North Carolina, IBM Lock Horns

Officials and vendor dissolve into war of words over $80M contract

February 11, 2006

3 Min Read
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An $80 million contract to build a gigantic data repository for over 1 million students and teachers in North Carolina has ended acrimoniously, turning into a war of words between contractor IBM Corp. and state officials.

We have told IBM that we’re terminating the project for failure to perform,” says Vanessa Jeter, public information officer at the state’s Department of Public Instruction. She would not reveal specific details.

The initiative, called the North Carolina Window of Information on Student Education (NC WISE), is a Web-based system for collating and analyzing student data, such as report cards and transcripts. But the system -- developed by IBM -- has been dogged by systems crashes and major delays.

There was no delay, however, in IBM's response to the charges. “The state-managed databases that fed information into NC WISE have experienced frequent outages,” counters IBM spokeswoman Alise McNeill. The hardware giant fulfilled its contractual obligations to North Carolina, but the state, “continued to ask IBM to perform work outside of the contract without payment.”

North Carolina, which hosts NC WISE in its own IT division, has so far coughed up $27 million to IBM. McNeill claims that the vendor is still owed "a significant amount" of money -- in the "millions" -- for work already completed.Close to a third of North Carolina’s 2,500 schools are connected to the system and users are feeling the strain of delays. Doug Herman, director of the Grandfather Academy, a small charter school for abused children in Banner Elk, N.C., told Byte and Switch that NC WISE was originally slated for deployment in his school last July only to be delayed a full year while glitches were ironed out.

NC WISE was designed to replace an antiquated 20-year old software program called the Student Information Management System (SIMS). But thanks to the delay, Herman must rely on the inadequate SIMS: “We have always had issues with SIMS; NC WISE was supposed to be more adaptive to unique [teaching] models.”

SIMS can't accommodate a single teacher who oversees children from a wide range of age groups. “The forms system on SIMS is not flexible enough to deal with such a small school environment.”

Now, Herman hopes whoever picks up the pieces of the NC WISE initiative will provide the functionality he needs. This, he explains, “must be something that will be very customizable.”

Precise details on the technology underpinning NC WISE are unavailable, and it is unclear who North Carolina will ask to complete the project. Existing software supplier Aal appears to be a likely choice, and both SAS Institute Inc. and Oracle Corp. have also been mentioned.There are three main components to NC WISE. Those are: an Electronic Student Information System (eSIS), which lets schools manage student information; an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) for sending transcripts and records; and a Uniform Education Reporting System (UERS) that transfers information to North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction.

The NC WISE contract was originally awarded to PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1999. IBM took over the deal when it acquired part of PWC in 2002. State officials claim that the project is now slated for completion in 2008, as opposed to the previous deadline of 2007.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • aal

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)

  • SAS Institute Inc.

  • PricewaterhouseCoopers International

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