The Toronto District School Board expects to get a financial payback for its SAP implementation in about five years, but according to its general manager of IT services, the real benefit will be

the knowledge it brings.

When it started its ongoing SAP rollout in 1999, the catalyst was amalgamating six different school districts into one: 300,000 students and 38,000 staff in 575 schools with 60,000 Intel and Apple network devices. But as time went on, the project took on a wider scope. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) wanted to gather information across multiple systems and present it in a strategic way.

“What the government is driving at is, ‘I’ll give you grant money if you can prove accountability and can prove that you are making decisions based on evidence,’” said Jacob Chan, its general manager of IT services. If they can’t demonstrate accountability, they won’t get the grant. So they needed tools and technology to prove the TDSB is, in fact, achieving its goals and meeting its targets.

Evidence-based decision-making demonstrates how well – or poorly – students are doing, and how they can achieve their potential. And the system has processes in place to trigger interventions for special needs students.

“We can do some comparisons, we can benchmark ourselves against others, we can compare our achievement results with provincial-wide testing standards,” he said. The TDSB is currently developing a business warehouse and rolling out customer relationship management software to provide long-term trend analysis. This will allow the school district to analyze student achievement, demographic shifts and budgetary information over the years.

At Sapphire 2005 held here last week, SAP announced a global initiative to address the challenge of calculating the ROI of information technology deployments in the public sector. Slated to kick off in June, the company plans to work with government agencies, public policy think tanks and academic institutions to develop a “public ROI” methodology for measuring returns on public service programs.

Tom Shirk, president of Global Public Services with SAP, said the public sector is moving away from specific functions like e-government, shifting to more of a focus on processes. A public ROI would take into account three factors: operational, political and social ROI. But, to date, there is no way of measuring these combined factors.

In a recent Economist Intelligence Unit study, nearly 70 percent of public sector executives worldwide said they’re aiming to measure social returns on IT initiatives and make these transparent to citizens and stakeholders in the next five years.

Joel Martin, vice-president of software and business alignment with IDC Canada, said this is the first time we’re seeing a need for increased productivity not only from the private sector, but also from the public sector. And ROI is being determined not from a technology perspective, but from a business process perspective. In government, the hot IT priorities right now are customer care and performance management.

“What the ROI doesn’t tell is the benefit of having information at your hands that would actually help you to support student success much more effectively or support evidence-based decision-making much more effectively,” said Chan. “The fact we have knowledge is priceless.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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