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  1. #76
    EdWhittaker's Avatar
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    Just read this thread through. Interesting the number of people who are apparently happy to come up with 'workarounds' to get round the failings of the MIS. Okay if you were paying 150 quid a year, you might expect to have to do that. But these systems are very expensive; I could buy a decent car for what some schools are paying annually for their MIS. Would I be happy to pay £20k for a car, only to find that it did not do left turns and I had to ‘workaround’ that by doing three right turns? I think not. Of course there is the argument "well, what's the alternative?". Good point, SIMS, CMIS, E1, Integris are all very expensive and all have their own drawbacks, so you might as well stick with what you know, workarounds an all, is the reasoning. Sometimes you just get so used to a way of working that you don’t question it.

    Or, you could go for an OS solution. With all respect to Scholarpack, OS MIS solutions don't really offer a viable alternative at the moment. Simply hard coding a GUI onto a database, for example, does not produce a solution flexible enough for the changing and varied demands of schools. Plus there is the worry about lack of support, documentation and training etc associated with OS solutions.

    What is clear is that things cannot go on as they are. I don't think schools are any longer willing to be relieved of large sums of money for inadequate software and service. I agree with GeneralDreedle's sentiments:

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneralDreedle View Post
    '.. There should be NO MIS suppliers. It's an artificial market. They are fantastical creatures, a bit like vampires really, differing only in that we brought them to life. The government creates requirements year on year and forces schools to gift taxpayers money to Capita and Serco etc. in order to meet those requirements. Now, we all know that govt can't manage IT projects (worked on some of them - that's a whole other can of worms) so I'm not foolish enough to be advocating another one.

    What I'm saying is bottom-up create a culture of best value, shared reponsibility. Of course it's anaethma to BSF and managed service but then that's going to crash and burn anyway (see my strangely silent thread elsewhere). Lots of things start out dreaming. Lots of dreams die. But money talks vikpaw, and the bloat is about to burst. Might be someone listening now. Cheap Dreams: They really are interesting.
    The solution is for someone to provide an efficient, maintained web-based database together with a free API and an open source front end. Training and manuals supplied, you only pay for access to the database; neat and efficient GUI supplied free of charge. If you don't like it, if doesn't do what you want, simply re-code the front end to do what you want and use the API to do the interfacing with the database. Make your own attendance / APP / behaviour / whatever module to do EXACTLY what you want. Sell it or give to other schools if you want. A completely open access MIS. Never happen? Watch this space. ;-)

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    matt40k's Avatar
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    I don't know much about other MIS packages, but for SIMS (using the car analogie):

    Capita's car would come in two sized, a two seater, or a 5 seater. The 5 seater would be about £3k, wouldn't cost much to run, be able to be repaired at almost any garage and would be regarded as the best car for your money. However, it won't come with air conditioning, either black or white, only have a basic radio, other cars manufacturers would however offer these as part of the basic. New types would be released regularly and would be able to be fitted to all Capita cars. Most importantly, it would be able to work on the UK roads, even though every year they change it.

    Capita would offer a number of upgrades to the base model, £3k for air conditioning (lesson monitor), £1k for a MP3 player - only plays song bought via cTunes (InTouch), £3k for a tv in the back (Timetabling), £3k for a nice shinny colour (SLG). Suddenly that £3k bargin has become £13k and costs a small fortune.

    However, a number of smaller companies have made cheaper versions of any of the extras.

  3. #78

    GREED's Avatar
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    Matt, the wheels fell off my SIMS car more than once... now that's phrase I never thought I would use!

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdWhittaker View Post
    Just read this thread through. Interesting the number of people who are apparently happy to come up with 'workarounds' to get round the failings of the MIS. Okay if you were paying 150 quid a year, you might expect to have to do that. But these systems are very expensive; I could buy a decent car for what some schools are paying annually for their MIS. Would I be happy to pay £20k for a car, only to find that it did not do left turns and I had to ‘workaround’ that by doing three right turns? I think not. Of course there is the argument "well, what's the alternative?". Good point, SIMS, CMIS, E1, Integris are all very expensive and all have their own drawbacks, so you might as well stick with what you know, workarounds an all, is the reasoning. Sometimes you just get so used to a way of working that you don’t question it.

