Database Coursework on a Vehicle Rental System: Analysis

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     I am a student starting my second year of A levels at a College of Further and Higher Education and one of these A levels is ICT. The A2 part of the ICT A level consists of three modules, one of which is coursework and it is worth 40% of my overall A2 grade. The coursework requires me to identify and conduct research into an open-ended problem that exists for a real end-user. From results of this preliminary research, I must design an appropriate ICT-based solution for the problem using the skills and knowledge that I have acquired throughout the duration of my course. After designing such a solution, I will develop the actual software to be used to address the problem along with the technical documentation. This software will then undergo extensive testing so that I may identify and correct any bugs that may be present within the system. Plans on how the system will be implemented will then be made, including any training the staff will need and how existing data will be transferred into the new system. Finally, the User Documentation will be produced and I will evaluate the system on a number of various criteria to see if it meets the requirements outlined at the analysis stage.

     Throughout the whole process, I will be using the skills and experience that I’ve acquired in the first year of the course (and what I will be learning this year) to incorporate a wide range of advanced features and functions into the system, and to complete the project to the best of my ability.

Background Information

     The business that I will be developing a database for is a car rental firm known as Fred’s Car Rentals. It is a small, family-run business that rents out automobiles to customers for a period of time in exchange for a fee. Its customers include travellers from other countries that need a set of wheels to get around for the duration of their stay and owners of destroyed or damaged vehicles that are waiting on repairs to be conducted or insurance compensation. On occasion, the business also serves the self-moving industry by providing them with large vehicles for transporting heavy items to new destinations, such as when people are moving house. The offices and garages of the business are situated in Portadown, and they have been providing a vehicle rental service to the town and surrounding areas since 1985.

     The business is open from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Thursday, and it closes at 1pm on Fridays. On Saturdays it’s open from 11am until 4pm, and it is closed on Sundays. The business six employees, including the manager, assistant manager, stock controller and floor staff.

Gantt Chart for Overall Project

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Gantt Chart For Analysis

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Systems Development

     When there are problems or inefficiencies within an organization, new information systems are often developed as a solution to the problem. Often the way in which data is held and manipulated within an organization is inefficient or wasteful, so a computerized system is developed to replace a manual storage system, or to replace an inefficient computerized system. In other words, if there is a better and more cost-effective method of handling data, businesses will obviously want to use that method! For my coursework, I will be developing a computerized system tailored to the needs and requirements of Fred’s Car Rentals. Of course, the development of such computerized systems is a costly venture, both in terms of time and money expenditure, so we use formal methods to streamline the process. These formal methods are referred to as “System development life cycle models”, and the model that I will be following consists of five main stages: System Investigation, Analysis, Design, Implementation and Review

     The first thing I will do for my project is the conduction of preliminary investigations into Fred’s Car Rentals’ current system. This stage involves identifying what the problems are with the current system, considering the various ways in which the problems could be addressed along with their feasibility, and possible implications of undertaking the project. It will begin with a system request, followed by the production of a feasibility report. The conduction of a feasibility report will give me an insight into the nature of the problem with the current system and whether or not the net benefit of the system will outweigh the net cost that will be incurred via the resources being consumed by its development. This feasibility report will be taking five factors into consideration: technical feasibility, economic feasibility, legal feasibility, operational feasibility and schedule feasibility. If the results of my feasibility report demonstrate that the business would benefit from a new information system, and that such a system is able to be developed given the time and money constraints, then I shall proceed to the analysis stage.

     During the analysis stage, I will investigate in detail how the current system operates, its strengths and weaknesses, what can be improved and what will be required of the new system. It is through this stage that I will gain a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the current system so that I can design and produce a Requirements Specification. I will develop this Specification with the continuous correspondence, consultation and feedback of its intended users in the business. I will be utilizing a variety of data-collecting methods such as interviews, questionnaires, and direct observation. Things that I intend to investigate include, but are not limited to, the service the business offers, what tasks are carried out, the way in which these tasks are carried out, the frequency of their performance, the effectiveness of their performance, the staff’s involvement in such tasks, faults in the system and how the system can be improved. All the data collected here will be used to gain a clear understanding of the present system and in developing the new one.

