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September’s near-collapse of the online student information system known as BCeSIS is more evidence that the B.C. government should proceed with caution on shared services initiatives.

While there have been issues since the introduction of the BC Enterprise Student Information System (BCeSIS) in 2005, staff and teachers reported major problems with it this year.               

In response, CUPE Research canvassed members who work with BCeSIS in the K-12 system and found that CUPE members have faced major and chronic work disruption this year.

CUPE members – from school secretaries to technical support personnel – work in many capacities with the information system. They enter data into the system (often along with classroom teachers), generate reports, and provide training and sometimes administration of the data systems. The data and reports have become crucial to the operation of schools and districts and to meeting Ministry of Education requirements like the September 30 enrollment reports. 

Staff in the field report major flaws with the system, including being logged out repeatedly and having to wait to get back in. Some indicate that this September they spent up to two hours in a work day dealing with system problems. 

Barry O’Neill, president of CUPE BC says that it is clear that some of the problems with BCeSIS are caused by lack of proper planning and consultation at the front end, which led to inadequate resources and support.

The system has been plagued by repeated breakdowns that continue to disrupt the important job of maintaining up-to-date records for the province’s 546,000 public school students,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill says that members’ experience indicates that a combination of hardware and software problems, and a lack of necessary bandwidth, has meant that the system cannot support the number of people who need to work on it simultaneously.

In response to concern from boards of education, the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) will be discussing a resolution about BCeSIS at its October 2010 provincial council meeting. The resolution requests that the Minister of Education address concerns from a number of boards on the continued poor performance of BCeSIS and seeks compensation to boards for the damages and costs incurred as a result of malfunctions. It also recommends an evaluation of the long-term future of a centralized student data collection system. 

Referring to the current pilot project for shared services in payroll and business administration systems in four school districts, O’Neill says that with BCeSIS in mind, government and public sector employers should develop a list of “Do’s and Don’ts”. 

Do draw on the knowledge and experience of front-line staff, and do consult with unions throughout the process of development. Don’t rush headlong into a system that you can’t support in terms of the technology, the human resources or the ongoing capital and operating funding. And be prepared to have an open assessment of the costs and benefits of any proposed shared service before you adopt a new model.”

CUPE research notes on Shared Services in the K-12 sector and on BCeSIS implications for shared services provide more detailed information and background.