School District Scraps Open-Source Solution, Boosts Productivity by 50 Percent


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Forsyth County Schools serves a rapidly growing student
population near Atlanta, Georgia, with a longtime commitment
to academic and technology innovation. Facing tightened
budgets in late 2008, the district decided to move away from its
longtime use of Microsoft Office and deploy OpenOffice to
some 20,000 computers, but with this deployment a number of
compatibility problems stymied productivity. After just over a
year, the district returned to Microsoft Office, with an initial
deployment of Microsoft Office 2007 as a transition step in a
larger move to Microsoft Office 2010. Now, tasks that took hours
in OpenOffice are completed in just minutes, teachers are
making optimal use of a powerful learning management system,
administrators are doing the same with line-of-business
applications and databases, and students are working more
efficiently in and out of the classroom.

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School District Scraps Open-Source Solution, Boosts Productivity by 50 Percent

  1. 1. Microsoft Office System Customer Solution Case Study School District Scraps Open-Source Solution, Boosts Productivity by 50 PercentOverview “When we returned to Microsoft Office after ourCountry or Region: United StatesIndustry: Education experience with OpenOffice, you could practically hear a collective sigh of relief, across the entire district.”Customer ProfileForsyth County Schools has 4,500 Bailey Mitchell, Chief Information Officer, Forsyth County Schoolsemployees and serves more than 35,000students at 35 elementary, middle, andhigh schools; at additional alternative Forsyth County Schools serves a rapidly growing studentand charter schools; and in specialprograms. population near Atlanta, Georgia, with a longtime commitment to academic and technology innovation. Facing tightenedBusiness SituationAfter replacing a longtime Microsoft budgets in late 2008, the district decided to move away from itsOffice installation with OpenOffice, the longtime use of Microsoft Office and deploy OpenOffice todistrict struggled with compatibilityproblems that hindered productivity. some 20,000 computers, but with this deployment a number of compatibility problems stymied productivity. After just over aSolutionForsyth County Schools decided to return year, the district returned to Microsoft Office, with an initialto a Microsoft Office roadmap, with an deployment of Microsoft Office 2007 as a transition step in aimmediate deployment of MicrosoftOffice 2007 and plans for a subsequent larger move to Microsoft Office 2010. Now, tasks that took hoursdeployment of Microsoft Office 2010. in OpenOffice are completed in just minutes, teachers areBenefits making optimal use of a powerful learning management system, Personal productivity up by 50 percent administrators are doing the same with line-of-business Optimal use of applications and databases applications and databases, and students are working more Efficient working environment efficiently in and out of the classroom. Powerful positioning for the future
  2. 2. “Teachers were eager to Situation pressure to reduce licensing costs, the Forsyth County Schools educates more district took a different approach, with anconvert some key than 35,000 students in a 413-square-mile initiative to implement an open-source area roughly 30 miles north of Atlanta, solution. Through that initiative, the districtcontent and learning Georgia. While serving a rapidly expanding replaced Office 2003 with OpenOfficeactivities for use in the student population in one of the fastest- software on some 20,000 computers at growing counties in the United States, the schools, district offices, and students‟ and[learning management] district has earned accolades as a state and teachers‟ homes. national leader in academics. For example,system, but performance numerous schools in the district have been Over time, however, that initiative failed toand compatibility issues named among the “Georgia Schools of yield the desired results, according to Bailey Excellence” by the state‟s Department of Mitchell, Chief Information Officer, Forsythfrustrated their efforts. Education, and in 2010 one of the district‟s County Schools. “Problems with high schools was included in Newsweek compatibility, which barely registeredWith OpenOffice, we had magazine‟s “Top of the Class” list of some during our pilot deployment, grew tothrown a monkey 1,600 high schools throughout the United enormous proportions once we deployed States. into production,” he says. “Our power userswrench into the process.” could no longer easily open documents Forsyth County Schools also has earned containing macros or specializedBailey Mitchell, Chief Information Officer, Forsyth County Schools multiple state and national awards for its formatting, import forms with drop-down leadership in technology innovation, menus, or produce content for our learning including a 2010 “Investing in Innovation” management system. They were delayed or grant from the U.S. Department of prevented from performing business- Education, recognizing the district‟s intelligence analyses using data from our pioneering use of information technology student