Making Modernization Work in Tough Times


The technology sector rightfully touts the many benefits that come with digital modernization – among them improved customer experience, increased productivity, and increased transparency – but the modernization process can also come with significant stress factors including financial concerns, especially when major changes are tackled during a global pandemic.

That’s when the virtues of flexibility can help when a big tech upgrade is threatened by a health crisis that emerges as a once-per-century risk event.

Consider the case of the South Washington County School (SWCS) District in Minnesota, which  set into motion a major digital modernization project that represented a significant part of the district’s budget for fiscal year 2020.

“We desperately needed to upgrade to a new and more modern system with faster speeds and more storage space because we came to realize that to run a school district of this size, we must have a robust reliable data center. So, we launched this major digital modernization project,” Alex Hanson, system administrator for the SWCS District, said.

But plans quickly changed for the district when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. At the start of the pandemic school districts had to rapidly shift from in-person learning to remote learning environments. And that shift required the rapid deployment of digital capabilities – include software and devices – to staff and students.

With an already tight budget, the SWCS District had to shift to meet remote learning needs. According to Robert Berkowitz, technology director for the SWCS District, the district spent every bit of its budget on student devices.

The modernization project, Hanson said, was “taken off our project list when the pandemic hit. We were concerned that we’re not going to be able to go forward with our digital modernization plans and upgrade our data centers.”

But when the going gets tough, the tough get creative.

To alleviate some of that unforeseen financial stress, the district signed a two-year lease that allowed for completion of its data center upgrades, and the fair distribution of digital devices to students at the same time.

“The cost of this project would have been impossible had we purchased it as a single purchase,” Berkowitz said.

“Without Dell Financial Services Assistance, we would not have been able to complete this upgrade to our data centers,” he said. “The cost of this project would have been impossible had we purchased it as a single purchase.”

But with that flexibility, district made big headway on both fronts. The SWCS District’s upgraded data center – which now runs with Dell Technologies’s VxRail System Infrastructure – is much faster and more reliable. And during the pandemic, the school district was able to fully support its students’ needs in a remote environment.

“We’re very fortunate that our community supports technology, and we take that very seriously. And we made sure that we got the most we can for the dollar that positively impacts student learning,” Berkowitz said.