    Or, you could go for an OS solution. With all respect to Scholarpack, OS MIS solutions don't really offer a viable alternative at the moment. Simply hard coding a GUI onto a database, for example, does not produce a solution flexible enough for the changing and varied demands of schools. Plus there is the worry about lack of support, documentation and training etc associated with OS solutions.

    What is clear is that things cannot go on as they are. I don't think schools are any longer willing to be relieved of large sums of money for inadequate software and service. I agree with GeneralDreedle's sentiments:



    The solution is for someone to provide an efficient, maintained web-based database together with a free API and an open source front end. Training and manuals supplied, you only pay for access to the database; neat and efficient GUI supplied free of charge. If you don't like it, if doesn't do what you want, simply re-code the front end to do what you want and use the API to do the interfacing with the database. Make your own attendance / APP / behaviour / whatever module to do EXACTLY what you want. Sell it or give to other schools if you want. A completely open access MIS. Never happen? Watch this space. ;-)
    Open Source is a great model for some types of application, especially where there is a mass audience for them. It is a case of finding a cost model that works for the application and the market that it serves. Secondary school management systems are a bit niche because the market is relatively small and the costs of developing and maintaining such broad functionality, as well as constantly updating it to match new legislation, is inherently expensive. I very much doubt whether an OS approach to mission critical applications like a school MIS could work without running into funding problems. Just think of the true cost of offering on-demand technical support for an MIS - which is a small industry in itself. I also wonder at how those contributors who already have a full time job will find the time for developments that will consume hundreds of hours.

    There is an understandable view that a school that has made such an investment should expect something like an MIS should do everything, but it doesn't feel particularly realistic to think that any one supplier could match every component of an MIS to changing expectations at a rate that customers would like.
    I know I have made this point before, but if it is relatively simple to exchange data with other applications then it is quite feasible to vary from a monolithic stance on managing information to one where a range of new tools might be employed to match the new tasks that schools wish to perform. We already do this with other types of information.

    This is particularly attractive when the costs of such additional tools are relatively low. <-- Unauthorised Advertising Removed -->
    Last edited by vikpaw; 4th November 2010 at 10:50 AM. Reason: unauthorised advertising

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt40k View Post
    I don't know much about other MIS packages, but for SIMS (using the car analogie):

    Capita's car would come in two sized, a two seater, or a 5 seater. The 5 seater would be about £3k, wouldn't cost much to run, be able to be repaired at almost any garage and would be regarded as the best car for your money......
    LOL
    There's a 2 seater? Is it convertible?

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    EdWhittaker's Avatar
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    @Matt40:

    Brilliant!! LOL! :-)

  7. #82

    matt40k's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vikpaw View Post
    LOL
    There's a 2 seater? Is it convertible?
    I guess I could hacksaw the roof off... would that count?

  8. #83
    EdWhittaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeBostock View Post

    There is an understandable view that a school that has made such an investment should expect something like an MIS should do everything, but it doesn't feel particularly realistic to think that any one supplier could match every component of an MIS to changing expectations at a rate that customers would like.
    I know I have made this point before, but if it is relatively simple to exchange data with other applications then it is quite feasible to vary from a monolithic stance on managing information to one where a range of new tools might be employed to match the new tasks that schools wish to perform. We already do this with other types of information.
    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.

  9. #84

    GrumbleDook's Avatar
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    Some interesting suggestions ... and for a number of areas seems like a good move. However, I am a bit unsure of the support / development of it though. What happens when exam boards change things around? What happens when the Govt change which data needs collecting? What happens when, on those lovely Wednesday mornings in the summer when exam results are pulled down and *IT JUST DOESN'T WORK* and someone has to fix it ...

    OSS for the MIS is a wonderful idea, but there are so many flaws in the idea of yet another MIS that it worries me that people with throw the baby out with the bath water (we all remember the "hey folks, lets jump ship from MIS A to MIS B as that will solve all our problems!" only to find it solved some but introduced new problems and so some folk even swap back)

    Rather than seeing the requirements set out at a technical level, how about it being based on functionality first ... bizarre concept I know.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook View Post
    OSS for the MIS is a wonderful idea, but there are so many flaws in the idea of yet another MIS that it worries me that people with throw the baby out with the bath water (we all remember the "hey folks, lets jump ship from MIS A to MIS B as that will solve all our problems!" only to find it solved some but introduced new problems and so some folk even swap back)

    Rather than seeing the requirements set out at a technical level, how about it being based on functionality first ... bizarre concept I know.
    Not really, this is an excellent point, I think I mentioned this somewhere before: These guys have been doing it for years (decades infact), who or how would someone be able to come along and solve in 1 day all the problems others cannot solve in this time?

