A few posts back I promised a scary story, one in which clueless technophobic administrative types handled an enterprise-wide IT rollout. Well here it is...That's right, folks, the dreaded superintendent who knows just enough to be dangerous and his poorly trained minions brought us the joys of a new web-based student information system.
I shouldn't be so hard on the guy...All of this took place a few short months before I came onboard with the district, at a time when no one in the district understood much more than PC maintenance. This is, in fact, all too common, especially in poorer schools and districts without dedicated IT staff. The occasional teacher or administrator who knows how to install Windows or swap out a hard drive gets drafted to become the goto guy (or gal) for all things computerish. Even many larger districts and educational institutions have yet to adopt a more business-oriented model in which people with some background in this sort of thing give real thought to Information Technology.
However, I must say that it's easy to be hard on the guy when, two years later, he's moved on and I'm still picking up the pieces trying to get this system to actually meet our needs. It all goes back to some fairly new state reporting requirements (can you say unfunded mandate?) on student information and a lone vendor who happened to have a solution. In fact, it was the only COTS solution on the market at the time so our unsuspecting administrator jumped at it. Our little ol' district was going to be an early adopter!
If you've read my first few posts, you know that I have a thing for lifecycle management and for gathering and documenting requirements. And if you've ever worked with someone from outside the IT world, you also know that gathering worthwhile requirements from the masses is akin to pulling teeth from a chicken and is not for the faint of heart. Suffice to say that this system, as implemented, satisfied one requirement - the state reports that caused the vendor to approach us in the first place. The two administrators who dealt with the system at this level reported considerable success and really liked the system!
Unfortunately, it did little to address the requirements of the remaining 200 personnel in the district, since this new system was also designed to replace student scheduling, grading, discipline, attendance, and health information systems. Similarly, because of financial restrictions in the district, the barest minimum of hardware was purchased to run the web-based software (replacing an existing client-server infrastructure). Can you guess where I'm going with this? When 2 users at the district's main office (in the same building with the web server) were using this system, performance was pretty snappy. Now that it has been rolled out system-wide and 100-200 concurrent users are hitting the web and database server, performance is more along the lines of maple syrup up here in New England. In January. Outside. ("But the guy from Dell said it had two processors!" exclaims the district accountant.)
So where am I going with all of this? IT Directors and Staff: Good. Superintendents and District Staff: Also Good. Superintendents making IT decisions that affect the entire enterprise without input from said IT people: Bad. Find the money, find the time, find the people, and do it right.