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MIS Systems Thread, School MIS Systems in Technical; To be honest ... is anyone actually going to talk about what functionality you want in the MIS? Do you ...
  1. #166

    GrumbleDook's Avatar
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    To be honest ... is anyone actually going to talk about what functionality you want in the MIS? Do you want it to record progress data? do analysis? record attendance? prepare letters? allow staff to see SEN information?

    All the technical stuff is secondary to user requirements. I said it earlier ... and still we have the the long, elongated discussions about the backend. Once we know what it is needed for *then* start talking about whether modular is best, overlapping data being pointless or needed, about whether having all data in one place or with / without relationships is the work of the devil or beloved by angels (or Richard Dawkins ... depending on preference).

  2. #167

    localzuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook View Post
    @piqueaboo and @localzuk ... rather than talk about and describe the whole concept of the use of ZIS to be the go between for a multitude of systems, not just the MIS and a VLE, but your AD, the LA systems, your RBC, etc ... since there are other threads about SIF about ... can you tell me what you don't understand about the ZIS? Why re-invent the wheel by having lots of apps hooking into the MIS (the MIS as it stands now as well as proposals to only have it as a data store) when you can have one, operating to open standards?

    Remember that you can run your own through something like OpenZIS ... and yes, you may have to pay for SIF Agents to talk between the MIS and the ZIS ... YMMV.
    Its not a case of failing to understand ZIS. It is a case of understanding, and understanding how it is a complex system which 9/10 times it will be used for simple things, and to do so being charged fees for agents to access our own data. How is that any different from the current system where we have to pay to write back direct?

    An example. Many schools have bespoke systems of one form or another, created by their internal IT people. If they wished to interact with their MIS via ZIS, according to another post they would need the following:

    1. Be a member of ZIS UK - 235/335pa
    2. Certification of the ZIS agent - 1400 + 300 per year renewal, or 600 if retesting is needed, or 600 if an update is made

    Do you not see why I find this expensive, to say the least?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook View Post
    To be honest ... is anyone actually going to talk about what functionality you want in the MIS? Do you want it to record progress data? do analysis? record attendance? prepare letters? allow staff to see SEN information?

    All the technical stuff is secondary to user requirements. I said it earlier ... and still we have the the long, elongated discussions about the backend. Once we know what it is needed for *then* start talking about whether modular is best, overlapping data being pointless or needed, about whether having all data in one place or with / without relationships is the work of the devil or beloved by angels (or Richard Dawkins ... depending on preference).
    The thing is though, that the technical stuff isn't secondary at all. Every school, as I'm sure you'll agree, is different. The way they deal with behaviour, assessment, purchasing, etc... will vary. So, the user requirement is flexibility.

    Trying to outline a single way of doing this would result in a single monolithic system with a lack of flexibility, like we have now. What some of us are trying to say is simply that the MIS should be a basic system, which allows easy interaction with third party tools in order to provide functionality required. Sure, the MIS provider can provide options for various ways of doing things, but they should be optional in their entirety. The customer shouldn't need a complex ZIS system simply to access their data. They shouldn't need it to go to and from an LA ZIS server. They certainly shouldn't need to pay fees!
    Last edited by localzuk; 5th November 2010 at 08:33 AM.

  3. #168
    EdWhittaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk View Post
    They certainly shouldn't need to pay fees!
    Hear, hear!!

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    scholarpack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PiqueABoo View Post
    It's an extremely serious one and I'd be interested to hear what you think is required now that you know we didn't have then (and based on what experience).
    Technical history did not start this century, IMO there hasn't been that much innovation for long while, there is however a lot of ignorance and wheel-reinvention, and 20 years ago does NOT mean fewer requirements than a modern school MIS. The only thing that's especially new is that it apparently takes the school MIS sector eons to sort out interoperability.. not that standard protocols were especially quick back then, but they were definitely a lot quicker.
    Internet? Requirements are now web based. They weren't 20 years ago.
    Ease of access - who had access to an MIS 20 years ago? About 10 people. Now? Every teacher, parent, governor and LEA bod.

  5. #170
    penfold_99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk View Post
    Its not a case of failing to understand ZIS. It is a case of understanding, and understanding how it is a complex system which 9/10 times it will be used for simple things, and to do so being charged fees for agents to access our own data. How is that any different from the current system where we have to pay to write back direct?
    I do think it is a case of not understanding the benefits for SIF, as you are seeing only the technical side and not the removal of administrative burden from the school which will out weigh the cost.


