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MIS Systems Thread, Serco in Technical; Hi Guys, I know this has probably been done to death before, but I was wondering if any current Serco ...
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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    Serco

    Hi Guys,

    I know this has probably been done to death before, but I was wondering if any current Serco users on here would be happy sharing their experiences? Likes, dislikes, tips, etc.

    We are in the final stages of choosing between E1 and Serco to replace our current MIS. Serco is currently the favourite. Would be good to hear some upto date real live experiences before we make a commitment one way or the other.

    Cheers

    Terry.

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    DaveP's Avatar
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    Several views on this topic have recently been posted here:

    Moved from Capita SIMS to Serco Facility?

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    tmcd35 (9th October 2009)

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    Hi Terry,

    I'm also a Norfolk chap having moved here to be Network manager about a year and a half ago. Our school had already decided they didn't like E1 and had signed a contract with Serco for Facility between me being interviewed and starting the job. Having come from a SIMS school, it meant learning a whole new MIS.

    First impressions were generally good. Facility Admin looks more imposing than SIMS and (i've heard) Phoenix Gold, but is quite powerful. We've got it set up from a short cut and some user specific config files in each user's home directory - means not having to install and update software at each PC ala SIMS; also means you can easily fix issues by replacing the config files.
    Security is a pain to set up - limiting access for staff members on Facility (we have users who need to see pupil data, but not change it, etc) is a complicated and lengthy task as there are great long lists of options for each of the many modules. Some options are obscure and counter-intuitive and require much testing.
    Report writing is quite powerful, but can be frustrating until you get enough practice - there are lots of functions and methods of doing things that just aren't documented.
    ePortal is a little quirky until you get the hang of it. You can adjust elements of appearance and operation through editting the XML files buried away in a Conf folder, but there are limits to what can be achieved. You also have to be careful to backup any changes you may make as ePortal upgrades sometime wipe these out.
    Backups of your data are recommended to be taken using the function within Facility Admin, rather than backing up the SQL database directly. This has to be done manually, so is not terribly userfriendly. The backup files can be used to restore data to a test system running off an Access database - i've had test systems running on my laptop and now an office PC and its frankly invaluable for learning your way round the system without risking your data.
    Timetable printouts from Facility were broken until most recent release; they now work fine with some jiggling.

    Overall... I quite like Facility. It has its quirks and odd issues, but there is generally not much (in our case, anyway) that can't be solved or gotten around.

    Any questions?

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    tmcd35 (9th October 2009)

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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    Thanks Dave, I saw that post but to be honest the replies appear more about playing one MIS off against another. I more interested in hearing the real world likes and dislikes from Serco users rather than how it compares with other MIS's.

    Thanks Cheredenine. This is jus the sort of repy I was hoping for. Where about in Norfolk are you? Would you mind me PM'ing you with questions later, as we think of them?

    Any other Serco users got useful anecdotes like Cheredenine?

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    john's Avatar
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    Serco user here happy to answer any questions you have, we moved from Integris to Serco here.

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    tmcd35 (9th October 2009)

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    No problem with PMs - send me your questions...

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    tmcd35 (9th October 2009)

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    Sent you a PM

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    tmcd35 (9th October 2009)

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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by john View Post
    Serco user here happy to answer any questions you have, we moved from Integris to Serco here.
    Not sure we have any specific questions as of yet. This is more of a 'fact finding mission'. Just want to hear the good and bad of the product how real users see it.

    Actually, just thought of one real world question specific to Norfolk that I think'd be best PM'd to my two norfolk colleagues here...

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    Quote Originally Posted by tmcd35 View Post
    Not sure we have any specific questions as of yet. This is more of a 'fact finding mission'. Just want to hear the good and bad of the product how real users see it.

    Actually, just thought of one real world question specific to Norfolk that I think'd be best PM'd to my two norfolk colleagues here...
    I will say that you need a TEAM, yes thats TEAM of people dedicated to it, here (school of 500), we have:

    1x Data Manager (near enough full time)
    1x Exams Office (TTO)
    1x IT Manager (Full Time All Year)
    1x Asst. Head (responisble for Data, Reporting, Assessment etc)

    We all meet and look at it and get involved and help each other out, for the first 2 years don't try to run before you can walk, and don't rush it in! I was told that we semi-rushed it here and now nearly 5 years on we are seeing where we failed. I would visit some other schools and colleges to see how they are using Serco as its more a blank canvas than other product but allows so much more customisation. We are going through a mass revitalisation time with it as a result its getting more and more use and much better feedback from staff, but doing this is taking time and as a result of this I and others are spending more time on it than normal to assist our Data Manager.

    Training is key, don't assume that just because your data manager can "do data" they can do Serco, they need more than just "data" knowledge, they need to know a good chunk about IT as well really, and if they understand SQL that would be good, but not compulsory but could be advantageous.

    I would say that I am VERY happy with Serco as a product and would hate to move to anything else as its a very good and powerful tool, it has its moments (as can be seen on here!) But Sims also has its moments as do others! So no-product is immune to those!

