Ian_ICTDS (22nd July 2009)
Our LA is very committed to SIMS and consequently (almost?) all schools in the area license it from them. I find myself working against some major issues in SIMS' implementation but I can't really advocate switching elsewhere - I need to make sure I can be replaced if I leave/jump under a bus/etc.
Open source isn't always cheaper. One of our big costs is support and staffing. What an open standard would do, is increase pressure for vendors like Capita to increase functionality, as it wouldn't be so essential to buy IBM (as it were). As long as the software fulfils statutory requirements, anything else is a lucky bonus and schools are unlikely to change supplier because of a "nice to have" feature. Everyone has features they'd like to see in SIMS, but few would change vendor if they didn't get them.
A lot of schools are doing their analysis and tracking outside of SIMS, using third-party software. Sheffield LA (not my LA btw) are developing their own KS2 tracking software rather than do it in SIMS or demand that the needed functionality be added, and I think this is very telling.
Ian_ICTDS (22nd July 2009)
http://schoolsportal.suffolkcc.gov.uk/schools/FSP/). Anyone fancy trying my new super doper MIS system? It's called SMIS. The icon is purple so you can't get it confussed with SIMS.
Back on topic.
I really can't see the point of getting the ZIS agent (from Capita), it's like asking for the business object but could they rename it (and give a bit more info?). I can't see how you would think open source would cost more, Capita would publish the source code, they'll wouldn't support it. The companies that interface using it would. IE Capita supports the import\export from SIMS, Bromcom would support the import\export from Bromcom and so on. This starting to sound like CTF etc, only with more info.
Anyway, enough of me moaning...
(sorry for saying the bad word)
If a school had a ZIS in place they would be able to integrate additional services without being tied to a particular MIS. If the schools decided to move MIS, they would only require the new one to have ZIS Agent so it can continue to integrate with other services.
There is a cost saving for the third party as they wont have to partner with every MIS provider, they will only have to be a SIF UK member.
Slightly off topic but my brain is switched back on now:
My vision of SIF has always been that it would move us away from this traditional idea of a MIS. Rather than having one Leviathan piece of software trying to do everything you would have a number of very focused, specific applications seamlessly speaking to each other.
You could have Capita timetabling software, RM assessment software, home made behaviour etc. Your MIS would be the combination of all these systems and you would not be able to call any one piece of the puzzle your MIS.
Any piece of this puzzle could be open source, Linux, Mac, whatever as long as they all talk the same SIF language.
My feeling is that MIS providers need to look at this before their software just become warehouses for data used by other applications. Maybe that’s what they should be. Maybe that’s why we have an enterprise level SIMS on the way. One big authority warehouse for all the schools SIF compliant tools to work from.
I do think there should be a common interchange framework and an open api (even a read-only one would be a start). CTF is well-defined but doesn't cover all the requirements unfortunately, hence the problems in exchanging data; and I'm worried SIF will go the same way. You're preaching to the converted as far as choice goes penfold!
If I was one of the big players trying to compete with Capita I would position myself in this model and create a real niche in the market. Itíll clearly have support form a subset of customers. Itís going to take a big player to plunge in if SIF is going to be a success. If only I had a few million to spend, now whereís that Harnessing Technology budget.
The first thing I would point out is that whilst there are plenty of good examples of where open source projects have got legs and have a lot of shared development (which spreads the dev costs) there are many that are not developed well, not well supported and to rely on them for mission critical work can increase risk by a catastrophic amount.
At the moment people want and need this standard as it would eliminate some of this as an issue, but when it comes to choosing between *nix / open source and proprietary systems then you can fiddle the figures to make costs look however you want. For me it is about risk as well as cost ... and that is why I have used the example of a school wanting to look after things internally (hence the broadcast model would work with minimal issues).
This is not really an arguement about open source versus proprietary systems as the SIF agent that a VLE providers writes to pull info from the ZIS is likely to be *their* agent ... that you have to buy into (or is rolled into the cost of the platform).
Yes, the group call agent is pretty good and how it gets the data *out* of SIMS is neither here nor there ... where it sticks it is important. At the moment the choice for SIF agents is to go into Partnership Xchange or the POC systems in NI or Birmingham ... this does not help the local data exchange.