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt40k View Post
    I guess I could hacksaw the roof off... would that count?
    Not without one of those expensive SIMS developer licenses, you couldn't.

  12. #87

    localzuk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GrumbleDook View Post
    Some interesting suggestions ... and for a number of areas seems like a good move. However, I am a bit unsure of the support / development of it though. What happens when exam boards change things around? What happens when the Govt change which data needs collecting? What happens when, on those lovely Wednesday mornings in the summer when exam results are pulled down and *IT JUST DOESN'T WORK* and someone has to fix it ...

    OSS for the MIS is a wonderful idea, but there are so many flaws in the idea of yet another MIS that it worries me that people with throw the baby out with the bath water (we all remember the "hey folks, lets jump ship from MIS A to MIS B as that will solve all our problems!" only to find it solved some but introduced new problems and so some folk even swap back)

    Rather than seeing the requirements set out at a technical level, how about it being based on functionality first ... bizarre concept I know.
    As has been said before, OSS doesn't mean 'unsupported'. Redhat is open source, but there's masses of support for it... What happens if SIMS.net is down? We call our local support helpdesk. How is that any different than if we all used an OSS package?

    Regarding changes - the system should be designed around handling changes. If the government changes which data needs collecting, then the system should be easily changeable to get that data, without needing major rewrite work to be done. Reporting requirements change in all sorts of industries - look at the finance industry as an example. We don't hear from the suppliers to those industries turning round and saying 'the new reporting requirements require big changes, they'll be released next version but we'll have to drop other features due to it' or similar.

    No, they more likely had the forethought to design the system so this sort of thing can be done quickly and easily.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdWhittaker
    Just read this thread through. Interesting the number of people who are apparently happy to come up with 'workarounds' to get round the failings of the MIS. Okay if you were paying 150 quid a year, you might expect to have to do that. But these systems are very expensive; I could buy a decent car for what some schools are paying annually for their MIS. Would I be happy to pay £20k for a car, only to find that it did not do left turns and I had to ‘workaround’ that by doing three right turns? I think not. Of course there is the argument "well, what's the alternative?". Good point, SIMS, CMIS, E1, Integris are all very expensive and all have their own drawbacks, so you might as well stick with what you know, workarounds an all, is the reasoning. Sometimes you just get so used to a way of working that you don’t question it.
    Entirely true! MIS seems to be one of the fewer areas where (high) paying customers 'put up'.


    Quote Originally Posted by MikeBostock
    I very much doubt whether an OS approach to mission critical applications like a school MIS could work without running into funding problems. Just think of the true cost of offering on-demand technical support for an MIS - which is a small industry in itself. I also wonder at how those contributors who already have a full time job will find the time for developments that will consume hundreds of hours.

    Quote Originally Posted by businesswire
    "More than half of the respondents – 58 percent in North America and 51 percent in the UK and Continental Europe – stated that they now use open source software for mission-critical applications. More than 79 percent report using open source in the application infrastructure – databases, Web servers and application servers – which provides the underpinning for both routine and mission-critical applications. That widespread infrastructural use indicates strong potential for expansion of the number of mission-critical applications as open source proves its value to those enterprises."
    To state concerns about whether OSS is ready for mission critical systems is nonsense. Look at the London Stock Exchange, who dumped an MS systems to move to a predominantly open source solution. Look at NASA, who use OSS extensively in spacecraft to stay within budget. Look at Moodle, SugarCRM, OpenOffice, PostgresQL, JBoss..should I go on? Granted, the 'mission critical' ness of these vary, but they're all used in huge scale deployments, with good reason.

    Mike, doesn't the software you are developing exist because of problems with existing MIS suppliers? Schools have a need for it because their MIS doesn't do it. In an ideal solution, there would be no 'other sources' because all data would be in a central place and reportable exactly as you like.


