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MIS Systems Thread, Off the Shelf or Bespoke MIS in Technical; Hi All, Sorry that this is my first post, but I am looking for a little guidance / advice...... I ...
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    Off the Shelf or Bespoke MIS

    Hi All,

    Sorry that this is my first post, but I am looking for a little guidance / advice......

    I am the Head of Systems at a private Sixth Form College (Welbeck Defence Sixth Form). Currently we run a bespoke MIS system developed and maintained for us by a developer. I have been asked to re-evaluate the costs / benefits etc against commercial off the shelf MIS systems. One such system that has been mentioned to me is "Agresso" - I have also looked briefly at "DoubleFirst" - obviously there are others out there that are more widely used.

    Unfortunately my experience of such systems runs into virtually nothing so I would like to ask the experts here a few questions - there are probably hundreds of questions but I'll stick to the main ones........

    1) Do any other schools / college use bespoke MIS Systems?

    2) Are products such as Serco / SIMS etc customisable to fit in with a schools routines? For instance our MIS has the following sections that fit in with how we work.....

    a) Medical Centre data entry to mark students who should not be doing certain tasks (eg Sports / Swimming / Resting in their room etc) - These automatically link in with class registers to highlight to the staff member that the student is listed on the medical list.

    b) Facility to record and analyse Fitness Test results (and publish them to parents)

    c) Finance facilities, including billing to parents etc - because of the way that we work separate invoices need to go out for termly fees and termly extras - invoices are similar but have different payment methods.

    d) Do they offer (or have the ability) to put students into Tutor Groups / Boarding houses and allocate report writing tasks to tutors and house staff as well as subject teachers?)

    e) We use a traffic light system (in 5 categories) to record our students - These are simple Red / Amber / Green values to give us an quick overview of each student.

    f) we use a Praise and Concern form for registering student praise and concern - these forms are really useful and are something we do not wish to lose.

    3) Do all of the MIS systems offer database access with pretty simple schemas etc? We interface extensively to our main SQL database to provide data / stats / searches etc via our intranet. This is done with a combination of Stored Procedures in the database / database views and native SQL queries.

    4) Do all of the MIS systems offer "Parental" access to key data in regard to student progress - We allow parents to see student attendance / student reports / traffic lights / fitness scores etc and will be enhancing this to include praise and concern forms.

    5) For those of you using "off the shelf" systems - do you have specific members of staff who are in charge of these systems, either technically or data wise? Do those staff members perform other tasks as well, or are they bespoke MIS people?

    Sorry for the long post - but any help woudl be appreciated. Also - If anyone is in the Notts / Loughborough area using a standard package I would love to take a look at them to see them working in real life - I would be happy to provide such a service in return should anyone wish to look at our MIS system.

    Cheers
    Darren

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    Well, that's just asking for a massive open ended debate.

    Personally, i would say if you have a bespoke system that does what you want and satisfies any statutory reporting needs, then stick with it. You will only find that any off the shelf product is going to be painful to use and not always do what you want. Changing MIS is such a huge task that any problems will have staff begging to go back to the old system.

    Nonetheless, it's useful to go and see what other schools are doing. SIMS has many partnership schools, and i'm sure Serco,Bromcom,Integris and the others all do too. It would be best to see what they do for real and compare to your own solutions.

    To answer your points in brief:

    1) I don't know of (m)any schools that use bespoke MIS Systems, maybe colleges or independent institutions. Many places use an off-the-shelf product and have advanced methods to rip data out and customise it via access dbs, scripts, web pages etc.

    2) I wouldn't say that the standard MIS systems are customisable, they tend to be standard fits that on the whole work for most schools. However, they should cover all the points you require. I can speak for SIMS:

    a) Medical data is stored and can be accessed from register but doesn't display by default, though there are no systems that link in to the register that collate this info either via sharepoint webparts or other software.

    b) There is an advanced reporting system, soon to be radically altered and improved upon. Results can be exported to word/excel etc and/or published to sharepoint.

    c) There is an add-on module to SIMS called FMS that handles finances from purchasing to billing of parents to salary. It's pretty robust and can live on the same SQL server.

    d) There are tutor groups and house groups and a separate reporting module called Profiles. Report writing tasks including checking and reviewing are available and setup through the timetable / pastoral structure. Short reports can also be done via the assessment module.

    e) Traffic lighting is possible, it just needs some setting up in the assessment module. I think there is a summary view where behaviour is automatically color coded. Attendance has a default traffic lighting option in this view.

    f) There is a behaviour / achievement module which is very useful but can be a bit clunky. I'm not sure how you'd get your form onto the system, it would depend on what data goes onto it. You can earn positive / negative points and these could be linked to house points...
    3) Access to database is not permitted but some people have virtual cloned setups where they can read the SQL. The schema is not published as far as i know and is far from easy, though some of us do use it for access. You should be able to offer info from the db via webparts in sharepoint. There is a command reporter tool that allows you to schedule and run predefined reports, as well as a pretty extensive reporting module. I think this is an area you will find all box product MISes lacking though.

    4) I think all systems now offer parental access of sorts because of the DCSF requirements. This is done via webparts into sharepoint. SIMS supply their own, or many other companies have their own more tailored versions. There are also other products from licenced partners that can tap in and extract the data for presentation as well as allow read/write access.

    5) All schools now really should have at least 1 dedicated member of staff responsible for day to day running of the system. In addition, there are often other key members of staff that take on responsibility for specific areas e.g. timetabling, personnel, absence, reporting etc. More and more there are bespoke MIS people in secondaries but often it falls on to the desk of the IT manager / technician to handle the MIS. It's primaries that suffer the most.

    I hope that's of help. Any more questions, feel free to ask.

    Have a search of the MIS forum, there have been many recent threads regarding which MIS to use and the relative benefits. Don't be disheartened by the griping, everyone likes to have a good whinge about their MIS from time to time.

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    My last school used a bespoke MIS and it worked very well, but the NM who designed and maintains the system is a workaholic and so is willing to put in the hours needed to constantly develop and maintain it.

    My current school currently uses a bespoke MIS provided and hosted offsite by an external company. It is poorly designed, poorly maintained, does not meet government guidelines on data protection and security, and we are dumping it this year.

    We are also a private school. We are moving to WCBS PASS, who have a large presence in independent schools and a decent reputation. So far I am pretty happy with what I've seen. I believe it features most or all of the features you've mentioned. The back end is MS-SQL and they support hooking into that via ODBC.

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    L3o
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    I would really suggest contacting the different companies and asking for demonstrations because you tend to find what suits one school might not suit your own, plus you have people posting from reference schools who love their system and hate all the others :P

    Each company can also let you know schools you can visit and see the MIS working in a real environment, not just off a laptop from some sales person. But changing MIS is a massive task like mentioned above, the data transfers, educating staff etc

    Having someone looking after the data, MIS, coordinating the whole show is a really good idea... I've seen alot of places have a brilliant setup but because of communication problems between staff, or not knowing the system, it isn't used to its full potential.

    Good luck with your search

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