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Tips for Purchasers: Study Aims, Then Gadgetry

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For school officials seeking to upgrade their administrative computing capabilities, or perhaps looking into purchasing their first administrative system, the immediate problem is not a lack of solutions.

Rather, it is sorting through a confusing array of potential vendors and an abundance of potential pitfalls.

One common problem, according to Donald Helms, superintendent of the Corona-Norco (Calif.) Unified School District, is to be overwhelmed by a sales presentation when choosing software--the system's most vital component.

"We went right out and looked at the software, which is what everybody does and which is exactly the wrong thing to do," he said.

Instead, Mr. Helms suggests, school officials should first take a comprehensive and searching look at just what it is they want the computer to do, then find a company whose product most closely conforms to those needs.

Advice for computer customers also is offered in "Administrative Uses of Microcomputers," a two-part study published early this year by the Association of School Business Officials.

In a survey, asbo members suggested the following prerequisites for making an informed purchase:

Designating a district "computer manager" to oversee the process.

Appointing or hiring an in-house data-processing staff to supplement the work of the vendor and to "customize" software packages.

Making sure that the local board of education can make a commitment to a continuous upgrading of the system to meet the district's needs.

With that basic foundation in place, according to the asbo study, computer users should determine what they need from a computer, demand "very rigorous" demonstrations of what the software can do, and discuss with current users their feelings about the product before buying.

Reprints of the study are available by writing to asbo at 11401 North Shore Dr., Reston, Va. 22090; or by calling (703) 478-0405.

The organization also publishes a three-book series on the administrative uses of microcomputers. Individual volumes cost $15.95; the set costs $35.

Another reference for districts interested in desktop computing is now being developed. To be titled Microcomputers for Educational Administrators' Needs, the comprehensive guide by Chase W. Crawford is scheduled to be published next year.

Mr. Crawford, a specialist in microcomputers for the Florida Department of Education, said he also serves as a resource for school officials who want to know more about desktop computers.

He can be contacted at the Florida Department of Education, Tallahassee, Fla. 32399-0400, or by calling (904) 487-2280.

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