     At the design stage of the life cycle, I will produce details on how I will meet the requirements that I set for the system at the analysis stage. I will specify what files will be required, their structures and storage method used for them. Validation checks will be outlined and I shall design a test plan that will be followed at the testing stage. All this information will be written in the form of tables, diagrams and reports. Output Designs, in which all output requirements will be defined, such as how many reports are required, the frequency of their production, their layout and they data they will contain, will be included. Input Designs will be included, defining where all of the data is coming from, method of data input, data collection methods to be used, data-capture form design and input-form design. Process design will also be included, defining all of the processes to be performed on entered data such as sorting, summing, selecting, counting and merging. The database designs will also be shown, as will the security designs for the system, such as how data integrity will be protected, what access levels different users will have and the data-back-up procedures to be used. The hardware that the system is being designed for will also be included, as well as the software that will be used to create the computerized system itself.

     The designs from the previous stage will then be used to construct the actual system. Existing commercial software may be purchased or it may be necessary to have software written for the purpose. Using existing software is a safe option, being relatively inexpensive and tried and tested, although in some cases in may not meet the demands of the proposed system, depending on what is required from it. Once the database is constructed and the system is completed, it must undergo rigorous testing.  I will design attesting strategy and test the system according to that plan.  I will be testing all of the parts of my program to ensure they perform according to specification. Data will be used to test extreme cases and invalid data to ensure it’ll be rejected by the system. During testing, the results yielded will be compared with what is expected, and any anomalies will be investigated and if necessary corrected.

     The system will then have to be installed after it’s been thoroughly tested. This will include preparing the users for using the system, ensuring that the hardware is capable of running the software and converting the data from the old system into the new one. It is very important that all users of the system are trained to use the software confidently. Three common methods of installation are Direct conversion, Parallel running and Pilot conversion. In a direct conversion, the old system is replaced by the new one at a specified time and date. Whilst this is certainly the most speedy and inexpensive option, at the same time, it is also the riskiest having as the result of a system failure could be catastrophic, as no back-up of the system exists. With a parallel running changeover, both new and old systems run simultaneously for a period of time to compare and contrast the results of each system in terms of accuracy, speed, consistency and efficiency. This is a safe changeover method since if a failure arises in the new system; the old system is still there. However, running two systems simultaneously can put a tremendous strain on the business in terms of time, money and manpower. In a pilot conversion, the new system is implemented in one location or segment of the business before its full implementation throughout the organisation. This way, any problems or bugs can be corrected before full-scale implementation occurs. However, this is only possible in an organisation that has many departments or locations so obviously it’s not going to be an option for the small family business that I’m looking at.

     Even when a system is up-and-running and fully operational, unforeseen circumstances can cause problems to arise. I will therefore need to be capable of addressing any problems that may arise in the system, as well as being able to make modifications should circumstances change. Perfective maintenance is performed when the users of the system, through repeated use, become aware of certain changes that would enhance the performance of the system on one or more variables such as speed, accuracy or consistency. Whilst a system does not require such modifications, and will run adequately without them, they do improve the system. Adaptive maintenance may be performed if needs of a company changes, or if new and improved hardware becomes available. Corrective maintenance is performed when a bug or an error is encountered in the system.


Feasibility of a Computerized Solution

     There are certain factors that one needs to take into consideration when one is judging whether a computerized solution to a problem is feasible and worth going ahead with. The five main factors for consideration are technical feasibility, economic feasibility, legal feasibility, operational feasibility and schedule feasibility, and I will have to take these factors into consideration when designing a computerised solution for Fred’s Car Rentals.

     Technical feasibility refers to whether the technology exists to implement the new system, and the practicality of the proposition. It may be the case that the software may simply not achieve the desired response times with currently available equipment. For example, if I wanted to design a system based on voice recognition for this project, requiring the user to input data via speaking into a microphone; it would be feasible. This is because voice recognition software is not currently at an advanced enough level to ensure 100% accuracy in the conversion of voice to data. If the user speaks into the microphone, the software may convert it to a different, similar sounding word. This would be problematic for the system in the amount of time and money wasted from corrections and incorrect information. Thus, we would say that it is not technically feasible. However, in the future, when the voice recognition software becomes more advanced, it could well be a feasible option.

     Economic feasibility refers to the cost-effectiveness of the system. Obviously, if the cost of designing and developing my system outweighs the benefits it confers to the Fred’s Car Rentals, then it is not a good idea. The organization will not want such a system, and will reject it. Such costs include purchasing the hardware and software necessary for running the system, paying those who are developing the system, the cost and time taken transferring the current systems data into the new system, training personnel on how to use the system effectively and the cost of installing the system. There are other costs too, but these are more detrimental to the individual and society in general rather than the business itself. This includes workers being made redundant, deskilling, negative environmental effects and the loss of job satisfaction for certain employees. Benefits for the business include a reduction in staff costs, reduced running costs and increased level of customer satisfaction and hence more business as a consequence.

