At TDSB, app development can now literally happen on the fly

When Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) education workers walked off the job for two days on Nov. 4 and Nov. 7, Peter Singh, executive officer of IT Services at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), was asked by a superior on the first day of strike action for the following: An app that would allow those staff not on strike to sign on, no matter where they were, be it at home or in the classroom.

Singh recalls he originally asked for two hours to produce a plan, at which point, he says, he “started to ping my ServiceNow team” about what he needed and when. It ended up taking all of 45 minutes for the user-friendly app involving two clicks to be created, tested, and later that day, put into use.

“If you’re a CUPE staff member, and you decided to work that day, we will know you have signed in,” he said. “That could have been your remote working day and you might be working at home. But if you were in a school, the school principal will know which teachers had signed in and who were in the building that day.”

Speaking at the Toronto stop of ServiceNow’s World Forum 2022 program, a series of one-day events that also took place in Tokyo, London, Chicago, Frankfurt, Paris and Zurich recently, Singh described the app as an example of using technology advances to push data to stakeholders, be it a school supervisor or teacher, in an agile way.

It is, he told IT World Canada in an interview, a means of creating workflow automation initiatives for a board that serves an estimated 246,000 students located in 582 schools, as well as upwards of 130,000 individuals that are part of the board’s adult and continuing education program.

This means to an end began when the board decided to overhaul the way it addressed IT Service Management (ITSM), and chose ServiceNow.

According to ServiceNow, the original scope of work expanded with the introduction of Customer Service Management to help the TDSB human rights office handle inquiries and resolve race, bias and hate incidents.

“The challenge for TDSB is not so much to manage size, but to enable agility. It recognizes that education is a personal journey. While operating efficiently, it wants to allow a degree of educational freedom within its schools and teaching community. It also wants to accelerate the digital transformation of the classroom, and the way it manages an increasingly complex landscape.”

At about the same time the ITSM change was being discussed, the board launched what it calls a Service Excellence initiative, that, it said, “aims to improve everything we do. By strengthening the way staff works together, we can build a strong service excellence culture.

“This will impact students, parents and stakeholders as it will improve the way we deliver services and resolve problems at different levels of the organization.”

While the first phase of the initiative started in September 2018 – which was around the time the ITSM overhaul happened – it was the arrival of the pandemic that forced a serious alteration of the board’s digital workflow plan.

“Some days, it does feel like running a small country,” said Singh during a panel held at the event in Toronto, adding that when the pandemic hit, the primary goals were for IT to work “with our employee groups to better understand their needs, and deliver on their expectations.”

ServiceNow’s Workplace Service Delivery offering was installed, which he said allowed the board to put together a health screening app for students.

“It was amazing to see, every morning around 8 a.m., close to 70,000 kids hop on it, do their daily check in, and walk through our doors. Providing data to the leaders, principals, vice principals and central staff in real time about what was happening was extremely important.

“Also, we wanted to make sure they have the ability to identify where the gaps are in the process so we could continuously close that gap itself as part of the pandemic workload.”

What these and other advances all mean, says Singh, is that the “digital transformation cycle has shrunk from years to months.

“We are better able to provide solutions back to the organization that address real business issues.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. His work has appeared in a number of technology magazines and online with the subject matter ranging from cybersecurity issues and the evolving world of edge computing to information management and artificial intelligence advances.

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