Sam Dillon reports in the New York Times on states’ expensive efforts to implement new computerized record systems for tracking student grades, performance, attendance, and other data. These are complex and expensive systems, and many state education departments are seeing poor management result in many millions of dollars of waste.
A few tidbits from the article:
In North Carolina, a statewide school computer system known as NC WISE is years behind schedule, and estimated costs have risen to $250 million. Teachers have nicknamed it NC Stupid.
And in Idaho, a private foundation spent $21 million on a data system for the public schools but pulled out when estimated completion costs hit $180 million. "It metastasized way beyond the original concept," said Jason Hancock, an education analyst for the Idaho Legislature. "Costs ballooned, and the funders just pulled the plug."
"These systems are expensive, arcane, and some principals and teachers groups don’t want them to work."
Most large computerization projects are complex and challenging. But building a data system to collect information from all the schools in a state can be extraordinarily daunting, involving the integration of computer systems used in hundreds of districts, each of which may have multiple databases using distinct operating systems.
Glitches had already appeared in the system when I.B.M. bought out an original contractor in 2002. By last fall, NC WISE had been extended to one-third of the state’s 2,200 schools at a cost of $110 million and had built a reputation for sluggishness and freezing. In February, North Carolina canceled I.B.M.’s contract, and state officials said they hoped to finish the system by 2008, at an additional cost of $140 million.
According to the article, the problems result from a variety of causes: system complexity, politics, poor management, poorly articulated and coordinated strategic planning, technical issues, and so on.
In general, it appears that decision-makers really don’t fully grasp how complex and difficult it will be to achieve their goals. It also appears that the technology vendors and system integrators are doing a lousy job of setting realistic goals and expectations when selling these systems.
Does anyone else hear the word "greed" being whispered out there in system integration land?