Author: Dawn Bot

Developing a Disaster Recovery Plan and Site

It’s a new year and it is time to start working on those resolutions. I am terrible about completing mine, I start off great but by mid-February they sort of drop off the radar; unless, I have a plan. The Division’s Applied Research and Technical Services group has been working closely with several clients in developing their Disaster Recovery (DR) plan and site. If one of your organization’s New Year’s resolutions is to establish a DR site, here is information about developing your DR plan and how to get started with building a DR site. What is a Disaster Recovery site? Disaster Recovery is the policies and procedures that enable recovery or continuation of vital technology infrastructures and systems following a disaster and where and how those vital systems and data are maintained. DR is basically an insurance policy based on the probability a disaster will occur. A DR site is the physical location of the data, systems, etc., your organization needs to be functional. How do I get started? Many of the decisions you will need to make when developing a DR plan and setting up a DR site begin with answering the following questions: What data/systems are essential to your organization? What can your organization live without? (data? applications? both?) If a disaster were to occur, how long after will the organization need to be up and...

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Race to the Top Project, a CAIRE success

The Race to the Top (RTTT) grant has come to an end (see CAIRE and the Race to the Top and Evaluating the Implementation and Utilization of the Race to the Top Projects). This project has been a part of the Center for Application and Innovation Research in Education (CAIRE) for the past four years. As with any project that we spend a long time on, we are sad to see it go, but are very proud of the work accomplished. RTTT provided the CAIRE team with many opportunities to use our skill sets, both individually and collectively. Surveys Over the last several months the CAIRE team evaluated the impact and utilization of several individual RTTT projects. Surveys were a large part of the data gathering process. Each project had its own unique survey, and our team took much time and skill in creating surveys that would yield the data necessary to provide information to contribute to the decision making process. Interviews Throughout the entire RTTT project, CAIRE evaluators used personal interviews to gather information that can only be conveyed through direct contact with those people “in the trenches”. Talking directly to both Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) employees and local education agencies (LEA) employees, yielded useful impressions and a deeper insight into the success of a project that cannot be conveyed through surveys or test results. Data...

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What IT Project Documentation Do I Really Need?

If your organization has ever embarked on an IT project, you may have heard a lot of buzzwords when it came down to the documentation needed. System Requirements (one of my favorite), Communication Plan, Work Breakdown Structure, Test Plan, are just a few of the types of documents that may have been thrown around as potential documentation needed for the project in order to help secure its success. But what are the documents and do you need all of them for every project? The table below provides a very high level explanation on some common IT project documents. It is ultimately up to the project manager and stakeholders as to which documents are truly necessary. Having all the documents does not guarantee a successful project; however, having the truly important and useful documents can specific to the project help with its success, no matter if it is large or small. Document Name What is it? When do you need it? Concept Proposal Explains the “need” for the project and to gain a project sponsor. This document is used when it is necessary to explain “Why” strategic goals are not being met or where mission performance needs to be improved. Project Charter Explains the scope, objectives and roles and authority with regard to the project. This is created by a project sponsor. This document is usually needed if a project...

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Going from Requirements to Test Plan

If you have been following along with some of my blogs, you will notice a recurring topic: REQUIREMENTS (Are Requirements Necessary When Purchasing IT Products , What Does Your System Require?).  I know I have written this before, but having good requirements is the foundation of any successful system. If you write really good requirements at the beginning of a project, you will have useful Test Plan by the end of it. Requirements Development and Testing In the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC), there are two areas that tend to be short changed, in both the time needed and details required:  requirements development and testing. These are the same two areas that cause the greatest issues if there is no commitment. If well written and easily understandable requirements are created at the beginning of the project, then the developers can build a system that meets those requirements and then those same requirements can become a clear and concise Test Plan. This will result in a Test Plan that thoroughly evaluates the requirements, thereby providing the client with a fully tested system that meets their needs. Elements of a Test Plan A Test Plan, in its simplest form, is a chart. Applied Research and Technical Services (ARTS) uses an Excel spreadsheet that includes the requirements, arranged in numerical order, and incorporates columns that let the Tester denote whether or not the...

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Writing Minimum Qualifications for a Request for Proposal (RFP)

A while back I wrote a blog about writing a Request for Proposal or RFP (“How do you write a RFP?”).  That blog discussed the overall RFP creation process. Now, it is time to look at one very specific but important element of the document, Vendor’s Minimum Qualifications. What are Minimum Qualifications? A simple answer is the lowest required level of knowledge and abilities that a company as a whole or any proposed individual must possess to be considered for award of the RFP. Carefully crafted minimum qualifications allow the organization issuing the RFP to provide potential vendors with a checklist of a vendor’s “must haves.” The tricky part comes in writing clear and understandable minimum qualifications. How do you write GOOD Minimum Qualifications?      Ahh, here’s the rub.  What may be clear to you and your organization may not be clear to a potential vendor. For example, it may be important to your organization that the vendor possesses five years development experience. Writing a minimum qualification as, “Vendor shall have five years IT development experience” leaves the interpretation of the minimum qualification wide open. A better way to write the minimum qualification is, “Vendor shall have a five consecutive years developing inventory tracking programs.” Even though your RFP may be requesting an inventory tracking program, being specific when developing minimum qualifications helps to “weed out” those vendors that do...

