Tuesday, 2 December 2014

edge: Cloud vs Web Hosted

There is a bit of debate about as to what is cloud vs what is web hosted. Some answers to these questions seem dependent on the nature of the application and others on the underlying hardware architecture. We believe edge is cloud and here is why.

First up, edge is a highly collaborative multi-tenanted application. It is one application where schools link people (that only exist in edge once) through relationships and assign responsibilities to people to enable them to perform actions based on relationships. So, for example, as a caregiver of several students in several schools, you only need one login to edge and can see information about those students which you are defined as a caregiver and granted access from the respective schools. Similarly, as a teacher across a number of schools, login to edge, select the school you have a relationship with and undertake required functions (enter attendance, achievement, pastoral information, look up contact information, achievement etc). Only those schools that have applied responsibilities to you as a teacher appear.

Individual schools can customize key aspects of the school environment within edge to suit personal needs. So while it is one application, it is configurable at a school by school level with features available based on school type.

edge has an API layer. Admittedly the whole application architecture is not implemented that way but a lot is and increasingly so. The web interface is then a consumer of the API so too can an App (such as our windows 8 App for teachers) consume the API. This enables third parties to get data from edge without having to understand all the intricate data structure and business logic layers in an open, secure and standards based approach.

Virtualized. Components of edge can be scaled and grown through virtualization technology and in order to do this leverages industry standard components. Microsoft SQL server being key as the underlying relational database which is not only highly scale-able, but robust enough to handle copious numbers of simultaneous connections.

Data sharing and collaboration. The architecture of edge is such that data sharing and collaboration is intrinsic to the application. No data needs to be moved across instances, duplicated, replicated etc etc. as students, teachers and caregivers change schooling relationships and responsibilities.

Integrated. So far edge has been integrated into Ministry of Education services, NZQA, Xero, PoLi payments, paystation (credit card payments), The Nelson Loop, Google+, Windows Live, Yahoo, Facebook,  MUSAC Library Manager, MUSAC Financial Manager, School-Links, e-asTTle and NZCER, with work underway with N4L. This integration was coded by the developers once and then schools choose to switch the feature on and off depending on their needs.

Why we believe edge is truly cloud and not web hosted is that web hosted solutions tend to have data locked in separate databases and need to migrate data manually or specifically (manually) enable sharing resulting in duplication, replication and a diminished collaboration experience. Further, a web hosted solution could still be put on a server in school. edge will not ever be available for local school implementation. Does it matter? We believe it does. We believe 21st century learners and educators are increasingly working across physical boundaries and technology, like edge, can assist in enabling an easier and more productive experience.

Friday, 5 September 2014

MUSAC Ltd A Registered Charitable Entity

MUSAC Ltd is now officially a registered charitable entity (Registration Number CC50905). To be eligible, our constitution needed to meet a number of criteria, but in practice it means that profits do not, and can not, go to individuals (in our case they are reinvested for educational purposes). There are some compliance requirements and a number of benefits. A couple of examples of charitable entities in the education space in New Zealand are Core Education and Virtual Learning Network.

We still have salaries (staff are not volunteers), IT costs, power bills, lots of sponsorship, support, etc so that means we need to sell product and services to make a surplus and operate efficiently as a business and reinvest to build and grow more products and services.

From a school perspective, you can be assured that every dollar paid to MUSAC is headed directly for either improvements to products and services or educational outcomes, not personal gain.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Cloud Services we use at MUSAC ... and intend to

Not all services are destined for the cloud, but many are. A bunch of the services we use at MUSAC are still internal/Massey/server/desktop based, but we've moved many to cloud based or a hosted option. Personally, I use a bunch as well.

From the MUSAC perspective, we use Xero as our accounting package. It is early days for us with Xero and there are a bunch of things that are easier and some things we miss ... but this is not a Xero review blog post.

Our CRM is hosted by OneNet and by and large this has worked quite well for us.

Within the team, we have some of us using DropBox and OneDrive (the cloud service previously known as skydrive). As we are also still attached to Massey our email is still part of the corporate University structure, but once our Charitable status is validated it is my intention to head down the Office 365 route. The services bundled in Office 365 will suit us down to the ground and help us particularly around collaboration. My personal life has a google domain account and I've had skydrive/Onedrive and outlook.com for quite some time. Really like the way Microsoft have shaped up Office 365. Google docs is a little too simple for my business needs althouigh to be honest I've not used it for a couple of years - so should probably have another look.

Other cloud services we leverage and have active accounts with here at MUSAC:

  • twitter
  • Skype
  • blogger
  • survey monkey
  • mailchimp
  • youtube
  • goto meeting
  • Google analytics

Friday, 29 August 2014

Tracking "cusp" students for NCEA

It is that time of the year where schools have a major focus on NCEA cusp students. We've created a couple of videos to help you at school track them down so a bit of focus can be applied. Thought I might post them up as a wee reminder of the capability we have across Classic and edge.

Classic: http://youtu.be/MK4_54CHL8E
edge: http://youtu.be/QfD_uOCcan8

With students increasingly managing their own learning (albeit at times with some encouragement), it is good to hear of students logging into either the student part of Classic Web Portals or the student portal in edge - no excuses for not being right on top of credits achieved, UE and, numeracy and literacy status!

