When projects collide

I am sure many institutions working on the XCRI project will sympathise with how tricky it can be juggling work on both XCRI and KIS (and trying to maintain service as usual!).

Last week my colleagues and I found ourselves spinning our KIS plates (providing a list of 400+ URLs for the data submission; gathering up KISCOURSEIDs and working out just what to do with that widget…) with our XCRI plates (trying to suss out the data definitions, testing the new CMS and providing feedback to the developers).

We’re also working on the postgraduate online prospectus and then there’s that small matter of Clearing…

But if there is one thing that’s cheered me through the last week, it has been reading the JISC progress report summary and reading about the experiences of other universities working on the project.

I am amazed at how similar everyone’s experiences are to each other, and to our own. The recurring themes were the undocumented and haphazard ways in which course information is generated, used, passed on and dispensed with. Not to mention the sheer complexity of the whole operation and the potential difficulties with trying to systematise such vast and sprawling processes.

Reading the report, I felt reassured that we were not alone and a little inspired by the common recognition of how important this project is for our institutions. Working on these multiple projects  is a bit of a juggling act for all involved but it helps us to see how things connect and feed into each other which I hope will benefit our work on the project as a whole.


Spotlight on the Programmes Factory – or is it Plant?

Just a quick update in this blog. After a fairly intense period of development and prototyping we are just about up against clearing. So developers are going to be somewhat occupied. We have one more feedback session with the product owner this week. Time to take stock and look at some of the less technical – but equally important work packages.

We have been beavering away as a fairly small group for the last couple of months and I think it is fair to say we are pleased with progress on the new Programmes Plant software. (Is it the Programmes Plant or just Programmes Factory II? Not sure really but we can worry about that later.) The development of the Programmes Plant up to this point has mainly been about how it will be used by the EMS team. We have worked directly with those who will use the system in that department. This has required a great deal of commitment from the Enrolment Mangement Services team as well as from IS but the result is that we are delivering what is needed.  It is a really important consideration for any HEI or FEI considering going down this route – the mebers of staff who will be the users of the system must be given the time to provide  a high level of involvement – which of course means many hours – if there is to be a succesful outcome.

Now we are ready to start spreading the word and looking at how others in the Faculties and Schools will feed data into the system.

So one of the tasks for the next few weeks will be to introduce the work done so far to our colleagues in other parts of the university. Although we have complete faith in our developers ability to build the application, it will not exist in a vacuum.  The Programmes Plant is just one part of a whole range of systems – some software based, some manual and some a mixture of the two – that are needed to get out course data out to those are, and those we hope will be, studying at Kent. And of course to produce the XCRI feed. The long term plan is that these systems are automated and will talk nicely to one another but we cannot achieve all that within the life of this project.  Neither can we continue with disparate systems that have the potential to get out of synchronisation and necessitate duplication of effort.  To bridge the gaps and maintain communication between our current systems we need to be confident that we have appropriate, efficient and comprehensive workflows in place.

We need to map out how our colleagues in the Schools and Faculties will interact with the Programmes Plant and, where data flows are not yet automated, what manual triggers we need to put in place to capture the creation, modification and termination of programmes and associated marketing information.  Some of this information we may be able to get via web services from the Admissions system and the Student Records systems but for the time being some will rely on email notifications and on-line forms.

There is a positive mood in the team at the moment and we are looking forward to demonstrating how far we have come and talking to our colleagues about next steps.