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    BJG
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    Interesting post from cheredenine. I'm not into these kinds of systems in a big way, but I've dabbled with Phoenix Gold, SIMS, E1 and currently Serco. (School decided to migrate from E1 to Serco. They hated E1.) Seems OK, though I'm finding the ePortal/XML thing pretty confusing and not very user-friendly...

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    Quote Originally Posted by BJG View Post
    Interesting post from cheredenine. I'm not into these kinds of systems in a big way, but I've dabbled with Phoenix Gold, SIMS, E1 and currently Serco. (School decided to migrate from E1 to Serco. They hated E1.) Seems OK, though I'm finding the ePortal/XML thing pretty confusing and not very user-friendly...
    Have you used the guide and info in the E-Portal Course book? That helped me understand it more, and actually opening the XML in an XML editor rather than notepad also helped me understand more.

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    A quick rundown of my thoughts on the matter....

    • Awful database structure
    • Unintuitive GUI
    • No automated backup
    • Webapp caches half the database so a lot of changes require a service restart
    • Bug fix updates generally create more bugs
    • Certain information has to be recorded numerous times across the app rather than picking up from existing fields
    • Click modify > save > save again (can't stress that enough)
    • Phone support however is very knowledgeable and helpful


    Those are mostly bad but to be honest it's not overly too much hassle and i have limited experience of any of the other major MISs to compare it to

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    tmcd35 (9th October 2009)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scruff View Post
    A quick rundown of my thoughts on the matter....

    • Awful database structure
    • Unintuitive GUI
    • No automated backup
    • Webapp caches half the database so a lot of changes require a service restart
    • Bug fix updates generally create more bugs
    • Certain information has to be recorded numerous times across the app rather than picking up from existing fields
    • Click modify > save > save again (can't stress that enough)
    • Phone support however is very knowledgeable and helpful


    Those are mostly bad but to be honest it's not overly too much hassle and i have limited experience of any of the other major MISs to compare it to
    Structure - why would that matter? I agree its a bit confusing and messy when digging for stuff in it but you don't need to do it that often?! and the names of tables actually do make sense when you know more about them
    GUI in Administration is dated, BUT not many people should need to use it, those who do shouldn't find it a bad tool, I find it intuitive and fine as did all my staff here when introduced to it. Around 98% of users should be using Eportal tbh. I've yet to know a reason why a Teacher needs to use the main back end program as it were.
    Agree on the backup and its down as a feature request
    Webcache, there are ways of doing that without restarts, you have a reload cache option in Admin view on Eportal, can resend security data to the server as well for things such as passwords etc so there are ways around that as well in most cases. Agreed that at times a restart is needed but not as often as it used to be
    Bugs, well yes its had its bad times, but so has SIMS, Integris, Phoneix, RM, Dell, Microsoft..... Everyone fixes things and it breaks others at times, so its not just a pure Serco only issue
    The Duplicate info thing, I don't seem to notice that as much as in the past, I think that has improved in newer releases
    The Modify / Save / Store / Record etc thing is annoying and again I've mentioned it to them that perhaps that should be re-looked into.
    Fully agreed on the phone support, and that can be said about on-site support as well Always very helpful.

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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by john View Post
    Fully agreed on the phone support, and that can be said about on-site support as well Always very helpful.
    Seem to have a very pragmatic SLT here. Their response to most likely MIS issues is - 'all MIS's have their issues, find me one that's perfect'. Which is a good attitude to have. That said it's also good to know what the issues are likely to be before we sign a contract, so thanks guys.

    This last point is probably the most important, and one of the few things that would be a deal breaker. It's good to read that Serco's support is top notch!

    EDIT: Just thought of a few more topical questions that the Norfolk guys in particular might be able to answer .

    Anyone got any views on it's Fronter integration? We're begining to use Fronter quiet a lot here so how the MIS interacts would be very important to us.

    Also, the question just came up about timetabling. It's been noted that SIMS were quoting for NovaT as well. How does Serco handle tametables? Does it have a standard built in module - if so is it any good? Or, does it integrate with third party software like Timetabler?
    (I'm sure we have the answer to this buried in our notes from the demo!).

    The other area that I think concerns us is student reports and achievement data, targets, etc. It'd be good to hear how people are getting on with this.
    Last edited by tmcd35; 9th October 2009 at 02:10 PM.

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    Hi,

    A quick answer to the above post, we have a partner scheme for companies wanting to pull and push data to and from the database. Fronter are one of our partners. That means that once ePortal is installed (it comes included) you have the API module. You simply point the Fronter software at the ePortal box (no idea how - that's a Fronter question) and in a config file on the ePortal server you set the IP of the fronter box to be allowed to communicate with it. Simple. And there's API support too. Fronter will be able to tell you where the file is in ePortal you need to edit, or we can.

    As for the others to be honest i'm not sure. We don't support writing back to the database from none partners for obvious reasons. Nor do we support reading from it, but i do know some companies do. But that's going to get messy - unless theyre a partner, if we change the table structure or fields in a release, they aren't going to know until they stumble accross it by which point it's too late for you guys, and could mess up your database in the mean time.

    A list of our current partners is here Serco Partners

    If you have any technical questions, fire away or PM me.

    Mic Sanderson
    Technical Engineer
    Serco Learning

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