Accountability and Efficiency Build a Better School District
The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) in Oakland, Calif., may have been founded in the 19th century, but today it has launched a five-year plan to promote excellence, with a goal of students finding joy in their academic experience while learning the skills needed to succeed in the future. Serving 46,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12, the school district has embraced three core priorities – effective talent programs, an accountable school district, and quality community schools.
As part of the district’s accountability and quality priorities, it chose to automate certain tasks that were bogging down its staff in paperwork and manual follow-up. In search of a simpler way to initiate vendor contracts, approve companies that do work for the district, and ascertain the necessary approvals from various levels within the district administration, OUSD turned to Integrify for an automated request management solution.
Choose a workflow management system that would automate the contract initiation and vendor approval processes, including the ability to allow outsider vendors to use the system as well.
Integrify version 5 was introduced in 2010, with the software installed on OUSD’s on-site servers. Several plug-ins are being utilized, primarily the PDF Merge, Database Push and Database Pull plugins. In 2014, OUSD upgraded to the latest version 6 platform.
The Integrify Solution
For years, OUSD had managed its extensive vendor clearance process through a paper-based system. It entailed manually filling out a contract, collecting a vendor’s resume/credentials and TB test results, processing the vendors fingerprints for clearance, filling out a statement of work, and then sending all the information to a number of offices within the school district for approval—the school’s principal, network superintendent, chief of schools, the school board, and possibly the state/federal funding and risk management offices.
The process was time-consuming and left much room for human error. This sometimes caused a vendor to start work later than ideal, delaying the delivery of services to schools and central office departments.
Integrify is a 100% web-based solution for Enterprise Request Management (ERM) that allows companies to automate requests and streamline processes. The software provides form creation, routing definition, and tracking tools to those responsible for processing requests, minimizing data entry and simplifying requests for approval and fulfillment. The solution eliminates problems typically related to labor-intensive processes such as manual paper handling and email requests, and can reduce costs per transaction 60 to 90 percent as opposed to paper-based processes.
“Integrify makes sense process-wise,” said Susan Beltz, Director of Applications Development and Support. “The school district doesn’t have an unwieldy number of approvals, so the process itself isn’t bad, but the nature of the paper process is that once it leaves your sight, you don’t know where it is anymore.”
OUSD clears a few hundred vendors each year (and repeat vendors must be cleared again at the beginning of each school year), and some of them have more than one contract with the district. The school system has 86 schools and 56 central office departments, so the number of potential users (which includes its vendors) is between 100 and 200 each year.
OUSD is running two major processes through the Integrify platform. One is vendor management, where recommended vendors are vetted and approved to work with the school district. The other process is contract initiation, where a project is suggested, with an approved vendor attached, and then routed throughout various levels of the district’s hierarchy for approval.
“Integrify has a pretty powerful engine in terms of crafting workflows that are completely what you want them to be, and their plug-ins allow us to put in hooks to pull data and write to custom database tables, do fillable PDFs and make API calls back and forth to other systems,” said Beltz. “With regard to the form that people have to fill in, you can access all the underlying forms to show and hide fields depending on what the user previously selected. You design the forms the way you want them; it’s very flexible and powerful in that regard.”
Moving from a paper-based system to Integrify has made the contract and vendor approval process more efficient, especially due to the transparency of the process.
With the paper-based system, once the paperwork left the contract initiator’s hands, they had no idea where the request was or who to nudge for action. Now, when a user launches the system, within moments they can see, for example, that the contract was cleared by the state and federal compliance office as well as the network superintendent, and that it’s now with the chief of schools, allowing them to follow-up with the chief of schools’ office as needed should there be an unexpected delay in the process.
Integrify has also eliminated the need to chase down a vendor for necessary information. By automating the process with the Integrify platform, users simply fill out a form on line to initiate the contract. An email goes to the vendor to complete the web form and attach their resume and TB test results (as well as any other credentials the contract might require), and then the package is sent to procurement for approval. If the procurement office requires more information from the vendor, the request bounces back directly to the vendor rather than being sent to the contract initiator to start over again. Clerical workers at the individual schools save a tremendous amount of time because they no longer need to track down paperwork through email and phone follow-up.
Return on Investment
OUSD’s return on investment came in the form of a more efficient, timely, and accountable system for initiating vendor contracts and clearing the companies with which it wants to do business.
First and foremost, the Integrify system delivers efficient risk mitigation, streamlining the process to ensure that the vendors with which the schools work are reputable, insured, and not a safety risk to the district’s staff and students.
The workflow also ensures on-time vendor payment by collecting all necessary paperwork directly from the vendors and automatically issuing purchase orders upon approval of the contract.
Clerical and administrative staff members save time with every step of the process, as the user interface provides immediate request status upon launching the system.
Finally, many departments benefit from the auditable nature of Integrify, from accounting to risk mitigation, as each step of the approval process is documented.
The system has worked so well that OUSD is looking to add request types to help in other departments.
Some contracts, depending on the dollar amount attached, may have to go all the way to the school board for approval, and in that case, the contract request is manually entered into Legistar to be added to the board’s agenda. Beltz said the IT team is looking to integrate Integrify with Legistar to automate this last step in the process as well.
The district may also add a few smaller tasks to Integrify, such as the ability to look at a vendor’s cumulative spend and a process to plan and seek approval for field trips.
“The Integrify system is very solid,” said Beltz. “I like the versatility of it as well. When you start looking at all the options you have and how you can have your own 100% customizable forms, it’s really a great platform for developing these things.”