Open source does not *have to be *nix based either ... the main reason why this is being looked at and discussed is the integration with Moodle. I suppose that a group of developers could (at a push) use use the command reporter tool to pull data out, drop it into a data base which then has a SIF agent to transfer it to OpenZIS and then use a SIF agent to get data into Moodle.
It would mean that if and when a SIF agent is available that will work with more local ZIS setups between the different MISes, then you are laughing. You are not held up by any dev work at Capita, Serco or others ... and you can contribute to the SIFA(UK) work.
Does that sound like a workable compromise?
I think Phil's issues are very important, but can be addressed by SIF in its current UK version, with a little help. It all boils down to the topology, or how zones are chosen for the group of schools that may share a Zone Integration Server.
There are a few alternatives:
- Create a zone for each school
- Have many schools share a common zone
- Use a zone manager to implement "managed virtual zones"
With the first alternative, you are limited by where the data can go. A school can share data with other applications running at the same school. You wouldn't have the security issue Phil is speaking about here (please correct me if I am wrong).
With the second alternative, you share information but you have a few problems. One is you have too many providers, and the privacy issue Phil mentioned happens.
With the third alternative, I believe all the privacy issues can be managed and the data can be merged and fed to a single application, but a separate piece of software needs to manage the environment. I can provide more info is anyone is interested.
What I am getting at is that the types of privacy issues you deal with are relative to the topology you choose when you implement.
Multi-zonal topologies ... I know that this is quite big in the US with the district and state model, but in the UK it appears to be heading more towards zone management tools to allow for restricted sharing of data between schools (for UK members this is due to the sharing of students at secondary level for 14-19 courses). Phil will be the best person to give more details on this and I know he is chatting with his folk about some of this. If people can be patient waiting for his response.
It is the wide area and multi-zonal model I am interested in and yes, this is a target for us.
However, multi-zonal topologies is pretty irrelevant when we are talking purely within a single school ... and it is this that Penfold_99 is looking at. If you have examples of a single institute making use of SIF I would be intereted to see the model.
It is quite funny, after stuff on MIS plug-ins at the Open Source Schools Unconference I haven't even had time to blog about it but I have already had a few other things pushed my way. One friend in Maine pointed me towards Envoy - SIF Agent - Data Matching, Consolidation which gives some good examples of zonal management rahter than making use of multi-zonal systems (actually ... it is a bit in between from the looks of it). Amazing what turns up with a bit of discussion.
It still raises the quest though that someone, somewhere, has to write the SIF agents for the apps and systems, and then manage the costs of connections.
Well, the multi-zone stuff is going to end up playing a huge role in the UK for a few reasons:
- Although the MIS data is generated from the school, there will be applications that need to be hosted at higher levels, needing to work with aggregated data, like VLEs, identity managers and the like. Zone Managers will allow them to be very simple. Without a zone manager, they will need to manage many sets of RefIds, one for each of the schools they attach to.
- Yes, you have 14-19, but you also have the special education issue that involves about 10% of your population. People aren't thinking about this too much yet, but you will soon enough and those children attend more than one school and their records may reside in more than one system, just as they do in the 14-19 case. So, even if you think you may just be a single primary school, eventually you will want to handle you special education records with SIF.
- It just makes sense to share Zone Integration servers, so you will see large scale ZIS implementations. Just look behind you - there may already be a couple out there already :-)
Disclosure stuff: my company makes Envoy - BTW: Envoy was specifically written for the UK and the challenges of the way data is typically stored in the UK. If you want to read about how virtual zones work, I wrote a couple of articles at The SIF Place - they are the ones on Reliability and Scalability.
There is also an article on our Moodle agent...
Lol ... talk about a small world. I seriously hadn't put the two together.
I agree entirely with Rob. (Hi BTW)...
Yes of course 14-19 & SEN, but also traveller students, and not forgetting the Every Child Matters agenda, Safeguarding Children, auditing EMA. It is all going to eventually drive this forward.
I can see it coming.
But will continue to enjoy reading all the threads on edugeek in my spare time until it does.
"Don't you just love the glorious summer"
I have read the article about the moodle agent, it looks very interesting, one issues i can see being very time consuming to set up all the mapping.
How does your system handle the enrolment? does your agent modify the database directly or have you written a custom enrol plugin that talks to the moodle agent?
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