along with the student and finance packages, the district used custom-developed software to generate state-mandated reports and manage transportation. It had also purchased a health management system. "And then we fit them all together," said John Alawneh, executive director of technology operations for Plano ISD. "We had some jobs running every night that exchanged the information and synced up everybody in all the systems."
A diligent search turned up many single-purpose packages but no one solution that would do it all. "I have not seen any fully integrated system that supports the K-12 environment," Alawneh said. Apparently a district had two choices: It could take a best-of-breed approach and interface the components, or it could buy a general-purpose ERP solution and then pay SAP, Oracle or PeopleSoft to customize that product.
But officials at the Plano ISD decided on a third route. Since the original vendor had abandoned its student and finance packages, the district had been paying Prologic Technology Systems in Austin for software support. District officials decided to work with Prologic to create their own ERP for school districts from the ground up.
This solution actually cost less than it would have to buy and interface separate packages or buy a customized version of a leading ERP suite, Alawneh said. So far, Plano ISD has spent a little less than $4 million on the project. The money comes from a $286 million bond issue for district improvements that voters approved in 2004.
One reason the project didn't cost more was that it used open source software. "We didn't want to be tied and committed to any specific platform," Alawneh said. And school officials didn't want to spend millions of dollars a year on licensing fees. Plano's system uses Linux servers on the back end and browser-based thin clients on the front end.
However, because many of the 1,200 applications used throughout the district aren't browser based, Plano ISD won't be removing the licensed operating systems from all of its desktop computers anytime soon. "Until we migrate and sunset some of those applications, we would have to keep Microsoft XP running on some machines," Alawneh said.
Plano ISD and Prologic began developing the system in 2004. They got the HR module running in 2005, starting with a system for managing online job applications. The student information system also is complete. Now, the district is bringing up the financial modules, piloting time and attendance functions for transportation and planning a full transportation system.
The trickiest aspect of the implementation has been getting users to accept the new software, Alawneh said. To smooth the way, project leaders solicited ideas for the applications from school executives and managers, and they met with user focus groups during
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