    Legal feasibility refers to whether the proposed system adheres or conflicts with any laws. The contractual and legal ramifications of the system must be understood fully, such as copyright law, code ownership, and the Data Protection Act of 1998. If going ahead with a project means breaking the law, then it is said to be lacking in legal feasibility. As well, if the only way it would be economically feasible for my client to implement the system would be for it to be designed and used on illegal pirated copies of software then it would also lack legal feasibility.

The Operational feasibility of a project pertains to whether the current work procedures and practices will be capable of supporting the new system. If the organizations current practices and procedures will not be capable of this, then they will either have to be altered or there will be no point developing the system. If work practices have to be altered too drastically that the organization will not be able to comply, then we say that the project lacks operational feasibility and the project will not go any further. Obviously I don’t expect my client to turn his business upside down and inside-out in order to accommodate my system.

     Schedule feasibility pertains to the amount of time that will be taken to develop the system relative to the time the organization would like it completed. Obviously if my system is going to require six months to be constructed and my client wants it completed in one month, it will not be possible. This is an example of a project lacking in schedule feasibility.

My Knowledge and Experience

     At GCSE level, I created a spreadsheet, a website, a slideshow and used publishing software for the coursework, and learned some basic ICT theory. Whilst the use of the various software and information learned from the theory was fairly basic, it provided some foundation and framework in the subject that could be expanded upon.

     I have gained much more knowledge and experience from last year’s AS level ICT that will be of help to me this year. In the theory last year I covered topics such as Data, Information Systems, Relational Databases, Software and System Development life cycles, which are very relevant to the coursework. Last year I achieved 82/90 in my first exam and 90/90 in my second, so I feel confident that I know these topics well and am ready to apply this knowledge confidently. I will be taught ICT theory in conjunction with producing this piece of coursework, so I will be learning new things relevant to the project as the year goes on. Also, last year I produced a computerized solution for AS level coursework, so I’m hoping some of the principles and strategies learned in designing a database will come in helpful this year too.

     In the summer of 2007, I was selected to represent my country at the NASA International Space School in Houston, Texas. At the school, students from all over the world were placed in teams and had to tackle various aspects of a hypothetical journey to Mars. At the end of two weeks of work, we had to present the fruits of our labour to an audience including NASA officials and university professors. Part of this presentation involved presenting a slideshow containing information pertaining to our ideas to accompany our speeches. One of the responsibilities I had on my team was to use my ICT skills to design the slideshow using Presentation software (Microsoft PowerPoint), which I succeeded at doing.

Breakdown of Tasks

Investigation Techniques

     In order to gain a clear and comprehensive understanding of the way in which the current system operates and thus calculate will be required of the new one, several methods can be used to obtain facts regarding the system. These methods include structured interviews, unstructured interviews, questionnaires, a study of all forms and documents, an examination of records and procedure manuals and direct observation.

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     The structured interview consists of a series of pre-prepared, precisely defined questions. It is the rigidity and inflexibility of the structured interview that is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. On one hand, it is from this structure and order that objective precise data will be able to be obtained from Fred, unclouded by the interviewee’s interpretation of subtle cues on the part of the interviewer. However, on the other hand, though, this rigid structure will not allow potentially interesting lines of inquiry to be pursued or followed up on. This means that important data could be ...

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Summary Undoubtedly this is an A grade analysis. It contains the various components that are required and goes into a great deal of detail about all the elements one would expect to find in an analysis. The student has also avoided the pitfall of waffling and most of what is written is succinct, accurate and relevant. Some suggestions for improvements to perfect this... 1. Depending on the specification requirements (and these could be easily checked) the following things need to be checked: a) Is there a requirement to evaluate other solutions to the problem? For example, the assumption all the way through is that this is going to be a database (and obviously this is the case) but some boards expect to see evaluation of other techniques for example, a spreadhseet to solve this. b) Whilst the field lists for each table are shown there are no entity-relationship diagrams and there is quite a "jump" to the list of fields. It would be useful to highlight the key fields in each table but I suggest that this is tricky without the aforementioned ER diagrams; for example, there may be some combined key fields. The writer has clearly got a grasp of the systems life cycle process and I have every confidence that they will complete the rest of the project successfully provided they continue as they have started. The URs and QOs give a good opportunity to underpin the development of the system with real criteria that are meaningful and provided they are referred to throughout (along with frequent discussions with the client) the finished solution should be one that is exactly what they are looking for. Overall this is a 5 star piece of work.