Like many school districts in the region, Hatboro-Horsham is trying to do more with less.
In this case, the district's superintendent asked his staff to reach some evidence-based conclusions about its special-education spending. While the question was straightforward, the school's tech and finance teams quickly realized that the data they needed to answer were scattered across multiple spreadsheets and websites.
What would have taken hours now can be done in minutes. The school system relies on Doylestown-based PARIS Technologies' PowerOLAP to quickly link different Excel files with other sources to construct a unified data set for analysis.
Happily, the district learned that its spending to place special-needs students in specialized facilities was below average.
But the district could better measure special-ed instructor salary expenses and make better decisions on hiring in-house vs. contracting out. It also built an early warning system for students that took into account their classification (gifted, normal, or economically disadvantaged), grades, attendance, and disciplinary record.
"We are able to be proactive in providing services to students in need of help," said Marc Greenberg, director of software applications and data management.
Hatboro-Horsham, with about 5,000 students, pays a maintenance fee of $25,000 per year (excluding development fees) for an enterprise server solution to use PowerOLAP. The district gets training and technical support, as well as regular upgrades. Current pricing for a similar system ranges from $600 to $1,000 per user.
"It definitely has helped us make better decisions," said Hatboro-Horsham's director of business affairs, Robert Reichert. "It's saved a ton of time in terms of gathering data and information to make those decisions."
PARIS Technologies' founder and CEO, Duane Presti, began his career at what is now the drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb. He said he was one of the first to adopt technologies such as the PC and Lotus spreadsheets and soon realized there was a need to help businesses connect the data they keep siloed in different departments.
Presti founded PARIS in 1996 to help clients make sense of the data they collect. The company, which competes with Microsoft's SQL Server Analysis Services, IBM's TM1, and Oracle's Essbase, said it has 35 employees, and has sold PowerOLAP to 1,025 companies, yielding about 12,000 users worldwide. About 40 percent of sales are international.
To date, PARIS counts major companies such as McDonald's, Starbucks, Ferrari, DHL, and Toshiba as clients. But a key focus for the company remains midsized clients like the Hatboro-Horsham district and Florida-based Ion Media Networks.
Mandy Chan, Ion's vice president of applications, has worked with PARIS since 2001. Ion operates more than 60 TV stations across the country and wanted to see if the money for a particular site was being used optimally to generate revenue. PowerOLAP enabled Ion to tally its performance by market. From this picture, Ion was able to shift resources from inefficient stations to more efficient ones and save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In the future, Chan hopes to deploy PowerOLAP to learn if the company is pricing its advertising properly. "Analyzing more than just financial information but things like ratings and ad rates will help us significantly," she said.
Presti said better information is key to good management. "It's a big deal to the people who are actually doing the analysis," he said. "We also want to give management the best information they can have to be competitive."
University of Pennsylvania professor Ryan Baker, who studies the role that information management and analysis play in improving student outcomes, agreed that more school districts should be using data to make the kind of decisions Hatboro-Horsham is grappling with.
"There's a lot to be gained, especially for at-risk students and special-needs students with these analysis techniques," he said.