BACKGROUND: Putting a shuttle into space is one of the most complex processes in the world. Even minor errors or slips in quality control can have a major impact on the schedule and success of a mission. Much of this work can be assigned to experienced contractors, freeing NASA engineers to focus on the most critical areas and enhancements or changes to the shuttle processing preparation. However, assigning tasks to outside contractors cannot happen at the expense of communication or quality control which are essential to a successful mission.

PLATFORMS: WebFOCUS from Information Builders Inc. runs on a dual processor Dell 6100 server running Windows NT. It collects data over TCP/IP connections from IBM, Unisys, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, Digital and Amdahl systems from other organizations in NASA and from contractors.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As NASA turned many shuttle processing tasks over to contractors, we required a way to collect and report on large volumes of data to ensure that contractors were meeting standards for completeness, quality and timeliness. A typical launch sequence must track 5,500 flight parts and 4,000 ground support items as they proceed through 150,000 discrete operations and 3,600 work instruction packages, one-third of them unplanned. The contract is performance based, which means that NASA must be able to measure a contractor's work against predefined metrics and standards. INSIGHT is a WebFOCUS-based system, developed by NASA that allows NASA engineers to track the progress of shuttle preparation and to collect baseline data for review and improvement of processes. INSIGHT collects data from approximately 20 different databases, few of them owned by NASA. Because customer support and cooperation was critical, we followed a building-block approach that enabled us to construct the system over a period of time. With this approach, we could work with customers to design how they would input and store data; and we could add to the system over time without discarding previous work.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Web- FOCUS produces a rich variety of reports that NASA engineers can use to check everything from near real-time processing data to the progress of an 18-month project. We have no control over the systems and databases that contractors and related organizations use. Nevertheless, WebFOCUS enabled us to publish data from many different databases.

STRENGTHS: Combined with Information Builders' EDA middleware, WebFOCUS is extraordinarily capable for creating a single reporting center in an extremely diverse data environment. It also worked well with our building-block approach, enabling us to bring reports online over a period of time and creating a foundation on which new capabilities could be built. Its graphical reporting power is very important in enabling NASA staff to track performance and progress over time.

WEAKNESSES: Like most database systems, if large numbers of joins are required when accessing live data, processing time will be increased. We would also like more robust statistical analysis capability, although we have yet to find a better solution than the one WebFOCUS currently provides.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We examined a number of alternatives, but WebFOCUS was clearly superior in fitting into our particular requirements. We needed a system capable of collecting data from diverse systems and adaptable to changing requirements as our needs and technology changed. In addition, we needed to generate many different kinds of reports, in both graphical and tabular formats.

DELIVERABLES: WebFOCUS assisted NASA to successfully meet its organizational objective of moving from a system in which NASA engineers controlled the shuttle preparation process to a system in which they track performance and intervene only in exceptional situations. This system preserved contractor relationships by not requiring significant changes to their systems other than those needed to provide good performance measurement. The system has also established a foundation on which NASA will be able to improve its processes.

VENDOR SUPPORT: We found Information Builders to be very responsive to our needs. At the time we began our project, we discovered some constraints in WebFOCUS, which we discussed with Information Builders. Over the ensuing two years, Information Builders resolved virtually every one of those issues.

DOCUMENTATION: WebFOCUS provides adequate documentation including training manuals, reference materials and online help. We have also found Information Builders' publications to be very helpful when we push the boundaries of the applications.

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