BACKGROUND: The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is responsible for serving and supporting the more than 500 school districts throughout the state. A major focus for DESE, as with all Missouri agencies, is to improve the efficiency of government and to improve service to citizens and customers at a lower overall cost to the state.

PLATFORMS: Servers: Microsoft Windows NT Pentium PCs. Clients: Any Microsoft Windows-based PC with a standard Web browser.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Administrators in the 525 school districts in the State of Missouri, which includes schools in St. Louis and Kansas City, have a constant need for data on everything from comparisons of school bus contracts to five-year academic records for school performance reviews. Most of this information is available on the Internet, but it is not always in a format that can be easily used for reports which often include charts and graphs. To address these needs, we initiated a project to provide the information in a usable form to any school district's PC with a standard Web browser. The information the school districts need is currently stored in a legacy VSE system at the state. The information services department is in the process of converting to an Oracle7 database on an IBM RS/6000 running AIX. To provide the Internet link from the state department to the school district offices, we selected VISION:Webaccess from Sterling Software.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: VISION:Webaccess enables users to design and finesse reports, crosstabs and/or charts using live data ­ all within a Java environment. The product is currently NT server-based and supports the following databases: Oracle, DB2, SQL Server and Sybase. DESE is using VISION:Webaccess as its facility for the school districts to get at the data and produce whatever reports they need. These reports include charts and graphs and can be used in presentations to school officials, teachers, parents or the general public.

STRENGTHS: VISION:Webaccess is very easy to use. The wizards available with VISION:Webaccess are easy to walk through, and the users understand how to use it very quickly. Training for the end users in the pilot project has been easy because the interface and wizards work in the same way as the Microsoft desktop applications they are currently using. Training is also made easier by the help available with VISION:Webaccess. When the user clicks on help, the help screen that comes up is directly related to the function the user is working with. Users don't have to go through an index and figure out what page of help they need.

WEAKNESSES: VISION:Webaccess needs to be enhanced to allow the user more control over graphics within the templates, so the user can do more customization of charts and reports.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We went through an evaluation period, looked at several different tools and involved our staff and school district representatives in the evaluation process. Several of the business users have been teachers or superintendents, so they were able to give us input from the educators' point of view. VISION:Webaccess was easier to use than any other tool we evaluated, and it had all the features we needed.

DELIVERABLES: In a real-world test of the system, districts have obtained information concerning enrollment, graduation rates and some financial information. They have been able to compare their district information against that of districts similar in size or geographic area. The districts will use this information in presentations to their local school boards.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Support has been great. When we call Sterling Software, they usually have immediate answers to our questions. They are also very open to allowing us to directly phone the software engineers responsible for this product.

DOCUMENTATION: The user guide is excellent. We use manuals to learn more about VISION:Webaccess. We also use the on-line documentation which is very good and is updated with each new release.

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