Thursday, January 24, 2008

Preliminary conclusions

Earlier this week we held our information session on the Quickscan Sharepoint project, which is running towards it's end. Sir Bakx (Information manager at the University of Twente) was invited to give a brief opening session. He presented a brief historical overview about relevant previous projects and about related projects (such as the implementation of a new student information system) that have to deliver their results in the spring of 2008. The university board will then have to decide how to move on to the next phase. One of the main questions obviously will be what will be the future of our current VLE: TeleTOP.
After Sir's opening speech I presented an overview of the site visits we have made at Dutch Higher Education institutes: INHOLLAND, Wageningen University, Hogeschool Arnhem Nijmegen and Technical University Eindhoven. The final reports will be available on Feb. 29th, 2008. The summary report will also contain a separate summary in English. Some preliminary conclusions will be addressed here. First, MS Sharepoint (MOSS2007) includes a lot of functionality, but you need to invest a lot in tailoring it to your needs. Sharepoint by itself is not a classic VLE such as TeleTOP or Blackboard. However, the site visits have shown (and also a pilot at our own university) that you can build your own lists and views on data in order to build a VLE-like interface. Advanced MOSS users can achieve a lot without the need to develop software code in C#. A second major issue is that you need serious investment in change management. Training of end users is one thing, but you also need to achieve acceptance for the new environment. The third point that can be mentioned - and which relates back to one of our first projects - is the possibility to integrate with other systems. The site visits and our own technical research show that a choice for MOSS2007 would be in line with a service oriented approach. The ICT department at the Technical University Eindhoven has high expectations that a MOSS based solution will be able to communicate with an Enterprise Service Bus. On the one hand to communicate with other TU/e systems, on the other hand to be able to community with the outside world, more specifically the 3TU Federation. Two technical issue that are of major concern is performance and upgrading. All sites that have started with SP2003 indicate that performance is a critical factor. You need to monitor the performance and decide for upgrades on your servers. The other one is that you may encounter serious problems when upgrading from SP2003 to MOSS2007. Tailor made adaptations may be lost or may have become a standard function in MOSS2007.
The fourth point is related to the strength of the community. This was also a major criterium in the Sakai project we have conducted in 2007. The impression so far is that the sites we have visited have run their projects by themselves, sometimes supported by external consultants and/or developers. However, there was hardly any exchange of resources or collaboration in the sense that e.g. webparts have been developed in a joint project. The Dutch Special Interest Group so far is just a platform where information and experiences are shared, but is not a joint development group. The interesting question is whether there would be enough support for a virtual 'institute' in which participating institutes can only join if they provide let's say at least 1 fulltime developer or consultant.
You may find some pictures of the information session on Flickr.
You may also be interested in the minutes of this meeting (only in Dutch). Here you can also find our powerpoint presentation.

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