The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tells us that: “OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics, a computer-based system built into all model year 1996 and newer light-duty cars and trucks. OBD monitors the performance of some of the engines’ major components. The system provides owners with an early warning of malfunctions by way of a dashboard ‘Check Engine’ light. By giving vehicle owners this early warning, OBD protects not only the environment but also consumers, identifying minor problems before they become major repair bills.” [1]

This definition from the EPA contains direct parallels to our never-ending search to become better school business officials and in particular to our use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) toward this goal. Let’s take a closer look at these similarities.

“OBD monitors the performance of some of the engines’ major components.” Certainly it is at the very core of our job as responsible school business officials to monitor the performance of the services we provide. How are we doing getting the kids to school? How is our student information system supporting student achievement? How are we keeping our kids safe from bullying?

“The system provides owners with an early warning of malfunctions by way of a dashboard Check Engine light.” Wouldn’t that be handy for our responsibilities? A check engine light that went on when our attendance started to decline, when our costs started to rise, when our time to provide a response slowed down? The use of KPIs can fill that exact need.

“By giving vehicle owners this early warning, OBD … identifies minor problems before they become major repair bills.” Isn’t that our job description in a nutshell? In these challenging economic times, our stakeholders (school board, schools, students, parents and the community) rely on our responsible management of the critical support services entrusted to our care. If we don’t use our resources to quickly catch and correct minor slips and problems, we risk spending much more time and money down the road if an issue escalates.

The major difference in this analogy is that our cars come with the OBD systems automatically installed. We don’t need to do anything extra to obtain the high level of protection they afford. On the other hand, our many and varied responsibilities as K-12 school business officials often come without an instruction manual. We need to develop our own version of On-Board Diagnostics through the use of tools and solutions that allow us to generate the types of data that will populate the KPIs we rely on.

Just like our cars grow smarter with each passing year, we need to grow smarter in the ways we manage the important services our schools and students depend on.

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