Reports of My Demise May Have Been Exaggerated
Last week, rumors broke that I am being replaced as the leader of the SSDT. Like many rumors, this one has a hint of truth but may be a misunderstanding.
The "Fiscal Oversight Committee", which was formed to advise ODE regarding fiscal state software, recommended that ODE reduce the SSDT's budget and use the funds to hire a "project manager". Many who read the recommendation, assumed I was being replaced.
I have received assurances from my betters at ODE, that this is not the case and "Project Manager" means something else. Rather than risk creating more confusion, I will withhold any furher comment pending a more formal annoucement.
Redesign Status Review
At the beginning of 2015, the projects were clearly failing. We were not able to produce the User Interface (UI) at a pace that would allow completion in a reasonable time. I took a drastic action in early 2015 in a final attempt to turn the projects around. (See "Yarn and Tarballs" for details).
Our decision to switch frameworks midstream was risky, but paid off. The productivity of the SSDT has at least tripled compared to the previous period. By the end of 2015, we were able to replace all the work that we "lost" and added enough new functionality to release legitimate "Preview Releases". In the first nine months of 2016, we worked though most of the "priority backlog" and important feedback from users created by the Preview. My team has done a great job over the last 18 months.
We started issuing PR releases in hopes of getting feedback directly from real users to help us drive the software in the right direction. I thought we'd be lucky to get a few dozen districts to try it. I was, happily, very wrong. At least 150 school district's had their data loaded and participated (at some level) in reviewing the software. We received at least 600 individual feedback messages representing 160 unique feature requests or bug reports. These are really astounding numbers and I am very pleased with the response.
But, it also makes me look bad again. My plans for a Summer 2016 Release Candidate assumed a low volume of feedback. Because the users provided such a high volume of thoughtful and important feedback, the amount of work (backlog) increased over the summer. This will seem like another "delay" but it means the plan is working. The resulting software will be better for the work that we accepted from the users and added to the backlog. I would rather release late with software the users asked for, then force a premature release that only the SSDT thinks is cool.
If you have been participating in the Preview Releases throughout the year, you have seen a significant progression in both quality and features of the systems. Many of the improvements and direction are the result of your feedback. We appreciate your time and assistance.
Release Candidates Next
The next step is to begin "Release Candidate" (RC) releases. We expect USAS and USPS to issue one more "Preview" release and then begin RC releases. We believe the first RC release will be in late 2016 or early 2017. When we switch to RC releases, it means the SSDT believes the software is ready for production use. We will be seeking a few districts who are willing to be 'early adopters' to evaluate the software with the intention to "go live". This may involve committing to parallel processing, running a parallel payroll, going through the closing process, or testing integrations with other vendors. As soon as a single district accepts the software for production, then we will be issuing "Production" releases.
Over the last few years, a number of myths or questions have arisen that I'd like to address briefly.
I've heard that Redesign will be competitive with X?
(where X is Tyler Munis, Sungard or other ERP system)
No. The SSDT is not funded to develop a full ERP like Munis or SunGard. This has never been a goal of Redesign and is outside the scope of the SSDT's mission. It's not reasonable to imagine that the SSDT (with a 2M dollar budget) could compete with commercial products from multi-billion market cap companies, like Tyler or SunGard. The goal of the Redesign projects is to reproduce the Classic functionality on a modern, sustainable platform.
However, the Redesign has been modeled and designed to support additional features and modules in the future. After we reach production, we can begin work on optional modules, some of which may be thought of as ERP features (like workflow). We will continue, based on user feedback, to apply our modest budget to benefit the largest number of districts possible, which is central to the SSDT's mission.
My ITC says I have to switch to X.
(where X is Tyler Munis, Sungard or other ERP system)
No district should be compelled to switch to other software, even if their current ITC is switching. If your current ITC is "forcing" you to switch, then you should consider acquiring fiscal services from another ITC. There are a number of ITC's which provide high quality State Software fiscal and support. You can purchase just fiscal services (without changing your ITC) from any ITC, or change your membership entirely.
My ITC says that the VAX (OpenVMS) systems are unstable and could self-distruct at any time!
This is usually FUD being spread to encourage you to switch software. If your ITC sincerely believes that their systems are 'about to die', then they are not doing their jobs in maintaining their systems or skills. In this case, they are placing your district's operations in jeopardy. You should raise the issue with the ITC's governing board, or purchase fiscal services elsewhere (see above).
OpenVMS will cease to function in 2018
I'm not sure where this comes from, but it is likely more FUD. It is probably related to HP phasing out of the OpenVMS business. HP has sold the rights to OpenVMS to a new company (VMS Systems, Inc) whose sole business is supporting and improving OpenVMS. There are a large number of OpenVMS systems doing critical work world-wide. There's no reason to believe that OpenVMS will come to an abrupt end.
However, it's possible that licensing cost for OpenVMS will increase. So there will still be an impetus to implement Redesign and migrate from Classic.
I want to stay on Classic (forever or until I retire)!
From the time we start production releases, we expect it will take several years to complete all migrations from Classic to Redesign. If you decide to wait till the end, and based on your retirement plans, you may make it. But at some point, the expense of maintaining the Classic systems will become prohibitive for both the SSDT and your ITC. At some point in the future, there will be a requirement to move from Classic to Redesign (or other solution).
The Redesign software is just Classic with a new user interface
No, not even close. When we say "reproduce existing functionality", we mean that Redesign must have, at a minimum, the same features and capabilities as the Classic software. But we did not use the same data model, architecture or techniques used in Classic. The Redesign is completely new software on a modern platform and already has additional capabilities that Classic doesn't. For one example, the ability to have multiple open Posting Periods and the ablity to re-open prior periods.