To aid in investigation of the problem, two interviews were carried out. One was with the school principal, and the other with the school administrator.
In preparation of the interviews a list of topics for discussion was drawn up, and included these checkpoints:
* What the new system hopes to achieve, exactly.
* The problems in the current system.
* The methods currently employed to input data into the system.
* The information that is required per file, i.e., for each student what fields will have to be input.
* The format of the required output.
* The volume of data expected, e.g., how many students are expected to enroll, or how many new teachers will be required.
* Any hardware or software constraints, such as the new system only being able to run with a particular operating system.
This interview was with the school’s principal, Mrs. Monica Stakich. It took place in her office, on appointment, and was as follows:
Q: Mrs. Stakich, your school has built up quite a reputation of excellence over the years as shown by its grades. How do you intend to maintain this?
A: Well, the school has always prided itself on its academic achievements, and this is due to our students being dedicated in their studies, which shows itself in the superior grades. We will be fine if we can continue this trend.
Q: You are shifting to new custom-built premises and are also expanding your range of activities offered. Why have you made this decision?
A: We are changing our status to an authorized ‘A’ level Center. As such, we will need the appropriate facilities to meet the requirements for this standard. Also, the school expects a significant increase in enrolments at both ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels, so the space is needed to provide for these new students.
Q: How many students do you currently have in your institution? And how many do you expect to enroll in the future?
A: The school currently caters to a population of around 2500 students, but we expect an influx of around 1000 students next year.
Q: How do you access a file of a student or a teacher? Do you find it yourself on your computer or does the secretary do it for you?
A: I can access files of both students and customers from my own PC, as well as any other file, such as stationery, electricity bills, etc. But I must also focus more on the task of running the school itself, so I usually let my secretary handle all the files. She herself gets these files from the school system administrator. I only check a file myself if we need to consider carefully the person, or file in question, for example a teacher for an important position.
Q: Thank you very much for your time, Mrs. Stakich.
A: You’re welcome.
Analysis of the Interview:
The interview, on analysis, showed the school to be result-driven, as indicated by the Headmistress’s comments. But more importantly, it also showed that she did not focus on the file input and retrieval system in particular herself, and on the school’s information system in general. The actual file control and handling was carried out by the system administrator, who could provide us with insight of the current system’s workings.
An interview was arranged with Mr. Mark Glasse, the system administrator, in his office.
It proceeded as follows:
Q: How long have you been working here, Mr. Glasse?
A: Its been around four years since I started wok for the school.
Q: How many times has the system been updated since you started work?
A: We’ve updated thrice so far.
Q: What changes had been made during these updates?
A: Well, once we had to increase our disk space to around 10 GB to cope with increased student information on Health Cards, as was required by a new Government law. Another time we had to modify our input procedure, it being too manual, with almost unnecessary paperwork involved, so we had to purchase new input devices.
And there was also the time when we had to call in a professional security company to install anti-hacking programs when our database was actually hacked into.
Q: What input devices do you work with? How is output shown?
A: I use a keyboard, a mouse, a web-camera and a scanner as input devices. Output is displayed on a monitor, or on a plotter as is appropriate. And, of course, I often have to print out some files using a laser printer.
Q: And your system configuration?
A: I use a Pentium 2, 333 MHz Processor, with 32 MB RAM, 4 GB hard disk with Windows 98 as my operating system. I also have other software such as MS Visual Studio and MS Office 2000 installed on my computer.
Q: Mr. Glasse, what is the general procedure that you follow if you were asked to, for example, update a file?
A: First of all, I would have to get an approved notice from someone in an authoritative position, for example the Headmistress, or the Head Administrator. This note would be attached to a Modification Form showing details of the file that needs to be updated. The authorization slip has to be filed into a drawer in my desk, and I just have to access the file using the code given on the Form and change the required fields. I have the Menu on my Desktop, Mrs. Stakich and I are the only ones who know the Password so I’ve never thought about changing it, once in the records I go to the Search Command to call up the file in question, and make the changes required. On exiting the database, I go have to fill out another form, a Proof Form, as it is known as, to acknowledge my action. This form then returns to the top-level to the individual who initially authorized it.
Q: How often do errors occur using this procedure?
A: As you can see, the system is designed in such a way that carrying out the procedure makes it prone to errors. We’re still lucky to have a few students and teachers, basically small files is what I mean to say, which do not have to be updated too often, so they aren’t too many mistakes. Even if there are, they can easily be located and corrected due to the small size of our database.
Q: OK, now what about the plus points of this system? For example, is it easy to use? Is it efficient? Do you feel that you yourself are performing at an optimum level with this system?
