The Jefferson County School System (JCSS) educates about 10,000 students in 14 elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools. It serves a diverse community consisting of a county seat of 80,000, with a substantial industrial base and a major state university, and the surrounding rural area.
Central High School and Roosevelt High School (located on the eastern edge of town) are spirited athletic rivals whose attendance districts split the county into approximately equal areas, with each district including about 1,450 city and rural patrons. The two middle schools each have about 750 pupils in the seventh and eighth grades, and also serve diversified areas. The elementary schools are located throughout the county and range in size from rural schools with about 250 students up to almost 700 students for the largest city school.
History of Administrative Computing in JCSS
Administrative computing at JCSS began in the early 1970s when computing resources at the university were leased to do scheduling and grade reporting and to keep student enrollment data. In 1991 the school corporation purchased a DEC Micro-VAX computer, and the student management applications were converted from the university computer. Over the next few years, financial applications were added and more student management applications were developed. In 1994 a second, more powerful Micro-VAX was acquired and located in the JCSS Administration Building next to Central High. The original Micro-VAX was moved to Roosevelt High, where it was used for student management applications at Roosevelt and a nearby middle school. The payroll processing was farmed out to the data processing subsidiary of a local bank.
All of these applications, both financial and student management, were custom developed by the long-time director of data processing, David Meyer, and the two programmers on his staff. The users of these systems were satisfied with them, and when they wanted
changes and improvements, Meyer and his pro-grammers would make them. All of the systems were written in C and there was no end-user capability – if anyone needed a special report, a program to produce it was written in C by one of the programmers.
In late 1995, however, the JCSS director of finance, Harvey Greene, became concerned with problems he saw developing in the data processing area. First, it was apparent that the JCSS computers were becoming overloaded, and the old machine at Roosevelt High had become difficult to maintain – it seemed like it was down as much as it was up. Additional capacity was going to be needed soon, but the Micro-VAX line of computers had been abandoned by DEC, so any added equipment or replacement of the Micro-VAX would involve incompatible hardware and software. Mr. Greene was very concerned because he felt that converting the custom systems to a new hardware/software environment would be exceedingly time-consuming and costly.
Therefore, early in 1996 the JCSS administration set up a small task force of administrators to evaluate the JCSS data processing systems and to recommend directions for the future. This task force recommended that:
1. The Micro-VAX hardware should be replaced.
2. Since JCSS could not afford the time or money to convert their current systems, the JCSS systems should be replaced with purchased software packages.
3. The new systems should utilize an integrated database and report-generation software so that people could share data from various applications.
4. JCSS should contract with a vendor who would accept total responsibility for both the hardware and software.
5. Since JCSS would no longer be doing custom development, the programming staff of the data processing department could be reduced.
Soon after the recommendations were accepted by the JCSS administration, Meyer resigned as data processing director. In July 1996 he was replaced by Carol Andrews, who had 13 years experience as an applications programmer, systems programmer, and systems analyst with a nearby federal government installation.
Purchasing the New System
After spending several months getting acclimated to the JCSS and her new job, Andrews set about the task of selecting a vendor to provide the hardware and software to replace the current administrative computing applications at JCSS. In late November 1996 a computer selection committee was appointed to evaluate available systems and recommend a vendor to the JCSS School Board. This 14-member committee included representatives of most of the major users of the system – assistant principals who did scheduling and were responsible for attendance and student discipline; counselors; teachers; the personnel director; and the chief accountant. It also included representatives of the different levels of schools in the system and from each of the larger school locations.
By late March 1997, Andrews and the committee had prepared a 71-page request for proposals (RFP) that was sent to 23 possible vendors, asking that proposals be submitted by May 4, 1997. The RFP stated that: “The proposals will be evaluated on functional requirements, support services, and a three-year life cycle cost.” The table of contents of the RFP is included as Exhibit I. Appendices A through E listed in the table of contents were in the form of fill-in-the-blank questionnaires that defined the information that JCSS desired from the vendors.
The RFP was sent to vendors that would contract to accept responsibility for all the hardware, software, and support and training services required to install and maintain the new system. The RFP specified the number and location of the terminals and printers that were to be connected to the system in Part III-D and Appendix C. The desired requirements for the applications software were described in 28 parts in Appendix D in the form of characteristics that could be checked off as included or not. Two of the sections from Appendix D (the applications specifications for the Attendance Accounting and Student Scheduling systems) are included as Exhibit 2a and 2b.
The requirements for terminals and printers in the various buildings were determined by Andrews in consultation with someone on the selection committee who was familiar with each school. Although members of the selection committee made suggestions, Andrews determined most of the requirements for the application systems by examining what the existing systems did and talking with people throughout the JCSS.
Seven proposals were submitted in response to the RFP Andrews was able to easily winnow them down to three serious contenders that were evaluated in detail. A brief summary of these three proposals is included as Exhibit 3.
Each of the three finalists was invited to demonstrate its system to the selection committee. The vendors were not told in detail what to show but they were asked to demonstrate the operation or several of the major systems. Two of the vendors brought in their own small minicomputers for the demonstration, but Data Systems, Inc. (DSI) arranged to demonstrate its software on the large AST computer at the local university’s campus. The DSI system’s performance was very impressive.
The committee originally intended to visit a school that used each vendor’s system, but because of time and money constraints they were only able to visit two sites – one with DSI’s system and one with Scholastic System Corporation’s installation. Andrews and Dr. Paul Faris, assistant principal at Roosevelt High, spent one day at each of these locations observing their systems in action and talking with users. In addition, members of the committee made telephone calls to their counterparts at other schools that used each vendors’ systems without unearthing any major problems or concerns. Everyone seemed quite positive about all three vendors and their products.
The committee had a difficult time deciding between the three finalists. Each of the vendors proposed software packages in all the areas that JCSS had asked for, but none of these systems did exactly what they wanted in exactly the way the current systems did things. The committee finally chose DSI because the members felt they could work well with the DSI people, they were impressed with DSI’s demonstration, and DSI was the lowest bidder. The JCSS School Board awarded the contract to DSI in June 1997 which included the following systems: financial, payroll/personnel, fixed assets, warehouse inventory, registration, scheduling, grades/transcripts, attendance, book bills, office management, electronic mail, and special education. These systems utilize a standard relational database management system that includes a query language called INFORM that generates ad hoc reports.
DSI agreed to make specific changes in the software packages where the committee had indicated that the packages did not meet the JCSS specifications. The contract also provided that DSI would devote up to 100 hours or programming time to making other modifications (not yet specified) in its software. Any additional changes requested by JCSS would be billed at $80.00 per programmer hour. JCSS also purchased DSI’s standard software maintenance
Discuss the setting of the case. When – what is the time frame of the case? Competitive environment (who are the competitors, what are their profiles, etc.) Governmental/regulatory setting – what’s happening in this arena that may have an impact. What are the global issues that may have an impact?
What are the symptoms that are discussed? What is the REAL problem, or problems that cause these symptoms? How do these problems related to the setting that you have laid out in the first section?
What are the recommendations that you make to address the problems that are laid out in the second section. Be sure to anchor your recommendations to one or more specific problems.
What is the rationale (support) for each of your recommendations made to address the specific problems that result from the setting that you have discussed? What other ideas did you consider to address each of the problems and why did you choose each specific recommendation in lieu of other approaches?