I agree with BECTAs overall sentiment, there are problems in the MIS market and here are a few:
There is nothing out there that is significantly better than the offering from Capita that would make me wish to go through the pain of switching MIS. Is it perfect, no far from it, but then I don't pay an annual six figure sum for the software. You pay peanuts.........
Secondly I imagine that most of the SIMS development budget goes into the ridiculous changes forced upon Capita (and all MIS suppliers) by the DCSF. How a startup company could cope with that I don't know. I am fully expecting a termly census on toenail growth to turn up shortly.
On a positive note however, the interoperability between my Bromcom server and SIMS server seems to be going fine.
I would love to be proved wrong on my first point and if someone can point me at a better (by a large margin) solution you will have my eternal gratitude.
I hate to keep this thread running (really) but Toby is quoting directly from the letter (document 2) from the OFT to Bromcom that has been helpfully posted by Simay.
Toby’s punctuation could be better (sorry Toby) but the “you” is Bromcom and the “we” is the OFT.
It is worth reading the letter in full but the key paragraph states “The Office is NOT, therefore, persuaded on the information currently before it that this is a matter in which it would be appropriate for the Director General to intervene.” (The NOT is my emphasis)
I am not of course presuming that the current referral will be dismissed in this way simply pointing out that a referral to the OFT is not the same as being found to be anti-competitive.
BTW a “member’s interests” search on the recipient of document 1 is also of interest.
I am slightly perturbed at the insistance that the DCSF are unreasonably requiring complicated rewrites when in reality it is over - complicated programming that is more than likely causing the problem. However, if it makes a good excuse then use it..........?
The census changes should not be a big issue. It is a database driven program. Not a puzzle. Adding extra requirements could even be done automatically, as the requirements, IIRC, are always handed in a file of the same type. Why not use the file as a template for the fields required? Rather than manually having to make changes all the time? It seems that this is an excuse to me.Secondly I imagine that most of the SIMS development budget goes into the ridiculous changes forced upon Capita (and all MIS suppliers) by the DCSF. How a startup company could cope with that I don't know. I am fully expecting a termly census on toenail growth to turn up shortly.
A startup would not have a giant database with massive amounts of non-normalised data and legacy structures to handle. They'd handle the issue much differently.
With systems of this size you end up with two major faults, either code to call the data into the UI gets mangled (keep code small, re-use code for multiple requests, etc) and fixing something in one area breaks it elsewhere .. or the storage method for the data (massive legacy structure to some tables and queries) goes wrong. Changing the former is what a lot of the patches is, changing the latter means getting all the 'partners' to change their software too and that takes time.
Yes, Govt changes are a pig ... and the exam bodies not sticking to their *own* rules about data interchange *really* do not help. Ask any exams officer if they have had a complete year of import / export / exam entries with no faults and it is a rarity to come across one that is happy (they do exist though ... ) and when you track back for why this is the case then you find the exam bodies are more at fault than Capita or Serco (and I did track back ... and still think that a certain awarding body will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes!)
Oh ... there is a third fault too ... and sorry to throw the hand grenade back the other way ... but schools bugger up their systems by doing stupid things. And I mean really stupid things. Upgrades that have been canceled part way through because an Systems Manager has taken the system down to upgrade without warning people only to find the Head banging on the door to turn it back on (if you want to discuss who is at fault that will need another thread), schools refusing to update aging servers which end up with HDD faults and data gets lost (often with no backup), people trying to migrate databases between machines by copying folders ... the list goes on .. and on ... and whilst this is not the majority of folk here it is still too many in schools for me to say the blame lies solely with MIS providers, and that goes across the board for RM, Capita, Pearson, Serco, Bromcom, TASCSoftware, learning platform providers who hook into the MISes ... by all means throw stones ... but be aware that the question will be asked if *you* have done what *you* were asked ...
And then we get onto whether staff in schools are trained ... to make the most of the MIS they have. It is fantastic to see staff using ePortal for CMIS and the Teacher's Desktop on SIMS ... but some schools still don't like teacher staff having access ... and this is before we get into whether staff are using it properly! I remember reading a report (for a school I went to visit) on the use of an MIS to do reports ... and it had samples of the sort of thing *not* to right (all part of parental engagement awareness raising).
"X is sometimes distracted in lessons as he finds it more fun to practise his arsonistic tendencies with pens than using them to write with." "Y is frequently failing to address his social standing in groups. I feel have a shower more frequently would help."
But I digress ... I do have issues with pretty much all the MIS providers about one thing or another, but in a pragmatic way ... but stone throwing at each other, or by schools, doesn't get you anywhere. If you want to see changes in the MIS you use then get involved in the User Groups they run, ask questions about integration (my thoughts on SIF are already on here) and make sure that your other suppliers (RBCs, VLEs, etc) are also getting their point over.
OFT will continue to look at things and it would not be right for me to make a personal statement on that (hey ... I like my job and although I know MIS providers are not likely to say anything I also know that I have to be sensible) but I will continue to see where it goes.
Capita hasn’t complained that it can’t do anything other than government returns but we are in a very fortunate position with regards to investment.
The amount of work that is required to produce returns is not trivial however and in my opinion it is the biggest barrier to entry of the schools MIS market. Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland we support around 30 returns excluding the exam system etc. Many of the returns have variants for secondary, middle, primary, special and PRUs. The 2005 Becta review recognised this issue and the plan was that suppliers would be paid by government to write the returns but this didn't happen.
The data for the returns is not maintained in one place as this would cause the MIS to be ruled by the returns rather than the needs of schools so whilst it may not be difficult work, retests are required across the whole suite when returns change.
Recently a new return for the work force was introduced which required all manner of changes throughout the personnel system; it was a large piece of work. It is not uncommon to have changed codes from a certain date which means that systems have to be able to cope with validation according to the date – again minor perhaps but yet another variant to test.
However you may be thinking purely in terms of general functionality. What you may need to consider is technology base for your MIS to deliver for optimum lower cost of ownership ie thick Windows desktop applications vs all-browser application. You may also add requirements to meet the new demands for integration and interoperability of 2010 and beyond.
In fact, besides 'the MIS market in UK not generally working', what appears to have prompted Becta/DCSF to have yet another review after 2005 into the MIS Market and Local Authority/schools procurement process is stated in their letter as follows:
"However the changing landscape in regard to Information Management needs of both schools and Local Authorities in more recent years, and concerns expressed by both users and suppliers of systems makes it appropriate to review the situation again in order for us to establish how best to support Local Authorities and schools to meet their procurement responsibilities in this area and the delivery of:
• Children Services – increasing requirement not just for data transfers but for real-time access to data for officers and practitioners within education, social care and health and other external agencies
• 14-19 – data needs to move with the pupil in real-time and become learner centric rather than institution centric
• interoperability between systems – data entered once and used many times
• Parental engagement and reporting
• Fit for the future Information Management solutions that enable choice of products
• Quality and timeliness of solutions
• Environmental and financial sustainability – consideration of remote hosted solutions which can both reduce costs and support carbon reduction requirements"
Benefits of browser based technology ranges from less training required, ease of use and maintenance, lower cost workstations and readily adaptable for remote hosted solutions which can both reduce costs and support carbon reduction requirements.
Is the above helpful?
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