CS 481 - Trends in Computer Science

Week 8: Project goals, guidelines for scoring responses, innovations

Objectives:

This week we continue toward the final project for the term. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Project goals for this week
  2. Guidelines for scoring responses
  3. Innovations
Concepts:

The project goals for this week are to create the RFP document, and to establish how you will score the proposals that vendors might submit to you. As we discussed previously, you need to establish the scoring methods before you send the RFP documents to the prospective vendors. To do this, you need to be sure you have asked the vendors for all the necessary features you require, and that you have given them accurate performance measures that you can live with. Don't be unrealistic in what you expect the new system to do, but don't be too generous either. If you set your acceptance score too low, you are likely to receive a set of responses that will only provide acceptable performance, and none will provide the feeling of wonder that a new technological marvel should provide.

The following list is a general set of guidelines about scoring responses to your RFP. You may want to add more guidelines to the list that are specific to the RFP you are producing. In a large company, it might happen that the people doing the scoring will not be same people who produced the RFP. If this is so, you must take special care to make sure that each group has the same understanding of the goals of the RFP and of the scoring requirements.

  • Each item that can be attained individually should be scored that way.
  • If two items cannot be separated in terms of how the solution must be implemented by the vendor, if they either occur together or not at all, they should probably be scored together.
  • If you are not sure about dependencies, assign points to each item and score them separately.
  • Some objectives in the RFP may be optional. If they are, they should not have as much weight as the mandatory items.
  • If any objective in the RFP is a potential disqualifier if it is not met by the vendor, make note of that in the RFP, and prepare to score responses accordingly. This may give you a means to make the first eliminations from the responses with having to score all objectives on every response. When you have lots of responses to go through, it helps to have a way to quickly qualify or disqualify them.

Let's change to the larger topic for a bit, by returning to what has become our text for this course Connections, by James Burke. One of the points that Mr. Burke makes several times is that innovation does not start from nothing. It often starts with an inspiration that tells tells the innovator that something can be done with a new technology, if only we could invent it, or something can be done with a new application of existing technologies, which makes the point that innovation often takes place because it occurs at an opportune moment.

In week six, we talked about the use of gunpowder leading to guncotton, which led to celluloid, and so on. In episode seven of Connections2, Mr. Burke revisits those ideas, and illustrates them for us with statistics on overhunting elephants, which led to the need for a substitute for ivory. He further tells us that the substitute was used in false teeth, which sometimes exploded. I suppose they needed better quality control in manufacturing than in using the celluloid, where it was a greater danger.

I have set a link for you to the episode in question, but you may be able to watch it from this page if you like:

I am not as thrilled with the half hour version of Connections as I was with the hour long episodes in the original series, but they do have their charms. Having enjoyed some of that episode at least, let's review a few of Mr. Burke's points:

  • many of the innovations and inventions he describes were created by the pressures we have discussed: financial pressure, scarcity, need to find alternatives
  • often innovations were found by accident, or more likely by happy accident that was actually the result of many experiments
  • sometimes, like the uses of coal tar to make other materials, it helps to have something that other people don't even want if you can find a useful application for it
  • whatever you make that is useful to someone, there will also be someone who can find another use for it, or who can find a way to improve it, like the Scotsman who invented a waterproof raincoat by making a spreadable version of rubber, who in turn benefited from an improved version of that rubber that did not smell bad or crack

The larger lesson to take from Mr. Burke's examples this time is to be ready to look for a way to combine technologies that we have to make a new one that we do not yet have. Having done that, we need to find a way to use our new technology to benefit ourselves, our customers, or our fellow human beings in some way that has not been done before.