Business Practices

Integrated ERP Solutions

If your district isn’t using an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to its fullest potential, you’re in good company. Leveraging your ERP platform’s many features and integrating with other less obvious applications is a process of patient prioritization, but the results are worth it.

Woodford County Public Schools, in Kentucky, uses an integrated ERP system to manage financial and personnel functions for 550 fulltime employees and 4,000 students across six schools, the Safe Harbor Academy, the transportation department, and other support assets.

Our core system features a single database that integrates all financial, human resources, and procurement information throughout the district, centralizing data and processes. A single data entry is available on all ERP applications, reducing redundancy, increasing efficiency, and improving data quality and integrity.

Additionally, this ERP solution can integrate with other applications and specialized solutions, thus performing at a higher level. In our case, integration was part of optimizing processes for two priority initiatives: transforming from a manual purchasing process to e-procurement and automating how we manage field trip transportation planning and financial management.

An Approach for ERP Optimization

If you have a modern integrated ERP system, understanding and using all of its features might seem like a daunting task. By first determining what you’d like the system to do, you can evaluate and add the applications available to the ERP, thus making it a better-performing system.

Here are a few recommendations for maximizing what your ERP solution can do for your district:

  • Identify problems. Focus on processes that may be inefficient, waste manpower, appear costly, or are cumbersome. The district may already have a hot list.
  • Identify opportunities. There may be a better way to do something.
  • Think beyond your department. Consider not just the accounting department, but everyone in the organization who touches or is involved in the process.
  • Dissect your ERP system. Study your system to better understand its features as well as complementary applications. Review your vendor’s resource materials and case studies for other districts that your vendor has helped.
  • Talk to your vendor. Make an appointment with your vendor’s representative and share your integration goals. Also ask for optimization recommendations. Good reps know your system, what you’re doing now, and where you can go.
  • Don’t request an RFP just yet. Don’t rush to send a request for proposals until you talk with your vendor! You may be buying something you already have; you may pay more than you would for a plug-in application to your system; or you may acquire an application that won’t integrate well with your platform.

Selecting a Good ERP System

Change is never easy, but an integrated ERP system will be more efficient, will create cost savings, will improve transparency, and more. Here are a few recommendations to consider when selecting your system:

  • School-district-ready features. Make sure your system is designed for the unique aspects of school district finance and includes built-in workflow and productivity tools. It should also be user-friendly and intuitive.
  • Integration. Evaluate what you need now, but also consider how your district will use the system over time. Look at the unique features you can leverage and other applications you will want to integrate.
  • Cloud-based computing. Select a vendor who offers both hosted and on-premise deployment to meet the specific needs of your district.
  • Upgrades. Be sure you understand how upgrades work and how much, if anything, they cost.
  • Quality vendor. Select an established vendor. You don’t want a vendor that is here today and gone tomorrow, leaving you stranded with an expensive system no one else will support. Here’s where to find a clue: look at the vendor’s R and D commitment to weed out vendors with no tangible commitment to the future.
  • Price. Don’t buy on price alone. You know the old adage: you get what you pay for.
  • Vendor support. Make sure your vendor offers more than a help desk for support. Ideally, you will have a representative—a person you will come to know—who will be your partner, not just a vendor.

Whether you need a new ERP system or you have untapped capabilities, it’s worth taking the time to explore options. In the end, you’ll look like the hero, and it will be a big win for your district and your community.

This article is adapted with permission from the December 2018 issue of School Business Affairs, published by the Association of School Business Officials, International. www.asbointl.org.

About the Author

Amy Smith is chief operating/financial officer for Woodford County Public Schools in Kentucky. She can be reached at amy.smith@woodford.kyschools.us.