BACKGROUND: The Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) IT group provides technical solutions to school districts across the state for several online initiatives, including LEAP for student performance reporting. The BOCES student information system data is comprised of 58 databases, 161 record types, 3,000 fields and 30 million online records with 10 years of data on our mainframe. Researchers go to the database for many things, including student performance trends.

PLATFORMS: CCA Analytics runs on an IBM mainframe S390, OS390 operating system and an MVS platform.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We were faced with a problem of allowing 2,500 people ­ most of whom who do not have experience with computer databases ­ to connect to the mainframe and obtain secure access to its data. From a business standpoint, the mainframe contains a goldmine of data, but users had no user- friendly tool that would help them visualize the data to make better business decisions. Every user request involved a programming effort which not only took a long time, but also didn't give the users the autonomy they wanted to browse and explore the data to uncover unanticipated results. CCA Analytics is a Microsoft Windows-based tool that allows users to view data in any way they see fit. BOCES used CCA Analytics to build an interim data warehousing solution in two weeks, long before the completion of our extensive data warehousing application. We don't know of another tool for accessing and analyzing data that permits users to begin using a data warehousing system before it is completed. People can begin making better administrative decisions immediately, actually influencing the way the data warehouse is built. As a result, we can build exactly what we need the first time.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Analytics software allows users to query, segment and graph their data in a Windows-based graphical environment. Relying on business definitions in a meta data catalog, users can easily create very complex queries, slicing and dicing their data as needed. They can assign meaningful names to any number of data segments and obtain counts, summaries, averages and percentages in seconds. A typical research project would review kindergarten screening information from one year to the next, allowing educators to predict how to help incoming, young students succeed. Once data is located, it is displayed using Analytics' own decision support tools or exported to other popular desktop tools for further analysis and representation. CCA Analytics' indexing mechanism, which delivers impressive response times, provides the key to analyzing exceedingly large operational databases.

WEAKNESSES: There's only one weakness of this product, and that is the fact that it is not delivered in a Web environment. In everything we do, we'd like to have the option of delivering it through the Internet.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Users don't want to have to go through our group to work with the data, and Analytics is accessible enough to allow them to work on the database themselves once they've been trained. Also, we have 10 years of development in Model 204, another CCA product, and it made little or no sense to go anywhere else for a data visualization tool.

DELIVERABLES: We're in the pilot stage, but from what we have seen, I will say that it does what we were looking for. Analytics allows users to seek the reports and the queries they want on their own.

VENDOR SUPPORT: I can say unequivocally that we get our best support from CCA. I give some credit to my staff and their relationship with CCA. All technology products have problems, but CCA supports my staff without forcing me to get on the phone and scream.

DOCUMENTATION: I have never had anyone complain to me. While it certainly is a complex product, once programmers are trained, they do wonderful things with it.

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