    Quote Originally Posted by EdWhittaker
    Or, you could go for an OS solution. With all respect to Scholarpack, OS MIS solutions don't really offer a viable alternative at the moment. Simply hard coding a GUI onto a database, for example, does not produce a solution flexible enough for the changing and varied demands of schools. Plus there is the worry about lack of support, documentation and training etc associated with OS solutions.
    I feel like we have to address these points. Ed - we haven't simply 'hard coded a GUI onto a database'. The front end is entirely flexible and not linked to the database (although it is easy to do so). I'd like to hear of an MIS problem that cannot be solved using a flexible front end and a solid database. After all, MISs store data and then manipulate it in countless different ways. So where's the stumbling block with a GUI and a database? Conceptually, the problem has been solved.

    Mike, your point about funding is a good one, but just because something is open source, that doesn't mean there's no funding.

    We are serious about providing an MIS to challenge the major players and I know it's going to take time but this isn't a sideline project, we've been in development for several years and have a small team working full time, as well as private investors. Funding isn't the problem, it's getting things right before we go all out on marketing to schools. Training programmes, manuals etc - we realise these are important. Release early, release often doesn't apply here!


    Quote Originally Posted by EdWhittaker
    The solution is for someone to provide an efficient, maintained web-based database
    Umm, what is a 'web based database'?

  14. #89

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdWhittaker View Post
    The solution is for someone to provide an efficient, maintained web-based database together with a free API and an open source front end. Training and manuals supplied, you only pay for access to the database; neat and efficient GUI supplied free of charge. If you don't like it, if doesn't do what you want, simply re-code the front end to do what you want and use the API to do the interfacing with the database. Make your own attendance / APP / behaviour / whatever module to do EXACTLY what you want. Sell it or give to other schools if you want. A completely open access MIS. Never happen? Watch this space. ;-)
    Excuse my ignorance - but is that not the easy part? SQL is quiet a powerful API and designing RDB's is not exactly rocket science. Indeed from what I can tell SIMS RDB is quiet well structured. If you understand the table relationships and field naming conventions then you're pretty much there.

    The GUI, IMHO, is the hard part and I'm willing to bet that 99.9% of the complaints with SIMS/Serco/etc is with the GUI and what features it exposes and not the underlying database? "Simply Recode the Frontend" is quite frankly waiting I'm paying Capita for at the moment.

    Quote Originally Posted by scholarpack View Post
    Umm, what is a 'web based database'?
    Code:
    <script language="javascript">
       var pupilForename=new Array();
       var pupilSurname=new Array();
       ...
    </script>
    Last edited by tmcd35; 1st November 2010 at 11:26 AM.

  15. #90

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    Ok, re support ... I am fully aware of the costed support available for OSS ... but I go back to the exam download example. You have a product which is OSS. You have a support contract for it. You get to the morning of the exam download and the data will not import in properly or doesn't match up etc ... the exam board says it is the fault of the MIS and the provider needs to fix it ... it affects about 100 schools out of the 1000 using the MIS. This 100 schools are supported by 3 different companies, all of which work on the fix in different ways. This creates forks in the code and will there be time to bring these forks together before the next exam download? And what happens if the 3 companies don't want to merge their code together and come up with a standard distribution? What happens if they want to maintain their own fork? You now have 3 new MIS ... all very similar and with a tiny difference, but then you have to make a change at the next exam download, and then Census / PLASC ... anyone see a problem cropping up?

    MIS requires immediate fixes. The proposal to finance software is a bit false because when there are major changes due to tax return requirements changing, etc there is plenty of notice. How many of use have hit the exam download problem before on that dreaded Wednesday (and yes, it happens with all MIS ... and yes, it is usually the exam board who is the unhelpful party)?

    So again ... I ask, how can support of an OSS MIS effectively work without creating more problems?

    Please understand that I am not saying this to naysay the use of OSS for MIS ... I just don't think the model has been thought through enough to compete with what is already there for *all* schools. Remember that for a number of schools it just needs to work, with a stock plan of how it makes a difference in a school (back to that functionality again) and who to go to if it doesn't work. Also remember that the present mode of the DfE is to not centralise anything and so there is likely to be little appetite to demand standards to be enforced (they really are of two minds on standards right now ... they want them, but they don't want anyone to enforce them!)

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