University of Vermont

School of Business Administration

A Case Analysis and the Surprise Guest

MBA students in the Management Information Systems class taught by Professor William Cats-Baril thought they were presenting their case analysis on the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) IT system to their fellow peers last month.  But unbeknownst to them, a special guest was in the back of the room taking notes.

"The case was about the highly problematic IT systems upgrade at the Vermont DMV, called 'VT DRIVES,'" said Chloe Cangardel, a School of Business Administration MBA student.  "The project is massively over budget (originally budgeted at $10 million, is over by $8M), is still not delivered despite a due date of 2008, and the technology as it stands today simply does not work."

"The DMV hired Competitive Computing to analyze the DMV needs, write an RFP, and serve as quality control for the project," said Tucker Severson, a School of Business Administration MBA student.  "With little oversight and no accountability, the project bumped along for years, cost millions of dollars and resulted in a giant, worthless pile of code."

The students were charged with coming up with a recommendation for the DMV to deal with the mess.

"We recommended that the DMV sue Hewlett Packard (HP) to recover costs and deflect public blame," said Severson.  "We then focused on how the DMV could set itself up for success by narrowing the focus, holding high-level figures accountable and designing a flexible, modular system.  We recommended that the DMV replace the commissioner - who knew little about IT - with an experienced technologist."

The students were unaware that the special guest in the room was in fact the Vermont DMV Commissioner Robert Ide.

"Having the person in charge of making decisions pertaining to a case in the classroom is a powerful experience for the students as they get 'real-life' and 'real-time' feedback on their analyses," said Dr. Cats-Baril.  "Having the Commissioner in class enabled a discussion on the student's specific recommendations that was rich in detail and charged with realism."

"I was embarrassed," said Severson.  "I cannot pretend to know more about this issue than the Commissioner, and so it was brazen of me to suggest he should be fired.  It may be correct, he may not be the best person to fix the problem, but I would not have phrased it that way had I known he would be in the room."

"He took the recommendation very graciously and with tremendous good humor," said Cangardel.  "He joked around with Tucker about how he would have his drivers license removed due to the recommendation!  After that, the Commissioner spent about 40 minutes explaining his perspective on the case, and the limitations to action he feels in his role.  This exercise was a great learning experience and a very funny, memorable class.  I gained an increased understanding of what keeps major problems like this from being solved.  I also learned to scan the audience for any unfamiliar faces."