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MIS Systems Thread, New to SIMS.NET - any tips? in Technical; Hi All I'm starting a new job next week as a data analyst in a school that runs SIMS. From ...
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    New to SIMS.NET - any tips?

    Hi All

    I'm starting a new job next week as a data analyst in a school that runs SIMS. From what I've seen on here people often have "fun" with it, so I'm just wondering what the gotchas are...

    Also, what methods do people normally use for reporting? There's a lot of discussion about outputting templated reports and also using excel, but there don't seem to be many about doing more complex reports, maybe accessing the sql database behind things. Is this because the reports SIMS can do are just mind-blowingly fantastic already, or is it just too awkward to get anything useful out of the data?

    I'm getting onto the school to get me a support login set up so that I can get at the documentation reasonably quickly, but is there anything else I should do to prepare?

    Matt

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    SIMS .Net has it's own "logic" once you get into it, you'll have no problems at all.

    The reporting stuff is as complicated and powerful as you want to make it - if you just want a list of kids in a year group you can do it with a predefined report in about six clicks and you get a word document containing a table with your list in it. If you want a list of kids who are above 5'6" tall and got above a 6 in their science SATs, you can do that too but you'll need to edit or create your report (having first added a "user defined field" or "assesment manager aspect" to hold the height data). If you want to recreate a paper discipline slip populating it with details from the Behaviour Management section of .Net, you'll have to create a RTF Template, but it can be done.

    My advice: sign up to support.capitaes.co.uk and download the reporting manuals and the course materials - they're all there (I contributed to some of them when I worked for Capita) - and go at your own pace.

    You can set a macro to run automatically on an excel report output, so you can do whatever you want with it - that's powerful - I only ever once had to resort to outputting to a CSV and stuffing it into access!

    You COULD go in through the other end using the SQL tools, I've seen it done, indeed I've done it myself a couple of times for various reasons, but to be honest the thing's so big it's not time economical when the reporting's so good.

    Edit: Don't change anything directly in the data or you will probably breech the support contract - but if you're good enough and so inclined there's nothing to stop you setting up a second SQL Express server and putting an "offline" copy of your database on it to play with.
    Last edited by BatchFile; 11th May 2009 at 04:08 PM.

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    matt40k's Avatar
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    Accessing SQL directly = invalid sims warranty. So don't do it, end of.

    SIMS reporting engine has a number of, how I shall I put it, interesting features. Generally it's stuff like the address block does go well into Excel. 123 fake street;!;fake town;!l;FK1 1AB , or something like that.

    You will want to be a master of the MS Office. VBA would be a really good thing to know.

    SIMS upgrade is either a simple process if you do it well, with the odd new bug, or a complete nightmare.

    Generally the SIMS reports covers the standard, I've seen a lot of, OMG that is amazing, but also quite pointless to anyone outside of the school or even the dept. They normally go into excel\word then a love macro (VBA) which makes it do all sort things (SIMS stores the raw data).

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    I can see the logic of avoiding direct access then... Presumably if you want something more complex you either dump out the relevant data and play with it using access/whatever then? What's the SIMS Business Objects api like, or is that reserved for (paying) developer firms?

    A lot of what I'll be doing will involve creating automatic management reporting, so anything that can avoid a manual export step will be a Good Thing(tm)!

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    I can't remember the name of it, but there is a tool which allows you to schedule automatic running of reports at set times, on whatever basis you choose. Its mentioned in a few places on this site, but it allows you to run any report you have written.

    Edit: CommandReporter.exe

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    matt40k's Avatar
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    Only issue once you've got the data is data security. Becta have made a good few documents on the subject. Basically you're want to get your laptop hdd fully encrypted and a nice USB with hardware AES encryption.

    @james
    C:\Program Files\SIMS\SIMS .net\CommandReporter.exe

    There are a few others too.

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt40k View Post
    Basically you're want to get your laptop hdd fully encrypted and a nice USB with hardware AES encryption.
    I'm aiming for SIMS access via a VPN, which is another option.

    CommandReporter.exe
    You don't have to run it at set times, you can stick a web server on it and run reports on request. I will sort our API out and post the code at some point Real Soon Now.

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    A webserver/API is more along the lines of what I'm after ultimately - I'm looking at it with a view to the future external access requirements... I'm presuming there must be some kind of reasonable way to do this, since everyone seems to be using SIMS in this area?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MattMitchell View Post
    A webserver/API is more along the lines of what I'm after
    I have a small Python application which runs as a webserver, takes GET requests and passes them on to CommandReporter to run, then returns the result returned by CommandReporter. Not particularly efficient, but it gets you your data. Handy if you want to synch between things like SIMS and Active Directory. It needs some kind of security (SSH key?) because otherwise just anyone will be able to send a GET to your server and get pupil data, which is bad.

    We're having a whole conversation about this at the Open Source Schools un-conference in Nottingham. Do please come along, either physically or virtually, or join in over on the website if you want to help or add any kind of contribution yourself.

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    David Hicks

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    Quote Originally Posted by MattMitchell View Post
    A webserver/API is more along the lines of what I'm after ultimately - I'm looking at it with a view to the future external access requirements... I'm presuming there must be some kind of reasonable way to do this, since everyone seems to be using SIMS in this area?
    I looking into creating a web service that uses the SIMS.net Business Objects, i tried to create all the reports using the command report tool like dhicks, but some i needed to join to reports together and some i could even create.

    I'm currently in the process of getting my head round visual c# once i have cracked that and got the data out of SIMS.net the offical way then i will release it to the community.

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    I'm assuming that Business Objects allows some kind of access through .NET or some other object interface that will let me use something as a frontend to pull out the reports - although there's all the normal per-student/per-teacher oriented stuff I'm guessing that SIMS won't have the power to cover things like year-on-year trends, etc., which is why I'm wanting another way to do it.

    Something that requires manual intervention is probably not going to cover it!

    Having said that, I haven't got at the docs for SIMS yet so it may be that I can get what I want with the built-in facilities. Are the docs for Business Objects available on the support website or do you have to jump through "gimme an api key/sdk"-type hoops to get them?

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    Quote Originally Posted by MattMitchell View Post
    I'm guessing that SIMS won't have the power to cover things like year-on-year trends, etc., which is why I'm wanting another way to do it.
    Oh yes it can! there are many ways to do eg. pupil tracking year on year in .Net reporting, Assesment manager result sets for one. It's a nice piece of kit, seriously

    Commandreporter.exe will let you run a report from a command line without having .Net open
    the output is ugly xml (or it was last time I tried)

    Get that supportnet account - any documentation that's available is there

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    Well, I've applied for the supportnet account (although I don't start the job till Monday...). Hopefully I'll get that soon and can spend the next few days reading!

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    Good luck, you'll need it.

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    See guide attached.
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