    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk View Post
    An example. Many schools have bespoke systems of one form or another, created by their internal IT people. If they wished to interact with their MIS via ZIS, according to another post they would need the following:

    1. Be a member of ZIS UK - 235/335pa
    2. Certification of the ZIS agent - 1400 + 300 per year renewal, or 600 if retesting is needed, or 600 if an update is made

    Do you not see why I find this expensive, to say the least?
    You wouldn't need to join SIF to purchase SIF based products.
    There are multi use agents which can interface with a variety of database systems that you can configure with a set of business rules.

    The cost for a MIS agent, Access to a ZIS, Multiple use Agent would be under 1000~ which is a heck of a lot less than capita charge.

    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk View Post
    The thing is though, that the technical stuff isn't secondary at all. Every school, as I'm sure you'll agree, is different. The way they deal with behaviour, assessment, purchasing, etc... will vary. So, the user requirement is flexibility.

    Trying to outline a single way of doing this would result in a single monolithic system with a lack of flexibility, like we have now. What some of us are trying to say is simply that the MIS should be a basic system, which allows easy interaction with third party tools in order to provide functionality required. Sure, the MIS provider can provide options for various ways of doing things, but they should be optional in their entirety. The customer shouldn't need a complex ZIS system simply to access their data. They shouldn't need it to go to and from an LA ZIS server. They certainly shouldn't need to pay fees!
    You are still seeing interoperability with a MIS as a 1-1 relationship, the MIS doesn't hold all the information about a student in the school.

    Data is stored in multiple systems like MIS, cashless catering, Active Directory etc. The key to interoperability to having all these systems talking the same language (SIF) so when data charges in one system is updated in another and when you need all the information for a student you can get instead of have to go to each system and export it and then merge all the data together.

  6. #171
    penfold_99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by localzuk View Post
    The customer shouldn't need a complex ZIS system simply to access their data. They shouldn't need it to go to and from an LA ZIS server. They certainly shouldn't need to pay fees!
    Quote Originally Posted by EdWhittaker View Post
    Hear, hear!!
    You need to take a step back.
    If you purchased a solution with a licence fee of say 2000 and you save the equivalent of 6000 in working hours.

    That solution would be better than implementing a solution for 0 and only saving 2500 in time saved.

  7. #172

    localzuk's Avatar
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    You seem to have missed the bit about inhouse built software that I mentioned.

  8. #173
    EdWhittaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by penfold_99 View Post
    If you purchased a solution with a licence fee of say 2000 and you save the equivalent of 6000 in working hours.

    That solution would be better than implementing a solution for 0 and only saving 2500 in time saved.
    This is true. However my experience is that quite often school management are unable to grasp this point. There is a tendency to view things done by school staff as being 'free'. Teacher's time, admin staff time (indeed IT staff's time) is very rarely costed. So whereas I can often show that using our product, for example, will save, say, two hours per day admin time, 'Mavis in the office' is still employed by the school, still has to be paid so the actual saving in real cash terms is effectively zero. I can show how pastoral leaders in school can work more efficiently and be more effective in their job. Cuts no ice with school management, because it does not free up any extra cash in the budget.

  9. #174

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    can you tell me what you don't understand about the ZIS?
    Why it is perceived as a sterling solution for interoperability between internals app, as opposed to interoperability with external orgs (well assuming it is a good solution for that).

    IMNSHO had school MIS been done "right" in the first place they'd have looked around the wider industry a bit, thus factored in potential interoperability from the start and used that abstraction layer localzuk keeps on plugging... on one side the DB/whatever, in the middle access control + some of the biz-logic + whatever fits this variant of MIS, and on the other side a client messaging API... and with that adding another tarted up subset of that messaging API to the repertoire i.e. SIF or anything else, wouldn't be that big a deal.

    You are still seeing interoperability with a MIS as a 1-1 relationship, the MIS doesn't hold all the information about a student in the school. Data is stored in multiple systems like MIS, cashless catering, Active Directory etc.
    Me too, but can my evening scheduled AD user updater app do the obvious and go talk directly to the MIS via SIF to get a bunch of pupil/staff deltas since a given timestamp, or does it have to bounce that through a ZIS. Apps responding to a common messaging API is fair enough, but I'm really struggling to see why a) any app within an organisation would need or want another app to write to it, b) why an app would need to be quickly notified of changes made in another one, c) why you'd need a independent ZIS traffic-cop function to police relatively simple internal interoperability.

    when you need all the information for a student you can get instead of have to go to each system and export it and then merge all the data together.
    That easy huh? Something has to run round the systems getting "all the information".. what is it?
    Last edited by PiqueABoo; 5th November 2010 at 06:15 PM.

