Leesons that should be learnt by the Authorities

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This topic contains 17 replies, has 15 voices, and was last updated by  Caspar Verney 7 years ago.

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  • Caspar Verney

    Whilst it would be easy to criticise all of the Authorities for the farce many of us have just been through, I would like to suggest a more pragmatic approach and to suggest some very real things that the Authorities could do better next time:

    1/ Communicate
    2/ When Known Issues are identified, please update the documentation immediately
    3/ If an example Batch File is provided then please make sure that it will run through your own software
    4/ If software is unsuitable for a production environment then please do not make it a requirement for end users to utilise it

    There should be other ideas to share, but I shall pause here to ask if anyone else has any positive ideas, please?

    Many thanks,



    Training would have been nice, even if that meant a single representative from each area of the country attended a comprehensive session delivered by the IA and then they cascaded this training to colleges and training providers in their area. (assuming keeping costs down was a factor in the decision to not doing any training!)


    Caspar Verney

    Oops! My apologies that it appears that I need to learn “leesons” on spelling!!! (see the title of this thread)



    I would add that the software should not be made unavailable to download for “maintenance reasons” during the run-up to the return date (whilst we’re struggling to get it installed and working).



    I propose the 3 month rule!

    I think you should have a project plan with an End Date (everything live) 3 months before the start of the new Academic Year.

    If everything is not up and running to at least 90% by that end date then it should be put back 12 months to 3 months before the next academic year. You could still launch everything late for the currrent year and just use it for testing but at least it would be fully operational 3 months before the next year.

    I’m not sure it is a good for anyone to have non functioning systems 6 months into the academic year. I could understand the current approach if you were a business and you would go bust if you did not launch the new product but for a government backed non profit organisation to unlaunch something so late seems unnecessary.



    We are quite a small provider and do not actually have the resources to ‘test run’ the new systems on behalf of the authorities. My hours and stress levels have increased dramatically.

    I think:

    The system should have been ready well before the start of the new academic year.
    The system should have been tested properly before it went live – maybe even run ‘piggy back’ alongside the old system.
    We should not be expected to use a system that is not fit for purpose.
    There has been no training offered.
    Staff levels have not been increased appropriately to cope with the influx of calls, which they would have received even if the system had been fit for purpose due to the lack of training
    Better communication and support would have helped
    This forum has been ‘alive’ with people’s struggles it tells the authorities all they need to know really



    I agree with Gary and Sampage.

    If they expect small providers to put in the extra effort (learning about SQL Server and upgrading all computers in some cases) to return data on time, they should put in the extra effort to produce the systems required to do so on time.

    If the authorities want to know what they need to address for next release and lessons to learn, they just need to read back though all the posts over the past 6 months… Although I doubt they will.

    Hope everyone is having a nice post-batch relax in time for Performance Management, lol.



    Totally agree with all of the comments on this page, the Data Service don’t seem to be acknowledging the various impacts that this mess is having on our companies, small or large. We should all have had access to the Beta version about 6 months ago at least, and knowing how pivotal something like LARS is they should’ve run it along-side LARA until it was fully functional, like they did when changing from LAD to LARA.

    Resources also, they just didn’t seem ready to cope with the number of or the type of questions that we were all firing at them…




    All very good points here.

    Surely the known issues could be logged on a webpage with dates of posting updating, etc, rather than going to the trouble or releasing Known Issue Documents, it would be far easier for users to refer to.

    The issue of a sample batch file that doesn’t run with the software is a bit of a farce, seriously, why did they bother supplying it at all!

    Trying to base decisions on millions of pounds of government funds on Beta software is in itself a ridiculous situation to be in.

    We now know that the 12th November release of FIS will once again be beta, LARS will only be LARS Lite because it’s not ready, is 2013/14 going to be a total loss as far as this new system is concerned? Once we get in to December I’d assume people working on this may well be off for 2 weeks over the holidays so I can’t imagine much change happening next month, so then we’re past the R06 claim and looking at R07 to see if things are going to be any better!!!

    My main issue and lesson I definitely think needs to be learned is;

    Where was the backup plan?

    With change of this scale did no one think it would have been a wiser use of some of the resources to put a small team to work on maintaining LARA, updating the LIS with basic functionality for the new funding year and preparing the OLDC to receive the files if it was needed.


    Caspar Verney

    Another idea:

    If the Authorities announce a date when they are going to do something then if that changes then they should not wait until that date has arrived or the day before to announce for the first time that there will be a significant delay. Surely they must have known about it before? Also such announcements should be to everyone and not only to a select few.




