The release of the software for the operation of the points based system went in on time on 5 October. The software seems to be running reasonably well although UKBA report that the level of usage has been low; only two applications for CAS numbers have been made so far. This is not entirely unexpected as most institutions have suggested that they will be waiting until the autumn rush has subsided before they start to consider starting to use the system.
There is also the readiness of suppliers to consider. I was at Oracle yesterday talking to their User Group and it was clear that Oracle’s development and associated quality processes result in a six month lead time. Institutions would then want to test the new functionality themselves before implementing the change as test data never wholly replicates real data. Other suppliers are in the same boat. The specifications for the data transfer files was only baselined in early April; the XML schemas were confirmed later than that. So it isn’t a great surprise that few suppliers completed their development in time for the October release. The next key date is February next year when use of the sponsor management system becomes compulsory. I am working with UKBA to try to ensure that all developed solutions, be they by suppliers or by the institutions themselves, are fully tested before February.
I had expected that my presentation to the Oracle User Group would be little more than an update on the current situation. However, there is still some uncertainty about how the system will work in practice and of course there are always ‘what if’ questions that individuals have for specific situations. So there is still the need to highlight how the system will operate. I also found myself having to explain some of the idiosyncrasies of the system. There was concern that the payment options were restricted to card payment or cheque (down to Treasury rules which don’t seem to be applied consistently across the Government systems) and concern about the amount of manual intervention that will be required to facilitate the flow of information between the SMS and student records systems. And there are concerns about the future. A colleague heard today that the next release will be the last from the developers – thereafter it will be handed over to the business as usual team within UKBA. We need to establish how potential changes will be captured, prioritised and implemented in the new business model.