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Our Recent Compensation and Classification Project

One of the Division of Innovation and Applied Research’s strengths is its highly skilled staff. Another strength is its ability to call upon Towson University’s multitude of talented and knowledgeable faculty. Our latest project involved working with the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Development (DECD) and Dr. Nhung T. Nguyen, an Associate Professor in the College of Business and Economics. DECD contacted the Division of Innovation and Applied Research with regard to a compensation and classification project. Bill Hansman took on the role of both analyst and project manager, and then reached out to the University for a subject matter expert to be part of the project team. Dr. Nguyen, who earned her PhD in Management from the Virginia Commonwealth University, was a perfect fit since compensation management is one of her areas of expertise. The team decided to use in-person interviews, and surveys, to meet the projects goal of analyzing the job duties at DECD. The team accomplished this by: Analyzing current job descriptions, which included reviewing the State’s MS-22 language and comparing that language with information that was received from the interviews and surveys. Comparing each employee’s resume with the knowledge and skills needed for his/her current position, and determining if the resume indicated if he/she was over or under qualified for that position. Reviewing the internal job structure from the data received, which...

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Are Requirements Necessary When Purchasing IT Products?

So you don’t think you need requirements when buying a new IT product? If you are buying something for home use, chances are you don’t.  But if you are talking about business use – that can be an entirely different story. In most professional environments there is more than one user, or more than one person that needs results based on the product.  With several people needing the product to perform in a certain way, it is better to find out how it will be used up front.  (See “What do you require?”).  It takes careful planning and requirements gathering to purchase, install, and customize a  product that meets a specific business need. So what happens if you don’t gather requirements before making a purchase? Time and money are two words bantered around a lot. So if creating requirements costs time and money, how can it save both? If you know what your requirements are before you go looking for the software, you will save time when searching for the right product. If a commercial off-the-shelf ( COTS) product meets all major needs with only minor tweaking, and you already know which requirements are “must haves” and which ones are “nice to have,” you save money!  If the COTS product you find does not meet your needs then you will need to either change your expectations, or spend additional money retrofitting it. If...

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Perspective from a new CAIRE team member

In past blog posts I’ve introduced what CAIRE is doing to support RTTT and discussed the how we are evaluating the implementation and utilization of the projects.  In this post I wanted to share the perspective of a “freshly minted” graduate who has recently joined the CAIRE team. Jessica Lake, RESI Research Assistant, recently graduated with a degree in Sociology from Brown University. What was your first impression of CAIRE’s work? When I began working on CAIRE, the initial thought of evaluating 54 projects was a bit overwhelming. However, as I’ve spent more time working in-depth on each project, I’ve found that the diversity of topics has made my job more intriguing and has allowed me to develop a higher degree of workplace versatility. Although all projects relate to the broad topic of education reform, each one has a unique purpose and intended impact on the education system. Some projects are focused on broad data systems, others are geared towards aiding educators, some are specifically targets towards students, and so forth. As such, my work has provided me with a broad range of insight, knowledge, and perspectives on the field of education that I could not have gained without such variety. How are you using what you learned in the classroom? During my time working with CAIRE, I have relied upon many of the skills that I developed during my...

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Evaluating the Implementation and Utilization of the Race to the Top Projects

In my previous blog CAIRE and Race to the Top, I provided an overview of what CAIRE means, who is involved with it, and how it relates to Race to the Top (RTTT). CAIRE‘s main function is to independently evaluate 54 distinct but interrelated projects. Many of these projects will be used to provide guidance and direction as the state endeavors to successfully implement the new Maryland Common Core Curriculum in all Maryland schools. The past year and half, CAIRE has been evaluating the implementation of RTTT in Maryland. Evaluating a large program presents itself with many challenges as to how and what to evaluate. The goal is to provide a thorough and objective evaluation that adds value for the program to make course corrections. To break the evaluations into manageable pieces, the Maryland RTTT program was conceived with three phases: Process/Product Utilization Impact Representatives of the CAIRE Team met each week with different RTTT project managers to discuss the process/product of the 54 RTTT projects. The purpose of these meetings was to review and document the status of each project from a management perspective, identify any risks associated with its completion, and if warranted, make recommendations to RTTT leaders to improve the project’s management. An evaluation plan was created that captures specific project information and then asked questions relating to the management of the project. The challenge in...

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CAIRE and Race to the Top

Within the RESI-Business Analysis and Management (BAM) group is a team of business analysts, project managers and economists working on the CAIRE project. CAIRE stands for the Center for Application and Innovation Research in Education and the team is getting ready to move onto to Phase II of one of the most important projects in the State of Maryland. This post will be the first in a series about BAM’s work with CAIRE.  Throughout the series, I will catch you up on the newest developments and impacts the project is having on improving education in Maryland.  I’ll inform you about this exciting project that crosses universities, Local Educational Agencies (LEAs), state, and federal government agencies. First, what is CAIRE? CAIRE is a center of the University System of Maryland housed at Towson University (TU).  It’s supported by faculty and staff from several Maryland universities including, BAM staff members and faculty from TU’s College of Education, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Loyola, and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  Our team, headed by TU College of Education Dean Dr. Ray Lorion, was created to assist the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) with evaluating the activities associated with the Race to the Top (RTTT) grant. What is the RTTT grant? The RTTT grant is a federal grant from the US Department of Education (USDE) that MSDE applied for and received.  The...

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