Originally, the manual effort of assigning beds took over two weeks and many late hours. Seven years ago, UNM began using HMS, a proprietary, commercial housing management system that included an assignment module. Based on the FoxPro database system, HMS is a full-function campus housing management system that catalogs every room and occupant, assigns beds, applies charges to student accounts, offers work order management capabilities, and interfaces with their dining module (Figure 1.2 delineated by the dotted box on page ). It resides on a Novell file server for multi-user accessibility. The automated bed assignment module is rule-based with scores for successful matches and additional logic to process mutual roommate requests.
While an improvement over doing it by hand, the HMS assignment process over the network, took as long as 48 hours to process 700 returning students. Due to the lengthy processing times, Dianne Ranville, the Housing Reservations Supervisor, found it necessary to use a variety of workarounds to complete her task. For example, she would run new and returning student assignments separately, and the process had to be run over weekends to avoid blocking other system users.
Ranville found the rules used to make the assignments in HMS often complex and unintuitive. Furthermore, with turnover of the support staff at CBORD, the answers to her questions changed, and as a result, the `current' set of rules never worked exactly as desired. For example, student roommate requests would override all the other preferences no matter what she did, often resulting in new students incorrectly assigned to the better dorms, no regard for roommates requested by students returning to their same room, and hall requests demoted in importance. In addition, HMS could not handle some specifics of the UNM dorm system, such as assigning roommates in a co-ed dorm, popular among residents because of its adjoining rooms. Handling such suite situations was one of Ranville's specific requests for an improved system.
HMS scores for the user-provided rules are restricted to powers of two, which tended to stifle Ranville from changing their values, so instead she would deactivate them. A rule intended to put students of closer ages together was very hard to understand (shown on page ), and was consequently deactivated.
Although HMS is proprietary, based on its behavior, its assignment system appears to be strictly sequential, considering students in seniority and then reservation order, and assigning them to the best remaining bed. As rooms fill up, the process takes less time, according to Ranville. Also, as fewer rooms remain available, she has to inactivate rules to allow the assignment process to complete.
Thus, user dissatisfaction with the existing proprietary matching system afforded an opportunity to consider fresh approaches to the problem resulting in the DAO.