I haven’t really been on SupportNet, Capita SIMS support portal, regularly since changing roles about 20 months ago, the only time I pop on nowadays is to find something when I’m helping out my old team during busyhard times (you never really escape at my work). On this occasion I stopped by the forum and one thing jumped out at me. The lack of progress. Now I appreciate I’m about to unload both barrels into my foot, but I think it needs to be said.

The same issues exist today that exists when I was dealing with SIMS .net on daily bases over 20 months ago. That’s nearly 2 years. There are still people who aren’t using SOLUS3 – you know that free tool Capita created to ease the woes of upgrades and deployments. Despite a large number of users already using it and all the major bugs being resolve. More worrying, Capita has even issued SOLUS2 with it’s marching orders. It’s not a question of if, but when. The last release will be Autumn 2014 unless they are forced to push it back. Again.

I don’t think pushing it back is the answer. Pushing the date back is like putting a plaster over a gunshot wound. OK, it might help stop the bleeding, but it’s not the answer. Now I accept my approach of nagging my boss until he allowed me get on top of SOLUS3 whilst Capita was throwing major development time at it so I can make sure it works for our schools might not be possible for everyone. In fact it’s impossible, there aren’t enough developers to go around. But something has epically failed. Why, why, why hasn’t someone gone. Right, this needs to happen. It’s not going to go away. We have these problems:

  • SIMS Discover needs SOLUS3 – Sorry, you don’t install SIMS manually why? So why is installing Discover manually an option?
  • SIMS .net needs MORE access rights to installupgrade – switching UAC off is just plain stupid
  • Upgrades are just a pain

We need to resolve. Lets get SOLUS3 setup.

Now if your one of the support teams I’m attacking, before you start defending yourselves. Step back. Being busy isn’t an valid excuse. If you weren’t busy, you’ll be at the job centre. Someone, either yourself or your boss should be reviewing whats happening. Regularly. If your trying to do workarounds, you’re never going to have time to implement a fix. See what your doing is a putting a plaster on a gunshot wound and stop, get to the hospital. I know smaller support teams this will be a lot harder, especially when schools are doing their own thing, but I think this actually makes it easier.

SOLUS3 is a bit of a different beast. The way I explain SOLUS3 to new IT staff is, SOLUS3 is your tool. It’s a IT technician’s tool. This tool will manage SIMS .net across your network – it also keeps SIMS .net at a safe distance so you don’t enter the mists of MIS land. At the same time it keeps the MIS manager away from any sort of Windows permissions – you’re not giving any non-IT staff administrator access to YOUR network. System Manager is the DataMIS managers tool, it keeps people out of THEIR database, including IT staff. I’ve found this has been really useful with new IT staff coming from the “real” world and they have found the clear what you do and don’t do has helped keep them out of trouble. You do get the odd, why can’t I get a SCCM package, but when you point out that would require either Capita forcing schools to buy more Microsoft licenses or them reading more Capita documentation, they tend to go quiet.

Now I think the issue is the MIS support people are trying to push SOLUS3, when it should be the IT support people. If you look at the problems people are having with SOLUS3, they are IT problems, firewall and DNS mainly. Which MIS support staff don’t resolve. IT support staff do. If you’re now saying, but we don’t have any IT support people, it’s all third parties. What would happen if something, non-MIS related was required to be pushed out? What I’d do is organise a third party to support it, get the community together and issue training. So, find someone who has deployed SOLUS3 successfully and get them to do some training sessions for those pesky IT support teams. The cost of even getting even a Capita trainer in at £££, booking a venue could be offset by charging fees to delegates and to be honest, it isn’t that much when you compare it to even 1 day of failed SIMS upgradesdeployments. Costs can be cut by using a central school as the venue, by using a non-Capita trainer, by joining forces with other local support teams or even going completely digital. Support forums like EduGeek are a excellent way for the community to support itself with very little effort. I would also not be fussy by who attends, if they support one of your schools, offer them the training. Don’t get caught up in the fact their going to resell your knowledge. Think bigger picture.

So, do I think their will be much progress? Do I think Capita will stick with their Autumn 2014 is the last SOLUS2 release?

Well I also noticed they still had the following documents on the SupportNet homepage as sticky items:

  • Technical Guide – Network Impact of SIMS
  • Technical Guide – Optimising SIMS .net startup speed
  • Technical Guide – Remote Working with SIMS

Sound pretty useful, till you look at the dates, 06 April 2005, 08 April 2005 and 11th June 2004 respectively.

Take the first one, Network Impact of SIMS – to quote a bit of it:

Unfortunately, minimum hardware specifications are set to rise as we cease support for Windows 98.

Realistically Windows 2000 and Windows XP we would recommend a minimum of 256MB.

    Looking at <strong>Optimising SIMS .net startup speed</strong>, why are worrying about turning the antivirus off certain directories? Aren&#8217;t our computers these days powerful enough to handle it? Surely it&#8217;ll be a good idea if we&#8217;re <strong>not</strong> using <a href="http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/support-and-services/solus" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">SOLUS3</a> and giving everyone and their dog access to a protected folder location &#8211; Program Files. Why are we worrying about SIMSload, it&#8217;s does nothing once the <a href="http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/support-and-services/solus" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">SOLUS3</a> agent gets installed. Why would anyone compress the drive nowadays?
    Remotely accessing <a href="http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">SIMS .net</a> is a hot topic &#8211; the general concession is to use RemoteApp (Terminal Services). But the &#8220;official&#8221; <a href="http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Capita</a> response is the <strong>Remote Working with SIMS</strong> document&#8230; which says to use a VPN. I&#8217;m not a fan of this idea. <a href="http://web.archive.org/web/20151114110121/http://www.capita-sims.co.uk:80/our-products/sims-financial-management-system-fms-primary-schools-and-academies" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">FMS</a>, the <a href="http://web.archive.org/web/20151114110121/http://www.capita-sims.co.uk:80/our-products/sims-financial-management-system-fms-primary-schools-and-academies" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Capita SIMS finance package</a>, for starts doesn&#8217;t work well over a VPN, it&#8217;s not a speed issue, I&#8217;ve got 50MBs and that&#8217;s the lowest package I could get, it&#8217;s a latency issue. SQL doesn&#8217;t like latency. If you think of that 50MBs as the number of lanes and the latency as the speed what the cars are traveling. <a href="http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">SIMS .net</a> isn&#8217;t immune either, it just more modern, so it copes better.
    I&#8217;m sorry, but SIMS8, the next generation of <a href="http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">SIMS</a> which is rumoured to be in the &#8220;cloud&#8221;, can&#8217;t come fast enough for me to wash away all this silly technical problems. It&#8217;s ridiculous that things aren&#8217;t further along. Take the file sets for the School Census, I can see 4 file sets that came out in May, it&#8217;s still a manual import. <a href="http://www.capita-sims.co.uk/support-and-services/solus" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">SOLUS3</a> should be deploying file sets. Automatically. The biggest strength of SIMS is the community, it&#8217;s also the biggest problem. Viva la revolution!