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Paula Curtis: Helping a school system discover business insights and serve students

Content Producer, IBM

This story is part of Analytics Heroes, a series of profiles on leaders transforming the future of business analytics.

Greeted with a warm smile and elegant poise, we meet Paula Curtis. A business analyst and project manager working with the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) system in Atlanta, Georgia. Her role is no easy task because more than 50,000 students attend 103 sites, including elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, single-gender academies, charter schools, and an adult learning center. But data is her forte, and she conveys a calm confidence to get people the answers they need.

Paula has worked with APS on many initiatives, most recently collaborating with Randi Gillum of Maven Asset Management to implement a business intelligence solution.

Paula Curtis: Helping a school system discover business insights and serve studentsThere’s got to be a better way

Paula describes how she was able to take on the challenge of data visualization and provide the resulting information more efficiently. “We were getting requests from upper management to create some reports, some visualizations,” says Paula. “At the time, the best I could do was a spreadsheet and some pivot tables. I said, ‘There has to be a better way.’ That’s when we started using IBM Cognos Analytics on Cloud.” Working with APS operations, Paula and the Maven team assessed a variety of new solutions for asset tracking and management, work-order tracking, and change management.

APS had been using IBM Control Desk, a cloud-based solution for ticket and asset management. “So the idea of adding another cloud product made it simpler for us…we didn’t have to use our technical resources to make the systems work together; it was a very clean solution,” says Paula. With a public school system, she has to be aware of governance and the technology that they bring into the schools, so it’s important they handle resources efficiently.

With Paula’s help, APS implemented a suite of products including HCL BigFix for endpoint management, Control Desk on Cloud for service and asset management, and Cognos Analytics on Cloud to connect, combine, and analyze the data from all of these sources. By doing so, Paula is able to consolidate everything into one cohesive solution.

Onboarding and insights

Paula immediately saw the advantages once the solution was implemented. She is now able to deliver standardized reporting and dashboards at a baseline level. It also helps APS staff speak the same language regarding asset and service management. “It only took about a month for us to feel comfortable…and we have good support from IBM. There is a learning curve, which I’m used to as a business analyst – but IBM’s trainers helped a lot as well.”

With the combination of support from IBM, Maven Asset Management and a suite of products at her disposal, Paula is able to super-charge her team to get the job done. Paula describes her business relationship with Randi Gillum, “You need the right people on board in the beginning, who understand the data set, how to manipulate it, and build those relationships between the data.”

Within a month, APS had case management and asset analytic dashboards ready to share with upper management. “Cognos Analytics has great toolkits that we could use right out of the box,” says Randi. “We could spin up some maps that showed exactly where our assets were, to allow our leaders the ability to really drill into the data, school-by-school. The ease of use has been a game changer.”

Predicting the future

Paula is also looking forward to the upgrades that will be handled by IBM and allow her to use more of the AI components for predictive modeling, “I think AI will give more flexibility and ease of use to our upper management…They will be able to more intuitively ask what they are looking for, and get suggestions of other things that they might want to see, based on the data they’re exploring.” She smiles and describes her hopes for implementing the AI aspects of the platform, “It’s exciting, giving people tools to answer questions they didn’t previously know how to ask!”

Paula is ready for the future and ready to take on the next challenge, “we’re really excited about our next steps. We're planning to connect some of our existing applications to Cognos Analytics so we can report from those as well, such as data from our self-service phone system and service desk.”

Paula says her biggest achievement through the process was, “seeing everybody get excited about having a tool that answers questions that they may have been asking themselves but didn’t have an easy way to figure out.”

When asked how it’s possible she achieved hero status, she states, “IBM Cognos Analytics has helped me be a hero regarding how we can better use information for data integrity, governance, and overall understanding” She elaborates on working with IBM solutions as “[giving] us better insights into where APS is now, and where we want to go in the future. So, I’ll continue to champion those efforts.”

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