information system, opening data to support collaboration in the classroom files from the state‟s department of and beyond. Since 2005, all Forsyth County education and external agencies, or doing Schools classrooms have used interactive almost anything that involved HTML or XLS whiteboards and web-based streaming files. The problems just went on and on.” audio and video applications to enhance the teaching of math, language arts, and As a result, productivity plummeted, and other core subjects. Teachers rely on not just among power users. “Students, electronic portfolios to support group teachers, administrators, and support staff projects and track student progress, and across the board, from financial analysts to share activities and assessments through an bus-route schedulers, wasted time and online repository of tools. Teachers also effort trying to use OpenOffice in our have access to a powerful learning environment,” Mitchell says. “People were management system implemented spending 30 to 50 percent more time than districtwide to further enhance creativity they had in the past to create and modify and collaboration. documents—activities that constitute the staple of the work or school day.” Another component of the IT toolset at Forsyth County Schools is the Microsoft These productivity problems were Office suite, which the district first used especially troublesome because around the widely starting in the mid-1990s and same time that Forsyth County Schools continuing into late 2008. At that time, moved to OpenOffice, the district also was when the economic downturn increased ramping up use of its learning
  3. 3. “I am accomplishing a management system to better engage In early 2010, Mitchell and his team students with a blend of traditional presented their case to the district board.wide range of tasks… in classroom content and online instructional “Because board members had heard the materials. “Teachers were eager to convert same arguments already from teachers,just minutes, instead of some key content and learning activities for principals, administrators, parents, justthe hours these tasks use in the online system, but performance about everyone, their response was and compatibility issues frustrated their overwhelmingly positive,” Mitchell says.sometimes took in efforts,” Mitchell says. “With OpenOffice, “And for their part, the principals were so we had thrown a monkey wrench into the excited to be moving back to MicrosoftOpenOffice. Considering process.” Office that they reached into their ownthat I‟m just one of activity accounts to purchase licenses for Yet another problem affected students who their teachers, while the district set out tothousands of users were trying to complete assignments on cover the costs for students and staff.” their home computers—a problem thatthroughout the district, troubled their parents as well. “After That left only the question of whichthat‟s a productivity gain watching their child struggle in OpenOffice Microsoft Office release to deploy. Mitchell to access otherwise familiar documents, explains that as much as he and othersthat is hard to fathom.” parents would express their frustration to were eager to put new Office 2010 the teachers, who relayed these grievances capabilities to use, matters of timing andJeff Hunt, Principal, North Middle School to the principals,” according to Jeff Hunt, urgency required a slightly different Principal, North Middle School. approach. “At the time, the release of Office “Dissatisfaction with OpenOffice was 2010 was some months in the future,” he everywhere.” explains. “Considering our funding and hardware-refresh cycles, and the growing Solution excitement surrounding the move, we After meeting with Hunt and more than 30 decided to go ahead with a deployment of other principals over the course of a year, Microsoft Office 2007 and plan for an Mitchell and his team decided it was time upgrade to Office 2010.” to move Forsyth County Schools back to the Microsoft Office suite. In addition to In a four-month period preceding the their desire to eliminate the compatibility opening of the 2010 school year, a three- problems surrounding OpenOffice, Mitchell person team from the district‟s office of and his colleagues were motivated by what technology services, assisted by site-based they were learning about the newest technology specialists, replaced OpenOffice release of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Office with Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2007 2010. “We especially liked the Web Apps on every one of the more than 20,000 capability of Office 2010, because we were computers installed at 35 schools and four moving rapidly in the direction of making administrative sites. Team members used everything we do web-facing,” Mitchell the Altiris Deployment Solution from says. “We also were intrigued by the rich- Symantec to expedite the project, and content authoring tools, particularly the in- through the learning management system presentation video-editing capabilities of they provided links to free* online training PowerPoint 2010, because video plays an tools from Microsoft for users who wanted important role in our interactive help with the Ribbon, part of the Microsoft whiteboard solution.” Office Fluent interface.
