York Region District School Board (YRDSB) is the third largest school board in Ontario, with over 123,000 students in 210 schools. With new schools opening every year, YRDSB is committed to meeting the increasing demand for school space and growth while maintaining the focus on success and achievement that keeps York Region students performing consistently above the provincial average.
YRDSB began their search for a new school board financial solution when it became apparent that upgrading their existing legacy system, BAS2000, would not meet their operational needs any longer. Additionally, many of their processes with their system were painfully time consuming and labour intensive. When staff would go to process invoices, they had to limit the number of users posting their batches, otherwise they would be locked out and have to reboot the system. From a purchasing perspective, the board had virtually nothing to go off of for reporting and there was little visibility into the process itself.
They required a solution that would easily and successfully integrate with their IT strategy and technology investments, and they needed to be assured that the technology developer was spending thought and money on ensuring the solution would continue to provide excellent performance well into the future.
“It was important to our board that the solution we selected provide us with investment protection and is affordable, high performing, flexible, and scalable for our size and expected growth. We also needed a system that aligned well with our IT strategy and technology investments already made,” says Wanda Muirhead, Chief Financial Officer at YRDSB.
Additionally, when YRDSB moved their purchasing to an electronic requisition/purchase order system, they maintained a paper-based process for the purchase of low dollar value consumable items. This was done to not burden school administrative support staff with having to manually enter many multiple line item orders into their electronic purchase order system. This meant school staff would reference paper catalogs for a listing of contract bid items (that they’d manually keep updated). Then they’d fill out a paper order form and after obtaining approval, fax it directly to the supplier. The supplier would ship the product and send the board an invoice. Accounting would then manually reconcile the purchase order (PO), invoice, and paper receiving copy before approving payment to the vendor. This created a lot of extra work for both the supplier and the school, as well as an excess of unnecessary paperwork. Even with their electronic purchase order system, vendor and board staff had plenty of manual data entry to do.
In 2009 York Region District School Board implemented their Sparkrock K12 Finance Solution, and since then they’ve gone through a major update and are currently in the process of starting another update to the latest version. In terms of the implementation process of the original solution in 2009, Dan Reynolds, the Senior Manager of Finance, commented, “It was definitely a challenging process, but we were done on time and it was one of the fastest projects our board has completed. Ultimately, the end result of the product was different from when we started the project because the Sparkrock team listened to our needs and concerns throughout the implementation process – and adjusted our solution as such.”
Like all good things, there are ups and down – and while this project had its challenges, the end result was positive. “Sparkrock definitely cared about us and our ideas, and I believe everyone wanted to understand each other.”, says Christina Kerr, Associate Manager of Accounting Services.
Today, the board continues to feel supported has seen year over year improvements in Sparkrock’s customer engagement programs. Dan Reynolds says, “We’ve seen Sparkrock grow as a company over the years and their response times are amazing. They listen to what we need and what we’re looking for, and it’s clear they have a dedication to being involved with their customers from their regular in person visits with our team.”
York Region District School Board continues to benefit from their decision in 2009 to move to Sparkrock. For example, since implementing Sparkrock, the YRDSB finance team operates more strategically and proactively with faster access to data and leveraging robust reporting tools. The increased visibility of real-time data has been extremely useful for purchasing; Bill Vansickle, the Purchasing Manager at York, comments, “Before the Sparkrock solution we had zero reporting abilities from a purchasing standpoint. Now we’re able to generate reports on any area we want more insight into – Spend by Buyer, Spend by Vendor, Cycle Time reports, and more. I can now pinpoint areas where productivity is being hindered and can solve the problem quickly.” Additionally, to combat the challenging manual processes that surrounded their reporting, Sparkrock partnered with YRDSB in the development of an integration package for their new and innovative eBuy Online Shopping P2P platform, which is proving to be very successful with teachers and board staff.
Other areas the board has seen increased efficiencies are being able to export to Excel, bank reconciliations, and HST reporting. With the Sparkrock solution staff now have the ability to import and export from Excel which saves up to an hour on manually keying in entries. As for bank reconciliations, they used to all be done externally from their system, but now with the integration of the General Ledger, it can all be done within the solution. This was a huge step in increasing transparency, as they have checks that get cleared daily, so now they can now see when everything has been cleared in real-time. For HST reporting, everything is now automated within the system when they submit returns.
Lastly, the biggest time save YRDSB has seen is during their year-end close. In their old solution they used to have to create a different database for every year and then recommit and re-key in all of the entries for each year. Now the system simply brings over all of their commitments, eliminating the redundancy of manual effort every year!
“The last 9 years working together have been mutually beneficial for YRDSB and Sparkrock. We continue to make investments, care about our relationship and work hard at delivering quality support and services, and York DSB helps us deepen our understanding of the Ontario school boards. This deepened understanding means happy users in administration and schools for Ontario boards overall.”, shares Nicola Dickinson, VP of Customer Success at Sparkrock.
“We are happy we made the decision to implement Sparkrock’s school board finance solution. These areas where time and effort is saved benefit all members of the school board, although getting all school users on board for a new system can be tough.”, admits YRDSB, “It is a big change, but ultimately once users learn the new system they truly enjoy it.”. A few of the ways the board got the user level enticed by the potential of the solution is with functionalities such as reporting. These new reports are being delivered to them every month, showing them more and more data that pertains to them, which allows them to become excited about how the solution can improve their work. By demonstrating what the solution can do for them, it combats the uncertainty of having to learn something new.