A: Ill have to think this question over. Yes, for sure it is easy to use. I just have to type in an identifier code for each record, and the particular record is searched for and displayed. Its that simple. I don’t think its efficient though. As the number of files increases the system takes longer and longer to search the database to produce the results I was looking for. It only follows that I myself feel I am under-performing at my job, as some time will definitely be wasted in waiting for results.
Q: Are you satisfied with the system performing only these functions?
A: Yes, I am. I would like it to be faster though, and even up-to-date, technologically speaking.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Glasse, for your cooperation. You’ve been a great help.
A: The pleasure was all mine.
Analysis of the Interview:
This interview was more enlightening than the one with Mrs. Stakich, for we were able to focus on the technical side of the school’s database system. Certain glaring shortcomings of the current system came to light, such as a very limited database size, as indicated by the system being upgraded the first time. This further tells us that the system itself, with all its components, is out-of-date. In such a state, it may also be incompatible with other systems, should it be desired to connect to these for data exchange purposes. Another significant weakness is the fact that the third upgrade was for security reasons, which means that the Password Protection was initially low.
Mr. Glasse also said that it takes longer to search for a required field if there are many records – this is only fair, but there aren’t too many records right now, so we can expect the system to have some sort of linear search function in operation, unsuitable for large databases. The program, although performing just a few main functions, is slow, again pointing to its near obsoleteness. Its low productivity has an effect on the human element involved, as Mr. Glasse himself feels as if he has not fully achieved his full potential. Lack of motivation could cause further falls in productivity. The system also has standard input devices (mouse and keyboard), as well as standard output devices (printer, scanner and plotter), needed to process data and produce the desired results. The system also runs on a fairly fast processor, as given by the computer’s configuration. However it is unlikely that the system uses any of the other software packages (apart from the Windows 98 operating system) so these, as powerful as they are, aren’t being utilized.
MAIN WEAKNESSES OF CURRENT SYSTEM:
Based on the knowledge gained in these interviews, it is possible to finalize the main shortcomings of the system currently in use:
* Small disk space.
The disk space used for storage of data is relatively small as it needed to be upgraded beforehand. With all the new enrolments expected, as well as other related increases, such as electricity and water, teachers’ salaries, etc the available disk space will not be sufficient.
* Poor security level.
Security forms an important part of any system, and the fact that the database was hacked into shows just how weak security really is. The password used seems to be outdated and it is likely that people other than those authorized know it. Laxed security is especially important here as we are dealing with the personal records of students and teachers, not to mention important transactions such as total fees received, expenses, and so on. So security, despite being of paramount importance, isn’t given the priority it should be.
The normal procedure to accomplish a single task is lengthy and time-consuming. It also involves unnecessary paperwork. This would exhibit itself as delays in processing, as a single instruction would have to be passed through many stages before being received by the sender once again as feedback.
* Basic obsoleteness.
As seen from the interview, Mr. Glasse uses a relatively fast processor. Despite this speed, we still find that the speed of running the system is slow especially when new records are added. This means that the components of the system itself are slow and outdated. This weakness especially comes into focus when we consider the fact that nowadays systems are rarely independent. One system has to be connected to at least one more system, with data exchange taking place between these. However, if their speeds are not compatible they will not be able to function at their optimum level. If the system were to exchange information over the Internet then this incompatibility could become a problem.
OBJECTIVES OF THE NEW SYSTEM:
1) To provide quick access to the files in the database. Many files will now be in the system and it is necessary that they be reached quickly.
2) To maintain a higher level of security. This ensures that the database is viewed and controlled only by those who have the proper authority to do so.
3) To minimize ‘red tape’ involved in making changes to the records. The previous system involved a lot of paperwork and proved to be costly in terms of time (therefore money), so this new system aims to reduce that by quickly and efficiently processing an instruction.
4) To be user-friendly. Step-by-step guidance ensures that the user can easily find his way around the database to perform the desired task.
A Flowchart of how data would be passed along the new system is as follows:
Standard input devices, such as a mouse, a keyboard, a scanner and a web-camera will be needed for this system to operate (the mouse and keyboard are the main ones, the others for inputting photos and such graphics). Output devices will be plotters and printers.
Hardware: The CPU requirement for this system include at least 100 MHz Pentium processor and 16 MB RAM.
Software: It is necessary to have an operating system such as Windows 98 as well as MS Visual Basic program installed, as this is the front-end program to be used for this system, with Access 7.0 being the back-end program.
The user will be Mr. Glasse, and his computer already exceeds the requirements for this system to function efficiently. His IT skills will also be relevant: since he already has MS Office 97 installed he will already know the basics behind Access 7.0 and should find no problem in entering the data.
It must be remembered that the system to be developed is intended to replace the outdated system in current use. The current system is slow, inefficient and incompatible. Its replacement will be better than it in all these respects, and should bring the database up to the level of technology today.