Friday, 26 October 2012

Please, not another $100 million failed system

BCeSIS is the troubled student information system that the Ministry has spent $100 million on in the last decade.  This article is a description of the plan by the Ministry to replace it with a new system for the next decade.

The Ministry knew by the fall of 2010 that BCeSIS had to be replaced.  There had been a disastrous opening of school where the system simply failed to deliver at a crucial time in the school year.  In addition, the Pearson corporation bought out the company that developed the software for BCeSIS, the AAL company.  Pearson is expanding its reach into all aspects of education by buying companies and closing down their products.  In effect, they are buying a customer base for their existing products.  This is what Pearson did, when it told the ministry that the company would stop supporting BCeSIS software as of 2013.
To get an idea of how to move beyond these problems, the Ministry hired Gartner, a technology consulting corporation, to look at BCeSIS, consult with users about future directions and make recommendations.

The consultants interviewed technology coordinators and people who had played a role in BCeSIS.  They also developed a questionnaire and ask superintendents to identify who should be surveyed.  In at least some cases, only administrators and technology staff were identified for the survey.
The consultants interviewed me as well.

The report Gartner produced recommended that the province develop another centralized system and that the province should buy off-the-shelf software that could meet the system needs. You can find their report at
The report said that everyone they interviewed, except the BCTF, essentially wanted what BCeSIS was supposed to be—an “enterprise” system where all the data for the system goes into a central database.  It noted that I had disagreed with this—I had said that it should be a decentralized system where data was held locally and only data that needed to be reported provincially should be drawn from the locally held database and sent to a central database.

The ministry then had another consultant contact people who had been contacted before to see if they agreed with the Gartner recommendations. 
In a recent meeting, the ministry offered to brief the BCTF on the developments in proceeding with the replacement system.

I had a phone discussion on October 22 with Renate Butterfield, an Associate Deputy Minister and this is some of the information from that meeting:
*It will be an “enterprise-wide” system—meaning a single point database and access.

*It will be based on a 10-year service contract—the ministry or districts won’t own it. Rather, a company will provide the service.
*It will not be just “off-the-shelf”—in other words, there will be programming to meet the needs identified.  This is essential if it is to meet the changing needs of the BC Education Plan.

*Lots of companies have expressed interest through the processes of requests for information and qualifications to carry out a project of this size.
*The request for proposals will be based on a description of the functional requirements aimed at meeting the administrative needs, the teacher needs and student and parent needs.  Each would have access to only a pre-determined level according to role.

*The request for proposals will be issued at the end of November.
*The functional requirements will be an important part of the request.

*The ministry brought together 44 people over the last summer to create the functional requirements document.  They say that some of those were teachers, but the BCTF was not asked to identify participants, as far as I know. 
*The 56 page list of functional requirements was posted on the ministry web site this week.  It can be found on the BC Education Plan web site at

*The ministry is looking for feedback which must be posted by November 16.  A web-based survey is on the ministry website at
*The “Application Design Requirements” are

            1)         It will be a single student record/data model

            2)         It will be built on an information sharing/security model

3)         It will include analytics and a data warehouse (analytics tools have been developed by the ministry, including a dashboard provided to districts)

4)         It will include data retention for 55 years

5)         It will be usable on mobile platforms

6)         It should support attaching digital files to student records

*The ministry estimates that the cost of this system will be $10 each per student for the board and the ministry.  That, of course, is only the cost of operating the system, not the hardware, training and support locally required to actually run the student information system.

One of the dangers of consultation on technology issues is that people comfortable with the technology are more likely to respond to consultation.  Since the day to day work of all teachers will be affected by the nature of the student information system, all teachers should spend some time looking at the functional needs.

Again, the functional needs can be found here []


No comments:

Post a Comment