    Lesson learnt?

    They have been here before, I remember old qual aim db with FEFC!!

    The basic principles of software development would be a starting point. If they used project management they would document risks issues and learning?

    Perhaps also follow some basic principles of organisation direction or change management which would help eg :

    market analysis – suggests large IT projects either fail or are severely delayed, McKinsey, gardner, IBM is source for one. Surely this means better planning, building project creep, communication, buyin from sector!!

    Swot. Actually the SW, , could they have delivered.
    The OT, Unless I missed something, why didn’t they develop a new portal as the LIS, web based? Client server, SQL, proxy etc sounds like a bolt onto existing age old infrastructure. I still see it has FEFC quals aims database engine approach. If they were changing system they should have been future technology proof . Do it once do it right. We will be here again!
    Change – didn’t even lead of manage change effectively. The impact on change on colleges and people not important by the looks of it. Another basic failure.

    Also, if I did my job as have done certain people in these agencies, I would be accountable and likely to be at the dole office. Is there any accountability here.

    My first ever Rant over!



    I would be telling a lie if I had read all the responses, so apologies if already mentioned, but I would have had a duel running system OLDC/LIS and FIS/DCFT at the same time.



    But who at “the Authorities” is going to acknowledge the situation and do something about it? Heads should roll!



    Phased implementation of each new platform ?



    1. Keep it simple. (Don’t change everything at the same time).
    2. EFA / SFA / Data Service – talk to each other. It appears to me that the “Simplified” funding system was developed for the EFA without reference to SFA apprenticeship funding. I think apprenticeships were an afterthought when in fact the calculations for apprentices were relatively simple and could be done in a spreadsheet.
    3. Look at critical paths. (See point 1).
    4. Consider the user. What we needed early were system specifications and live data (qualifications information). We still don’t have access to LARS outside of the beta test FIS.
    5. Don’t assume customer technical knowledge of relatively arcane software (SQL express).
    6. Call a spade a spade: beta versions are beta test versions.
    7. Don’t use customers to test your software.
    Finally, why make the FIS installation so complicated? I can load entire operating systems in less time than FIS load takes and I don’t need to be online.



    Regard the DCFT

    My biggest moan is the lack of communication and planning. Throughout this whole process we have been kept in the dark about when different aspects of the project will be available.

    I have struggled to manage my teams work programmes as I’ve not known what software will be available next week and which aspects will be working and which will not.

    All it would have taken and i think even now it would still help would be a gantt chart with a project plan and date for when things will happen and if it is delayed just update it and we then know where we stand.

    For me if we were in the same situation but had good & honest communication then i wouldnt be to bothered. It is the not knowing that is aweful.

    Regarding funding values

    This is a absolute shambles and the biggest of them all for me. Not knowing or even being able to work out funding values for apprenticeships at the start of contact year is a joke never mind waiting this long. We need this information in May at the absolute latest. If we do not have this information how are we suppose to be able to manage our contract effectively?

    I would be very interested to see some stats on how many providers are outside tolerance in q1 and q2.

    My big rant over



    The ‘Authority’ simply needs to adhere to its own principles. Principle 1, principally.



    Caspar Verney

    Another old chestnut to add to this list is echoed already: if changes are going to be made then please consult and listen to end users.

    This year a fundamental building block for any MIS has been dramatically changed without any prior warning and this only became evident to end users/software writers after the release of the first version of FIS Beta.

    For many fields within the ILR there are now codes and lookup tables for all of these were previously supplied through the LIS_EXP.mdb. In 2013-14 this has been replaced with DesktopService.mdb from FIS and we were led to believe that it would contain everything that we needed. However it was not until FIS Beta was finally released that it became apparent that DesktopService.mdb does not contain any of these lookup tables and that all of the data from them has been hard coded into the Rules which are embedded within FIS where users cannot access them.

    The Information Authority provided an Excel spreadsheet to try to replace these lookups, but that spreadsheet does not contain all of the lookups (some are available from other spreadsheets in different formats), does not contain the XML field names, does not contain the XML table names, and does not contain the Valid From or Valid To dates for each of the codes. Also the FAM Codes (and others) are categorised by Type and the Types in this spreadsheet are embedded in data containing their description and so unavailable as separate entities for standard lookup purposes.

    So in terms of improvements for the future the Authorities should, I suggest, agree with all interested parties just what is appropriate (ie communicate) and then make the full information available in a timely manner and not in separated pieces in inconsistent formats.

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