Information Systems - Project Summaries
We have been fortunate to work with exceptional clients in a variety of
businesses. We specialize in development by the prototyping
method. This is a parallel process of definition, development, and
deployment, rather than a sequential process where each step must
be completed before the next step begins. Each system component
achieves early functionality, which enhances the mutual learning
process between client and developer, and it also helps the system
pay for its own development.
The goal should be more than a "management information system" ... it should be a
Leadership Information System! Traditional MIS systems were focused on REcovery
of existing information. We believe that a properly designed system should also facilitate
DIScovery of new information ... some call this “data mining.” A good system should
enable its owner to "turn the cost of data into the asset of information."
Below are three examples of successes we can point to with pride. These are truly
"Leadership Information Systems." All were developed via the "prototyping" process
rather than by less flexible traditional methods. We’d like to tell you about other systems
we've developed, and hear about your company's information challenges. We do NOT
charge to help explore what we can do for you!
National Exercise Trainers Association - NETA
Our longest-term client, NETA, is one of the largest education and certification
organizations for fitness professionals in the United States. They run workshops
nationwide every weekend.
We built their original scheduling and registration system in 1994 using the DOS version
of ADBM, and enhanced it incrementally over the next seven years. Migration to a
redesigned system using the Windows version of ADBM was completed in May 2002. It
supports up to sixteen simultaneous users, essentially in an inbound telemarketing
function, via a local area network. Quick retrieval via ad-hoc queries to all information in
the system is critical, and we've always been able to provide that.
NETA has a database of about 200K members, inquiries, prospects, sponsors, health
clubs, and other industry contacts. They maintain over 100,000 registration records and
more than 100,000 merchandise invoices in their database for instant access to member
requests and complete history of all member activity.
The system provides registration confirmation, rosters, certificates, contracts, ASCII
mailing data to their mail handler, and many other paper or electronic outputs. In
addition, it publishes new HTML output weekly for the schedule and merchandise pages
on their website. We continue to support them and make enhancements as requested
... via remote connection from our home in WI to their offices in MN.
The University of Minnesota
Beginning in the summer of 1991, working with a small group of students at the
University of Minnesota, we developed the database that would eventually produce the
Course Guide. The Course Guide was developed as an instructor-specific catalog of
courses which contains the instructor's own description of course content, workload, test
formats, and grading.
Following our initial proposal, we were told by one of their IT managers that our methods
and software were “not standard.” True ... and with their “standard” tools and
techniques, they’d concluded that what we planned to do was “impossible.”
So, of course, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Over several years, our system
grew to include virtually all of the undergraduate course offerings at the University, and
in the mid-90s we began publishing daily from the database to the web (these
techniques were subsequently used at NETA and on other projects).
We had to combine large amounts of source data from several of the University's legacy
systems with data that had never before been collected anywhere. These systems were
not designed to communicate, so we had to develop ways to make
the data compatible. It began as a printed publication, but we began making it available
online about 1996. We eventually incorporated the Class Schedule (times),
Section status (open seats during registration period) and other related information.
This system was defined, refined, and enhanced "on the run," with new requirements
being continuously defined and incorporated. As part of a university-wide redesign of all
systems implemented in late 1999, the functions, overall format and appearance of our
system were incorporated into a completely new web-based student information system,
which still retains much of the functionality of our original design. At that point, our direct
involvement came to an end. We're proud to have been instrumental in making our
“impossible” project an integral part of the U of M’s ongoing service to its students and
faculty. Until the fall of 2016, the basic functions remained much the same as developed
between 1991 and 1999 ... with continuing enhancements.
We developed of the first successful remote data entry (RDE) system for a clinical trial
for Medtronic. The Ablate andPace trial (APT) was chosen for a 1994 pilot project. Half
of the study was conducted via traditional paper forms, and the other half was
conducted using an "intelligent forms" system on laptop computers. We designed the
system to assist the clinician in recording complete and correct information directly into a
database. The improvement in accuracy and turnaround time in getting clinical trial data
back to Medtronic was dramatic, and we followed up this success with a similar system
for another clinical trial (M-PATHY).
These projects didn't involve massive data, but required a great degree of input control
and error-checking to ensure that data was complete and correct. We built a database
system to accommodate these requirements. Such data collection today is done via the
internet, but this pioneering effort was done before the connectivity and techniques
existed to do it online, so the information for each patient was collected on a laptop and
stored on 3.5” disks (one per patient visit), and mailed badk to Medtronic, where they
were merged into a consolidated database. We had been told by their Information
Systems group, before we started, that “the technology didn’t exist” do do what we
proposed ... and accomplished! “Impossibility” stops lots of people ... but it motivates
In each of these cases, as well as many others, the success of the project was due
to the involvement of client personnel directly and continuously in the development
process. We believe that this is essential to achieving a satisfactory outcome. It must
begin with a clear understanding that developing an effective information system is a
collaborative process, and that it's not like the acquisition of a product.
The fundamental assumptions of this approach (known in the industry as prototyping)
are that requirements can never be fully known at the start of a project, and that those
requirements do not remain stable over time. It embraces change rather than trying
to prevent it, and assumes that all progress is continuous and incremental.
Contact us! Let's talk about how we can help your organization
"TURN THE COST OF DATA INTO THE ASSET OF INFORMATION!"
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