I must say though that there was only ever about 3 occasions with issues such as this that caused a real headache!
You CAN opt into Curriculum Packs that have loads of assessment template samples, report starters etc for curriculum analysis, progress tracking etc, but what I believe with Sims is you get all that as part of it you don't get a blank and empty Sims, you start from the included template and just tweak / move etc. (Serco does have a large number of included reports before that sounds like it has nothing! Standard things like Mailmerge labels, attendance analysis etc is all there as expected I'm on about the Curriculmn Assessment areas only).
As a result of this huge flexibility, people can do things in many ways in the templates and assessments which can result in issues and errorrs occuring that were not spotted in testing due to this as the mould is huge. Serco isn't a one size fits all product by any stretch, many people I talk to say they like its concept of being infinatly configurable, but it comes at a price of needing a high end data manager, someone that knows and has time to build and design a lot of things from scratch, but the end results can be some of the best out there.
As a result you could have been unlucky and hit an actual code bug, which is annoying, but could happen with any program from any vendor be it an MIS or Email Server. If it wasn't a specific bug to your data / setup, in my experience of seeing that issue, it was usually down to Poor Training of Staff in the use of ePortal. Three common issues that caused it, all of which with the right user training are avoidable:
Too many staff I know would hit submit at the end of doing say 30 subject reports, nothing weird in that at all, but the issue is what they did in the middle of those reports. They have gone to the toilet, had a 10 minute phone call with someone, met a parent, nipped to the staffroom for a brew etc, and by the time they actually hit submit from the last time they accessed the server it was over the inactivity time-out, which is something that is obviously needed for security. So they hit submit and it "sends the data" and comes back saying you've timed out, and thus lost all 30 reports (assuming you didn't submit as you were going along - think as submit like Save is what I tell people, you wouldn't write 30 reports in word and not save them periodically, that's what submit is doing).
Too many people use the back button in browsers, the back button in a database driven web application is evil, we all know this from online banking, shopping online etc, you hit back in the checkout on a lot of sites and it errors and you start again. If, until the latest release of Serco, you used back in the browser on an assessment screen you could go back to your class lists, which then allowed you to say enter reports for Y9-Eng1, submit them, back button twice, once to back out of the submission confirmation and back to raw reports and then back again to the class lists. Some people hit submit or forward again in the middle of those two backs and were writing blanks over the data by accident as they were re-loading a cached blank grid to fill in from the browser cache on the PC, thus deleting your own reports due to end user poor understanding of how to use the system.
In the latest release the browser back button in all officially supported browsers, does not function, you click it and it just flickers and takes you back to where you are already. You can use the built in application back button though where its available as it re-runs the query to make sure your data is accurate and correct.
Third most common one is people on Wifi or using it over the Internet from home / remote site, you would simply, but perhaps un-spotted by you loose your connection to the Internet / LAN and thus you terminate your web session and have the same issue as point 1. When people were on dial up internet this was a big problem, but now a large number of people are on broadband its not as bigger problem as in the past.
I obviosly don't know your previous school or setup it had but those are the big 3 I've come across with it and with the right training the "issues" seem to go away and not re-occur. I also should add, ensuring that your updates are done on time, and your e-portal is installed and kept in good health I do feel are always worth doing and keeping on-top of, its if just chucked on and not checked or tested you can have more problems and issues which you think at the MIS's fault but not something you can always know about as an end user, your IT Manager / MIS Manager could very much be an issue in relation to your issues with it.
Since I re-installed my entire system this summer gone its performance is amazing now, fine its on a new server as well, BUT the system is a lot quicker, things run right now, less annoyance are occurring than ever before and people are positive about it which is great. It is certianly a great MIS and I dread the day that I move to a school that uses SIMS as in my mind I would be going backwards, if you know and use Serco and spend time getting to know it you are in for a great relationship. Treat it like your life partner you don't just find the first person you meet and marry them and have kids etc, you take it slower than that in most cases. Your MIS should be treat the same.
However Serco did admit that that release was an issue, after the event, and released a new one at the end of that month after the Census to resolve a large number of the issues reported, bug fixes were issued during the time and I know they were working incredibly hard to solve things very quickly. I'm not saying that it was an acceptable thing that occurred, however I am very sure you could go over many software products, including Capita SIMS and find a release somewhere in its history that they would rather forget they ever launched to the public. Who remembers Publisher 97, some people never knew it existed as Publisher 98 appeared rather quickly, why because 97 wasn't the best release they did.
Just a few points: sims assessment is also very blank, just a framework to create your own nightmare of numbers in. there is an assessment pack that can be downloaded with some stuff pre-built, certainly for primary and to store key stage results / exams, but mostly it's open ended. so perhaps not as likely to fail as serco as the framework is pretty tight in it's interaction.
As far as i know, SOLUS will install any required .net frameworks also, if they are missing, this just means it takes longer, so it's easier if the lastest is on the images where possible. However, it is still cumbersome if each machine has to be upgraded. That's where terminal services or SLG makes things easier. Is SERCO totally web based then? Even for admin tasks?
I like the life partner analogy You have your ball and chain and I have mine. Can't live with 'em; can't live without 'em. And trading one in for another is a real PITA!
Last edited by vikpaw; 5th January 2011 at 02:44 AM. Reason: edit framework.
john (5th January 2011)
Thanks for all that info john. It's interesting to see how other systems work.
As regards SIMS Upgrades - SOLUS3 makes it far easier and more user friendly!
Last edited by Sivadam; 5th January 2011 at 07:41 AM.
Great detailed points made there John.
Will echo what Vik said in that AM7 comes mostly empty on startup.
No, it's not totally web based, the web application is 'ePortal' which John is referring to, and 'Admin' and its modules is the 'office' users' app. It is installed once on the server and a shortcut to it given to the users. So you just do the one install on the server and next time they click the shortcut it's calling the new version.
I tend to set this up as a share with the correct permissions, this way when you come to do an upgrade, you can stop the web services, take the share off the program folder, and no one has access. Then when the upgrade is done, just start the services back up and pop the share back on.
Mic @ Serco
Thanks to the SIMS users for giving me more info on AM7 and SOLUS, it sounds that since I spoke to a SIMS person and used it that SOLUS has improved, last time I used it I was having laptops coming in daily for .net framework 2 I think back after an upgrade in Summer 08.
@Vik, I have dummy data on my netbook and a full Serco install on it for testing code and stuff, if you are interested I will give you a peek at it when at BETT. I am sure you will find things you hate about it over SIMS, but its what and how you make it. I really enjoy it and like it and wouldn't want to change as I can do most things in it now.
@sivadam/@greed i don't think we had to do any changeover from am6 to am7, the only things that needed converting were the individual reports templates, everything else just worked as far as i recall. all of course apart from my scripts to speed up creation which all broke when the interface became mingled with the main part of sims, and .net
Argh, everytime i see this thread...
To answer your question no, no i dont!
Feel better now...
Ok, I think it's pretty much official - we've scared off Entrepreneur!
As for the whole touch screen thing:
Groupcall Emerge - the powerful yet intuitive iPhone / iPod 'App' which enables schools to have an up-to-the-minute copy of their MIS data instantly and securely available in the palm of their hand
Bromcom - Teacher's WebFolder
As for the whole too many releases, 3-10 a year is not alot, it needs more!! Not so SOLUS3 is easy to test, but so SIMS is, to quote Localzuk favourite buzz word, Agile. Problems get fixed faster, we get to offer more feedback into the software etc.
I guess this won't happen until SIMS goes SaaS, specially if ICT Technician have problems with 3 a year.
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