  10. #175

    GrumbleDook's Avatar
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    Saying that the MIS should have been done right in the first place is so bizarre and missing of the history of MIS development in schools a few things have to be said.

    SIMS is the largest player for a number of reasons. Yes, we can all sling mud at anti-competitive practices, monopoly, significant log-in, fear of change, etc ...

    But remember that what was there in the beginning is not what we have now. When Phil and co wrote their reports system do you honestly thought about what we have now? And as it has expanded, merged in / bought up other products then of course it will evolve. And this has been done because schools wanted the functionality and the tech has fitted round it.

    Yes there have been major rebuilds, but that has been done to add extra functionality and to improve the performance and backend.

    Other MIS are in a better position and yet they too are operating on a pretty similar model of keeping control over their database unless you are a trusted partner and trying to sort out ways of agreeing to exchange data.

    Do I think that any system we are talking about, whether through direct access to a single database with modules connecting to it, or through SIF or other options ... do I think they will be suitable for everyone? Of course not ... heck, we are back to Vi and Emacs again. And as much as folk saying the technology is important ... sure ... but functionality comes first. If I can get a census return done on a system is that ticking a box (in pencil anyway)? If I know that the tool for that is well supported and can be fixed if the data coming out is wrong that that is the tick written in ink. Reports ... recording progress ... attendance ...

    We are always going to have arguments about the GUI. Do the users really care that much whether the GUI is on top of MySQL or MSSQL? Not really.

    They will care about how easy it is to adapt and change ... when there is a need to change ... so we come back to the development due to changes from Govt or other key folk (eg exam boards) and how well this will be done and at what cost. Coders cost money to feed, clothe and house, as do support. If we are talking about the smaller companies on the market then they might want some protection to know that the creators of the the DB they connect to will get things sorted so that *their* product works.

    But ... I think this is getting into a circular argument now.

    SIF is key for data interchange with external groups and can be darned helpful for internal stuff ... you can say the same about Shibboleth too.
    There will always be other solutions which people come up with ... fine ... but if you want to stretch to a few logical conclusions, SIF and SIF Agents are about getting standards sets of data out of the data base and appropriately shared in the simplest possible fashion. If you want to jump forward 3-5 years ... then we may be talking about just the database holding the data and the API being the next gen of SIF to go into all these wonderful modules folk are thinking about.

    Does any of this make any difference to the tasks and functionality people want? No ... it should be the need for certain functions that drive it. For some schools it is the situation that using a particular MIS gives them a kick start on how to do certain things with data because they don't have much of a clue, so they are following a set path to make life easier ... even make it more efficient ... but once a school is in the swing of things they will want to look at the choice of how they use data deciding on the product used.

    Why do you think folk choose to buy PARS or Bromcom to sit on top of SIMS? Or spend a lot of time working on ePortal? Because they are driving the choice and use of the MIS by the need of the school.

    If someone can tell me what the next big change is for MIS with regards to functionality, then that will be snapped up by MIS providers far quicker than any perceived preference of technology.

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  12. #176

    GrumbleDook's Avatar
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    @piqueaboo
    I don't know whether you have had a look at this https://www.sifassociation.org/uk/up..._SIF_works.pdf yet, but it does give a good breakdown of things.
    When thinking about the relationship about the MIS and the ZIS, consider the MIS as one of your data stores (admittedly, probably the most important one) and that when it is updated with information it then relays it onto the correct partners. It might be that you update the MIS and it will then pass the info onto your AD. It might also update your cashless catering, your library software, your helpdesk (eg create an account for a member of staff only, but not a student) and so on. It might also relay the change to the VLE, or pass data down to the LA to say that student X is now registered at the school as their home location under 14-19 (and this is subsequently passed on to the MIS in other schools).

    A chunk of this is security permitting and the background behind this is probably best explained by some of the SIFA UK members working on it rather than me (which is why I haven't responded to some posts as others have more accurate and in-depth knowledge on the latest specifics on SIF) but there are the considerations of "who needs to have information?" and "who decides who gets the information" ...

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    ::sigh:: Since we're now trading the obvious

    Saying that the MIS should have been done right in the first place is so bizarre and missing of the history of MIS development in schools
    I don't mean when it was something that wasn't a credible MIS running on a Commodore Pet or whatever, at some point school MIS became something with a network architecture, multiple users and got one of those RDBs at the back end. No I don't know the nitty gritty history, but a quick Google says SIMs was turning over significantly into 7 figure numbers by 1995 which coincidently is when I reckon most of the IT world, especially the dev part was thinking very hard about how they would adapt their products to fit the Internet (YMMV but by the end of the decade I was seriously bored with those profligate web-interfaces that had managed to surface in every other application). In MIS world specifically, it's also the time when at least some of us were contemplating clunky Edifact files (or similar) and wondering about doing that with *more* standard (network) messaging APIs. Plus SIFA say they (or at least the educational sector wheeler/dealers) have been on the interoperability case it since 1997. It's 2010.

