Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Blog 38 - P2P Computer Systems update

I thought it timely that this blog provides an update on the progress of the Pay to Play computer facilities.

The EBU uses a “package” system for managing its membership, known as Enterprise. This system has been in use at Aylesbury for quite a few years and it works well. However, it does not do everything we require it to do when we change over from an annual subscription to a Pay to Play subscription. Our resident IT expert has therefore been hard at work writing an internet based “add on” to Enterprise which will be entirely under our control but will still use Enterprise as required.

Current Position

We have written and tested the software that synchronises the Enterprise package with our Database. As IT people love to label everything this is now called “MUSE”, which stands for “Michael’s Utility for Synchronising Enterprise” – no prizes for who created that name!

We have developed and tested a standard file description for transmitting Pay to Play session data to the EBU. This standard was originally developed by Chris Stableford, the Chairman of Surrey CBA (thanks Chris!) and an IT consultant. We still occasionally liaise with Chris to make minor adjustments but this is becoming rare. Currently more than a dozen scoring system authors (including all the major ones) have responded positively to our contacts saying that they will be updating their programs to cope with Pay to Play and a number of these have sent us test files already.

We have tested “real” membership data from a number of clubs now and this has gone well. This involves checking EBU numbers against our database for accuracy, looking up names and addresses of those without EBU numbers to see if they are or were members, checking postcodes and generating full addresses. There are a number of things that can be wrong with the file, e.g. 10% of the postcodes one club submitted were invalid, and we are developing a way to swiftly and clearly relay these back to the club so that they can correct them and resubmit.

We are now working on the “beautification” of the web site access that clubs and counties will use, modifying it from the very utilitarian way of doing things that IT people are happy with!

We are very grateful to Jeff Smith, who, as a member of the Universal Membership Project Board, provided valuable start up advice to us when we started the development.

Future Schedule

By approximately the end of September we will have completed work on the early version of the website interface. This may still be cosmetically sparse, but functionally complete.

In early October we will start detailed testing with the help of a small number of interested parties.

During the rest of October and November we will commence testing with a group of volunteer clubs using real-life data in real-life situations.

By the end of December we will have completed work on what will be the “go live” version of the website interface. We will then prepare the website database with live data and start synchronising it with Enterprise on a daily basis and release it for public consumption.

From January to March we will undertake large-scale testing of all aspects of the system with both individual members and clubs. Clubs will start to submit their membership data to us and will be able to play around with the system until they’re satisfied with its operation. Obviously, any Pay to Play files submitted during this period will be wiped off towards the end of March in preparation for the launch.

On April 1st 2010 we will “Go live”!

Health Warning

In my previous career my business developed software commercially. I must have been involved in more than 60 system implementations over 20 years. They almost all went live without major problems, but they almost all had minor ones! This is unfortunately normal. The computer can only get it right if we tell it the right things to do. We are working hard to get it right first time, but problems do occur, which is what the testing stages are all about, as we hope to trap most of the issues at that stage.

With the help of the key staff at Aylesbury, and the many willing volunteers who have offered their help and support we expect to get most of it right. However, even after more than three years in my job almost every week throws up another way of doing things that we knew nothing about; this means that we can be pretty certain that we will trip over one of those as we start up the new system!

We have been offered the voluntary services of more than 20 people who will be happy to assist any clubs who need some computer support. So, well in advance of going live, I ask for your patience. With patience and good humour we will get all of the changes through and move forward smoothly!