Of course parents have similar access through their respective portals. Even though NCEA has been around a while, parents still don't have a real handle on it. Here is a link to the NZQA website to the mobile app they have developed as a general guide:


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Chris O'Donoghue Appointed CTO at MUSAC

We're really thrilled to announce the appointment of Chris O'Donoghue to the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at MUSAC.

It is great to be able to attract some one of Chris’ calibre to the MUSAC team. His extensive software development, architecture, security and education sector experience will be invaluable to the team as we embark on our next growth initiative alongside feature additions in learning analytics and complexities of timetables. Chris is genuinely excited about the potential of edge to meet many of the challenges faced by the sector and for MUSAC to deliver what schools really need.

Welcome to the team Chris!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Initial Impressions

Lucky enough to get my hands on one of the new Surface Pro 3's, and jumping straight to the point, so far I'm impressed. There are two things that impress me:
  1. Speed. It is fast. From start up through to application responsiveness. It is quick.
  2. Integration with OneDrive.
Phil (everyone knows Phil from MUSAC) loaded MUSAC Classic onto his Pro3 and it flies. Yep, that is Classic on Win8.1 AND fast.

In my experience so far, from power up to login only takes a second or two and application response is really snappy. Impressive. What is my baseline? I have had an iPad and Surface RT. Pro3 blows the RT right out of the water. Probably should because the performance of the RT is not that flash. Not in the same ballpark. But in comparison to laptops and my brand new desktop machine, the Surface Pro3 is faster and snappier.

My iPad comparison is probably a bit out of date. We have an iPad mini at home and again the Pro3 seems quicker.

The comment I'll make here is what I recommended when I was in Japan on a football and cultural exchange with the Shane Rufer School of Football. I had my Surface RT on the trip and used it to upload trip photos to our Facebook page, and as the trip was both football and cultural exchange, ran the PowerPoint presentation from the device. As a relatively small form factor and lightweight device, it was fantastic. My Japanese hosts asked which do I prefer: iPad or Surface. I sat on the fence. I indicated that the iPad was a better consumer at home device, but I preferred the surface for business. On the Japan trip, the ability to plug into the RT USB port was invaluable. The link to work and home was excellent and I was hooked into social media, but I retained a preference for the iPad for "play".

In my opinion, my preference is for an iPad for non-work purposes. The Apple app store seems to have a lot more apps, and it seems to have more fun. Current App store for Win8.1 in comparison is quickly growing, but in my opinion is still light in comparison. But pure business focus, hands down I'm a surface fan now through and through.

The other thing I really like about the surface Pro3 is the integration with OneDrive. Probably this says more about the win8.1 platform, but in the Pro3 it just defaulted to leveraging the OneDrive tool. I like it. I log onto my surface and can access all the docs and photos etc, retains favourites and is automatically saving docs there.

Microsoft seems to have caught up in the cloud space, the surface fits into the ecosystem and so far I really like it. Thumbs up!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Releasing a Software Product to Market

In the desktop software world, we've been used to product versions, bug fixes patches and upgrades. We often hung out for the next release and the promise of what might come, and avoided version 1.0. Upgrades came at a price, and there was a cost/benefit analysis that went on with the bean counters as to whether to buy version 3.0 or wait for version 4.0. Typically, releases were late and timing of product names with a year in the title and the actual year of release often became farcical.

In the car industry we're seeing releases of the subsequent year model several quarters before the New Year - perception and promotional games.

What has this got to do with MUSAC, edge and MUSAC Classic?

Some years ago MUSAC moved to an software lease model. The SMS space has so many compliance requirements and changes to assessment and legislative requirements, that purchasing of new versions just became too hard to manage. When was a change a "user group" fee and when did the feature comprise a new version. Solution - annual lease.

Further to this, MUSAC had multiple modules. It became complex and feature requests then became intertwined among modules, some more advanced than others and the risk of being able to do the same thing two different ways and get different answers depending on configuration. Solution - MUSAC packages. New feature placed in the appropriate module available to all.

Then along came edge. We had addressed some issues with the desktop development paradigm through the lease model and packaging modules together, but ultimately architecture, delivery and focus demanded something very different.

We were introduced to a concept of supplements and compliments. However, the experience of SMS-LMS inter-operability told us that it would be hard - very hard in fact - to keep people happy.

When do you release to market?

We then came across Agile development and the 37Signals group. In short, get something, anything to customers quickly and see what they use. Build on the bits they like. Remove the bits they do not. We had some great feedback very early (before we had invested too much in the product) about things that were good and things we needed to focus on.

The risk of course is the perception that you "released too early" - particularly those stuck in desktop software paradigms. The product has the functionality that it has and may or may not have more soon - there is one version - that live with customers. The reality about getting features out into the customer hands faster is you learn about your success and failures and can adapt sooner. Being in the cloud means you can increment changes very regularly to all customers. The key thing is about having customers on the journey with us and our philosophies.

What is also key is about how we listen to customers. Focus groups usually result in long wishlists of features that when built don't get used. We focus on school outcomes and challenge the status quo, build and then watch what features customers actually use. i.e. we have to listen harder!

With edge we released to market as soon as we could and we got great early feedback. Some very early adopters expectations were misaligned with ours, but that happens.

So, was edge released too early? Definitively not. It should have been released sooner!