Friday, July 26, 2013

BCeSIS: A Modest Proposal

No, not "eat all the children" although that would be one way to solve the BCeSIS problem.

Rather, embrace the free market and the spirit of competition to reduce the risk of project failure.

The trouble with spending the entire student information system budget on a single system and vendor is that it is an unhedged bet. If it pans out, you win; if it doesn't you lose 100% of your investment.

In reviewing the state of BCeSIS and recommending future options, the Gartner report had this to say about pursuing an open source option:
There is little evidence of a common, well-developed strategy to develop an Open Source solution in the K-12 software domain and it is anticipated that the development life cycle from defining requirements through deployment would be more than 5 years once a strategy was completed, thus introducing a high degree of risk to the BC education sector. Although some attempts have been initiated to develop K-12 Open Source SIS solutions, there does not appear to be any formal, structured funding mechanism and approach to designing and developing a solution which would meet the future needs of the BC education sector, nor to scale to the extent required to provide a single, province-wide student database.
Leaving aside the circularity of recommending against funding open source development because open source development lacks funding, the seeds of a great idea are actually lying in this paragraph.

  • The OpenStudent project actually got started two years ago, and seem to be more or less on Gartner's five-year estimated schedule (my opinion of Gartner notches upwards fractionally), with three years to go on feature-complete delivery.
  • The OpenStudent project could benefit from incremental funding from the Ministry, a "formal, structured funding mechanism", if you will.

Herewith, the modest proposal:

Rather than committing 100% to the Aspen/Fujitsu approach, commit 95% to it, and commit the other 5% to OpenStudent.  If OpenStudent fails, only a relatively small investment will be lost. If Aspen/Fujitsu fails, the Ministry has a potential fall-back plan in place and ready to go with no additional capital required. In either event, the existence of active competitors will encourage each project to provide the best possible user experience and provide a baseline of comparison for improvement ("oh, OpenStudent is faster? we can beat that", "oh, Aspen has this feature? we can add that")

What do you say, Ministry of Education. You've got the brass balls to bet $100M on a single product and vendor. Do you have the balls to bet a couple million on the possibility your $100M bet might not pay off?

1 comment:

Mark Robinson said...

I think the biggest risk that the descision makers care about is perception risk. It's better to bet on a colossal failure with a brand name than to risk a few million on an novel plan.

I've written on why I think this happens.

http://www.mrobinson.ca/2012/09/why-government-software-projects-going.html

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