  4. 4. “Because sorting, As it turns out, very little training was students are working more efficiently in the necessary for Forsyth County Schools users. classroom and on their home computers,formatting, and table “It was such a pleasure to have Microsoft graduating seniors are better prepared for Office back on my desk that I was happy to the world of work or college, and theand chart creation are use the resources embedded in the toolset district itself is better able to continue itsmore powerful and more and among my peer network to learn the tradition of technology innovation. Ribbon,” says Hunt, whose experienceintuitive in Office 2007 appears to be common. “With OpenOffice, Boosting Productivity by 50 Percent we provided every user 10 to 12 hours of With Microsoft Office back on their desktopthan in earlier versions of formal training, and still had problems,” and laptop computers, students, teachers,the software, my own Mitchell says. “But with our return to and staff throughout Forsyth County Microsoft Office, no one has expressed a Schools are once again devoting their timeoverall productivity is up need for any formal training.” and talents to getting work done—instead of struggling with files that won‟t open,by 50 percent.” As for the next step in the process, the forms that won‟t work, and figures that Sue Derison, Director of Information district will work toward its deployment of won‟t compute. “Even while learning the Systems, Forsyth County Schools Microsoft Office 2010, a project that will new Ribbon user interface, I am include deployment of Microsoft Exchange accomplishing a wide range of tasks—from Server 2010 and adoption of the Microsoft formatting a text document to Live@edu hosted communication and disaggregating districtwide student test collaboration services. Mitchell says that he data—in just minutes, instead of the hours and his colleagues are excited about what these tasks sometimes took in OpenOffice,” all this will mean for Forsyth County Hunt says. “Considering that I‟m just one of Schools. “We‟ll be using the rich-content thousands of users throughout the district, authoring capabilities of Office 2010 to that‟s a productivity gain that is hard to streamline our ongoing migration from fathom.” textbooks to a predominantly online environment, as well as the enhanced data- Perhaps nowhere is the productivity gain of visualization features of Excel 2010 to Microsoft Office more apparent than optimize the output of our performance among power users like Sue Derison, and accounting systems,” Mitchell says. Director of Information Systems, Forsyth “We‟ll also use the Live@edu offerings to County Schools, and her counterparts in further our goal of using the software-as-a- finance, accounting, and human resources service hosting model to enhance the who work extensively with Microsoft Excel classroom experience.” spreadsheet software. “Office Excel 2007 is an awesome product,” Derison says. Benefits “Because we no longer struggle with the “When we returned to Microsoft Office compatibility problems of OpenOffice, after our experience with OpenOffice, you importing, exporting, and analyzing data is could practically hear a collective sigh of one-third faster than in that environment. relief, across the entire district,” Mitchell Moreover, because sorting, formatting, and says. And with good reason, because table and chart creation are more powerful Forsyth County Schools teachers, and more intuitive in Office 2007 than in administrators, principals, and students are earlier versions of the software, my own reporting significant gains in productivity overall productivity is up by 50 percent.” and are making better use of IT resources in general. In addition, teachers and
  5. 5. "Once we have installed Optimizing Technology Resources Positioning for the Future With the move to Microsoft Office, Forsyth Now that the Microsoft Office suite is onceOffice 2010, students, County Schools administrators and other again an integral part of the Forsyth County staff are also making the most of the Schools technology roadmap, Mitchell isteachers, administrators, comprehensive data and IT resources optimistic about what lies ahead. “Withand other staff members available to them. “We have a treasure Microsoft Office, students are using the trove of data in our systems for accounting, desktop productivity toolset they are mostwill take advantage of human resources, student information, likely to encounter in higher education and transportation, warehousing inventory, the workplace, so they are better preparedthe „anytime, anywhere‟ food planning, services, and more, but with for their future,” he says. “And once weaccess of Office 2010 OpenOffice we couldn‟t take full advantage have installed Office 2010, students, of the intelligence bound up in that data,” teachers, administrators, and other staffthat aligns so well with Derison says. “In contrast, with Microsoft members will take advantage of the Office we can import and export the data „anytime, anywhere‟ access of Office 2010our learning seamlessly, and with Office Excel we can that aligns so well with our learningenvironment.” easily perform the kind of analyses we need environment.” for implementing initiatives that will helpBailey Mitchell, Chief Information Officer, the district to keep student achievement at *Access to and use of the Internet may Forsyth County Schools high levels.” require payment of a separate fee to an Internet service provider. Local and/or For teachers, the deployment of Microsoft long-distance telephone charges may Office is helping to open up what Mitchell apply. calls the “transformational” possibilities of the learning management system. “Teachers are converting paper-based course content for use in the new system without the incompatibility delays of before,” he explains. “They are back on track with our migration of the classroom from a largely paper-based environment to one that is mostly online.” Having Microsoft Office back on Forsyth County Schools computers also is making a difference outside the classroom, for students working on their home computers, as almost all of them do. “Parents who used to watch their child struggle for minutes just to open a document in OpenOffice are now are seeing their child open the same document in just seconds,” Mitchell says. “These parents are thanking us for making it so much easier for their son or daughter to complete assignments at home.”
  6. 6. For More Information Microsoft Office SystemFor more information about Microsoft The Microsoft Office system is the businessproducts and services, call the Microsoft world‟s chosen environment forSales Information Center at (800) 426- information work, providing the programs,9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft servers, and services that help you succeedCanada Information Centre at (877) 568- by transforming information into impact.2495. Customers in the United States andCanada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing For more information about the Microsoftcan reach Microsoft text telephone Office system, go to:(TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. the 50 United States andCanada, please contact your localMicrosoft subsidiary. To accessinformation using the World Wide Web,go more information about ForsythCounty Schools, call (770) 887-2461 orvisit the website Software and Services  Microsoft Server Product Portfolio  Microsoft Office − Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 − Microsoft Office Professional Plus  Services 2007 − Microsoft Live@edu − Microsoft Office Professional Plus  Third-party Software 2010 − Altiris Deployment Solution from SymantecThis case study is for informational purposes only.MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS ORIMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.Document published September 2010