The Division of Certification and Accreditation within the Maryland State Department of Education oversees compliance with certification requirements for 24 public-school systems and various other institutions. Overwhelmed with a backlog of requests and drowning in paper, the division saw processing times for new certificates extend to as long as 18 months. The state engaged Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Avanade to build and deploy the Educator Information System, a solution based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Since deploying the solution, the division has reduced certificate-processing times to as little as five days, worked through the backlog of requests, and virtually eliminated dependence on paper documents and correspondence. In addition, the division has improved satisfaction among applicants and school systems and can provide high-quality education with greater confidence.
||From a school system’s perspective, the more we streamline the certification process, the more we’re able to devote resources to finding the best and brightest teachers and being more competitive to get them into schools.
||Dr. John Smeallie, Deputy State Superintendent at the Division of Certification and Accreditation, Maryland State Department of Education
The Maryland State Department of Education is responsible for providing leadership, support, and accountability to the 24 public-school systems and certain other educational institutions in the state of Maryland. Within the department, the Division of Certification and Accreditation oversees compliance with certification requirements imposed by state and federal statutes, such as the No Child Left Behind Act. At any given time, more than 160,000 people, including teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and social workers, may be certified to work in the state’s educational system; the division is responsible for verifying eligibility and maintaining auditable records for each of these individuals.
Typically, certification is verified as part of the employment application process to one of the local school systems. With each local system hiring up to 1,000 people each year and forwarding certificate applications and supporting documentation to the state, the volume of paperwork that the division processed bordered on overwhelming.
“Picture dump trucks full of paper,” recalls Dr. John Smeallie, Deputy State Superintendent at the Division of Certification and Accreditation. “We had paper in boxes. We had file cabinets overflowing with paper. We were drowning in paper.”
“It’s true; we were heavily paper intensive,” agrees Jean Satterfield, Assistant State Superintendent at the Division of Certification and Accreditation. “The actual work may have been done out in the school systems, but all the documents ended up here.”
By 2004, the division was falling behind, the backlog of unreviewed applications was growing, and processing times for new applications was reaching as long as 18 months. Applicants had little visibility into the status of their applications, and tracking individual certificate requests through the complex evaluation process was virtually impossible. Managers had difficulty tracking the workload of individual evaluators, making it difficult to ensure that each of the local school systems received adequate coverage. In addition, the evaluators spent much of their time on the phones, handling enquiries or preparing correspondence to placate frustrated applicants.Solution
The department turned to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Avanade for a solution to its problems. Avanade architected the Educator Information System (EIS), a solution based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM, with fields and forms customized to reflect the data collected during certification and workflow processes tailored to the division’s unique tasks. Since the original deployment in 2005, the solution has been updated several times to add functionality and take advantage of new releases of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The EIS database now stores records for close to 300,000 educators, with more added every day.
Transmit and Archive Applications Electronically
||Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a tremendous management tool. I can query on just about any aspect of the business process on a daily, weekly, or quarterly basis. At any point, I have a timely, accurate picture of my workflow and where things are in the queue.
||Dr. Joann Ericson, Chief of Certification at the Division of Certification and Accreditation, Maryland State Department of Education
Through EIS, the state of Maryland now receives certificate applications and much of the supporting documentation online rather than on paper. School systems that submit applications on behalf of applicants can file paperwork electronically by completing the necessary forms online or scanning supporting documents into the system. Likewise, applicants can apply directly to the state by completing electronic forms on a public web portal, eliminating the need to print and mail paper applications.
Documents are retained in the EIS database where staff can easily retrieve them if questions arise about a particular applicant.
Audit and Review Online in Real Time
When questions do arise about an application, the EIS solution facilitates prompt resolution. For example, when working with their counterparts in the local school systems, evaluators at the state level can retrieve electronic copies of documents and both parties can review them on the screen to address any discrepancies.
“Before, we’d be searching through papers,” recalls Dr. Joann Ericson, Chief of Certification at the Division of Certification and Accreditation. “Now, our specialists can have an intelligent conversation about a candidate while looking at the same documentation with the specialist in the school system so that we’re all on the same page in terms of the certification requirements.”
The web portal provides the school systems with a means of self-service resolution of simple inquiries. For example, authorized employees can now log on to the portal to check the certification status of an applicant whom they may be considering for a specific position.
“Before, people were waiting in telephone queues to talk to our specialists, who were spending time answering questions rather than processing certificates,” says Ericson. “Making EIS information accessible through the web has been a huge improvement in how we interact with our constituents.” Notify Stakeholders Electronically
The solution makes use of custom email templates within Microsoft Dynamics CRM to keep applicants apprised of their certification status, reducing the burden on division staff to send correspondence through paper mail or to respond to telephone inquiries from the public.
Automated messages include notifications to renew certificates at 180 and 90 days before expiration, warnings that an application is missing certain information, and notifications that an evaluator has approved an application. Automatic email messages also inform applicants that a completed application has been assigned to an evaluator, and set expectations for response times.
While an evaluator is reviewing an application, applicants can visit the web portal to quickly check their status, gaining increased visibility into a process that had once seemed impossibly bureaucratic. Interface with External Systems
The ability to exchange information electronically with other agencies has saved time and improved the accuracy of the certification process. By using the capabilities of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Avanade built external interfaces to the Educational Testing Service, the Electronic Transcript Exchange Registry, and the Criminal Justice Information System.
