A Winnipeg school system is building on a major network overhaul begun during an amalgamation two boards five years ago to transform the way its users print and copy documents.

Pembina Trails School Division on Thursday hosted an event celebrating its collaboration with Barrow County School District in Georgia, which studied its technology strategies to speed up its network performance and capabilities. Pembina Trails was formed in 2002 and required a considerable IT revamp, which included the deployment of Dell PowerConnect switches to light 47 km of dark fibre, as well as the vendor’s PowerEdge servers and a storage area network implementation.

While it was showing off its partnership with Barrow County, however, Pembina Trails IT director Don Reece told ComputerWorld Canada he was more interested in the school division’s move late last year to digital printing. In partnership with Rochester Software Associates Inc. and Xerox Corp., among others, Pembina Trails is now scanning all documents remotely, Reece said, consolidating its printing and reducing a lot of paper use.

“There are no paper submissions anymore to our print shop,” Reece said. “Everything works through Active Directory. Teachers can log on, change from OCR to Word or XML, then use a single login to LDAP.” A local printer of print shop can then handle any colour or binding requests.

Pembina is also using Equitrac software to let teachers evaluate the costs of a print job before they send it out, and all jobs are previewed in Adobe PDF format. “That stopped the waste and people from sending jobs that were clearly out of borders,” Reece said.

Like a lot of corporate enterprises that are trying to figure out how to handle their increasing volumes of data, Reece said Pembina sees digital printing as one step closer to a content management strategy. “In the next five years kids come in with Wi-Fi-enabled phones and they’ll be able to look at copies (of documents) on their devices,” he said. “We won’t be supplying computers, we’ll be supplying bandwidth.”

With 1,800 users in 34 locations across the province, Pembina is using its IT successes as an example to other organizations. It leases its fibre, for example, to other school divisions and its staff, which has been reduced by a third to 13 people, are have earned enough certifications to avoid any outsourcing.

“When we repair a Dell computer, we get paid for doing that,” he said.

A big lesson Pembina offers to other organizations, Pembina said, is setting up a “cyclic replacement program” for hardware. In the school division’s case, the decision to replace computers after four years has lead to a 60 per cent reduction in maintenance costs, Reece said. That replacement program will be extended to its printers and copiers, Reece said. “We’ve just started working with Xerox, and talking about how to cycle equipment through.”

Other major IT projects that Pembina has accomplished since its network overhaul was the deployment in 2006 of voice-over-IP using ObjectWorld’s Unified Communications Server, which is already saving about $200,000 a year, Reece said.