    I don't know whether you have had a look at this
    Did you read my questions in the previous post, as in what gave you the impression I'm oblivious to that? SIF are apparently asserting that horizontal interoperability needs ZIS same as vertical operability. I'm asking, again, why that is the case? A lot of apps wanting to read a list a people is obvious and it might be nice to read some bits from places besides the MIS, but what is all this *bi-directional* data flying about? Why do we need to add more complexity and a point of failure i.e. a ZIS, when we seem to get by OK now by adding a single client account to any app that another wants to read from? And we're talking a handful of those other apps not 100s.

    A standard open protocol for talking to things in classic-client server mode is fine, but for horizontal I really don't get the need for the ZIS... or perhaps that should be ZISs plural, coz if you're building in a single-point of failure by design then I'd want to be replicating that ZIS function somewhere. I'm prepared to change my mind, but only if someone can give me some real examples of things like apps getting ASAP notifications of stuff happening in other apps being useful enough to justify the additional infrastructure.
    Last edited by PiqueABoo; 6th November 2010 at 12:25 PM. Reason: i acn't spell

  14. #178

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdWhittaker View Post
    My point exactly! If the database is hosted and maintained for you, the API is free and the front end OS, then ANYONE can develop tools for it without paying huge licence fees and with guaranteed interoperability. At a stroke you get three big advantages: a huge burst of innovation, better quality software and lower prices. Plus you get round the traditional concerns regarding OS solutions because there would be a firm commercial base for the whole thing.
    @Ed - Sounds good as long as the new wonder-MIS producer doesn't get grandiose ideas of power and ruling the world (like someone else we know).

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!

    My idea FWIW is that the Government build the product you suggest i.e. the framework/backbone and then let everyone else build the components. That way you'd have a guarantee that the framework manufacturer wouldn't walk over the component manufacturers when the temptation became too strong.

  15. #179

    GREED's Avatar
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    Do I dare throw into the mix at this stage of a feisty conversation as to why there is the need for multiple products, in that I mean an installation per school. If we stick to the state sector for the moment for ease, all information is collected for the purpose of running the school (for argument sake). The school ultimately is run for or by the government. So... why is there not one central facility to house and access this data, rather than 1 installation per school. As someone that has worked with databases all his life, one critical thing I know is that data at the core level is just that.. data - facts and figures. If we have it in one format, one location, the data is there once (you database lovers will know - duplication is a no no!), it is maintained once, and by one source, and the is no need to make it transferable, because it won't get transferred anywhere! We don't have multiple products for the DVLA database floating around. We don't (soon) have multiple systems for patient management for each hospital all over the please (note this is not an argument for how badly that was implemented)...

    I await the tirade of abuse to follow...

  16. #180

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    IMHO I don't agree with the current drive to centralise everything. Of course there are benefits but those benefits are the only one's that are being pushed at the moment. Centralisation (because) of scale always leads to one thing - MASSIVE companies/organisations (because they are the only ones able to afford to build the infrastructure).

    So if you want EVERYTHING to be done/controlled by the world's biggest companies, centralisation is for you. It really is that simple (unless in my point above it is the government that provides the central piece!)

    To give a contra view, colleagues of mine up in Hull a few years back, had their school flooded (under 4ft of water). Their entire IT infrastructure was ruined including all the DATA on SIMS (I realise this would seem to support off-site centralisation ... but hear me out)! They were using one or two niche service providers that were hosted in the cloud whose services were unaffected by the chaos and which the school were able to continue to rely on. (In fact those services proved to be a lifeline).

    The point I'm making is that it is good to have data in more than one place in my opinion. A single point/location/service/provider which could fail (and they all do at some point) is NOT a good idea. Having your systems spread about builds resilience as long as it's easy to integrate those systems when necessary, and means none of those providers get too big for their boots and that they concentrate on making their products as good as they can be in the market.

    At the moment, all we're hearing is that "Everything in one place, or in one system, is a good thing" because it's an easy argument to present and it's easy for the school! I'd like to see more emphasis put on the benefits of multiple products, locations, services and providers. Where the school doesn't come to a grinding halt because one system is having problems, and NOT being held to ransom because the ONE system has become so big you cannot do without it.

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