Data is exchanged through electronic data interchange (EDI) or XML on an as-needed basis or in batch queries, and educator records in the EIS are updated automatically with the information retrieved from the third-party database. This eliminates delays between request and receipt of information, much of the data entry, and most importantly, the opportunity for human error when data is entered into the system.
“The ability to obtain criminal background checks immediately and directly is a significant improvement,” says Smeallie. “Obviously, that’s one area where there is zero tolerance for error. People who hire take it seriously. People who issue certificates take it seriously. Since deploying the EIS, we can all sleep better.”Streamlined Payment Processing
In the past, the division received checks or cash from applicants and schools, or had to collect on delinquent accounts. Now, with a recent release of the EIS, the division has the ability to process payments online, eliminating a tedious manual process. Individuals who submit applications through the web interface can pay by using PayPal, and the division directly bills the local school systems.
More Manageable Workflow
||Making EIS information accessible through the web has been a huge improvement in how we interact with our constituents.
||Dr. Joann Ericson, Chief of Certification at the Division of Certification and Accreditation, Maryland State Department of Education
Internally, the EIS has enabled division management to more precisely track and manage the certification process. To manage workload on a day-to-day basis, Ericson and Satterfield use the Advanced Find query functionality, the ad-hoc reporting tool in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and a set of standard reports. Ericson and Satterfield use these features to track the number of certificates issued and the average time to process an application; keep an eye on backlog; and monitor performance of individual evaluators.
“Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a tremendous management tool,” explains Ericson. “I can query on just about any aspect of the business process on a daily, weekly, or quarterly basis. At any point, I have a timely, accurate picture of my workflow and where things are in the queue. I can identify people who might be overloaded and then balance the workload to help ensure that our constituents are getting the best customer service that we can provide.”Benefits
Since deploying EIS, the Division of Certification and Accreditation has improved its visibility into applicant evaluations and can better manage the entire application process. In addition, the division significantly reduced the number of paper documents it must retain.Increased Efficiency
By using EIS, the division has reduced the processing time for a certificate application from as long as 18 months to as little as 5 days—a reduction of more than 99 percent in the most extreme cases. The speed of processing has improved customer satisfaction among both the school systems and the applicants.
In addition, the division takes advantage of the EIS to make more effective use of its highly trained staff. Whereas specialists had previously been involved in routine tasks, such as processing payments and fielding questions on the phones, these tasks are now automated in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which enables specialists to focus almost exclusively on processing certifications. Because of this, the division is better able to serve the needs of the school systems and, ultimately, the students.
“By using the EIS, we can go further faster and use our time wisely,” says Satterfield. “Today, our staff can better serve the needs of our teachers; we can recruit, retain, and ensure that the right people are in the right place. Now that we’ve stopped worrying so much about paperwork, we are able to see a significant return in terms of effectiveness.”Reduced Dependence on Paper
By introducing electronic document storage and transmittal, a web-based customer service portal, and EDI with third-party agencies, the EIS has drastically reduced the abundance of paper that had previously plagued the division. Using email for correspondence and digital certificates has also reduced paper usage and postage costs.
“We have truly revolutionized our business processes by using Microsoft Dynamics CRM,” says Ericson. “The features in the solution that enable automatic email notification have cut our dependence on producing and mailing paper letters and dramatically reduced the volume of outgoing correspondence. The difference is just like night and day.”Enhanced Customer Service and Certification Process
Since deploying the EIS, the division has measured significant improvements in customer satisfaction among all constituents, including the individuals who rely on the office for employment certification, the 24 school systems that hire them, and the parents and children of Maryland public schools.
Increased transparency and visibility into the certification process has reduced customer complaints to almost zero. In addition, the speed with which applications are now processed and the accuracy of information received from external academic and criminal-justice databases has improved overall confidence in the qualifications of the staff who interact with schoolchildren every day.
Says Smeallie, “From a school system’s perspective, the more we streamline the certification process, the more we’re able to devote resources to finding the best and brightest teachers and being more competitive to get them into schools.”
“Six or seven years ago, because we didn’t have the efficiency of this system, it was intensely time-consuming to assure the state department and even the federal government that every teacher is highly qualified,” adds Satterfield. “We couldn’t really guarantee it. But today, we can. Because our processes are more transparent and because we can check and audit, we can guarantee that all our educators are highly qualified.”
Microsoft Dynamics is a line of integrated, adaptable business management solutions that enables you and your people to make business decisions with greater confidence. Microsoft Dynamics works like familiar Microsoft software such as Microsoft Office, which means less of a learning curve for your people, so they can get up and running quickly and focus on what’s most important. And because it is from Microsoft, it easily works with the systems that your company already has implemented. By automating and streamlining financial, customer relationship, and supply chain processes, Microsoft Dynamics brings together people, processes, and technologies, increasing the productivity and effectiveness of your business, and helping you drive business success.
For more information about Microsoft Dynamics, go to:
All engagements with the State of Maryland and its various departments, including work identified in the case study and the agreements governing such work, were owned and performed by Ascentium as partner of record until May 14, 2010. On that date, Avanade Inc. and its affiliate acquired the assets of Ascentium’s CRM practice. Avanade became the partner of record on and after such date. Nonetheless, the State of Maryland agreements included in the purchased assets are in the process of being legally novated to Avanade under applicable law.
For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
For more information about the Maryland State Department of Education visit the website at:
For more information about Avanade products and services, call (206) 239-5600 or visit the website at: