Industrial Software Support Network - Year 1 Report (April 1997).

Reporting period: November 1996 - April 1997.


1.1 Introduction.

The project began (in the sense of expenditure being incurred) on November 24th 1996 when the part time project secretary/administrator, Marie Willett took up her position. It was hoped that the project lecturer would also be in place at around that time but no suitable candidates were identified at the initial interviews in October, 1996. Thus the post was re advertised and further interviews held in February, 1997. Andrew Stratton was appointed. He took up his post on July 1st 1997. Consequently some of the planned activities have not been possible and the project plan has been reorganised to take account of this position.

1.2. Major activities undertaken so far.

1.2.1 Another industrial software project was run for second year students in the Department, the client was a small local manufacturing company. This provided a lot of further experience of the management of this type of project as well as an opportunity to examine a number of educational issues related to planning and assessment, in particular the problems of running this type of project with a rather larger number of students than before were underlined.

1.2.2 Two new final year modules, to build on the second year work, were designed and progressed through the University's planning process.

1.2.3 A number of potential clients for student projects were found. These will be entered into the Client Database, when that is set up.

1.2.4 A number of contacts have been made with organisations and enterprises who are offering support in the project (these include Sheffield Enterprise Agency, Fretwell-Downing Computer Systems, Lightworks, CREDO) all of which are prepared to interact with the students and/or provide support and services in the project.

1.2.5 A joint student project involving an MSc student at Sheffield and an MSc student at the University of Teesside has been arranged, this will involve an industrial partner and the students communicating mainly at a distance through electronic media including video conferencing. This project will extend until October 1997 and will be a prototype to explore the issues, opportunities and problems associated with joint project work done at a distance. The project also "links" two related FDTL projects.

1.2.6 As part of the preliminary work for the student project mentioned in 1.2.5 a report has been written evaluating current low cost video-conferencing technology.

1.2.7 Contacts have been made with colleagues from the University of North London with the aim of installing an experimental video-conferencing link with them for the purpose of running joint industrial projects.

1.2.8 A small multi-media network has been purchased and installed for the use of the students undertaking the industrial software project that was run this year. It will also form the basis for the development of the student companies next year. Due to the University's financial crisis last summer there has been a major reduction (50%) in the Department's technical staff this has caused severe practical problems in setting this new network up which has only been achieved at the cost of a very large amount of academic staff time.

1.2.9 The administrator has undertaken a number of training courses on the development and use of databases, on HTML authoring and related skills.

1.2.10 A colourful poster describing the project has been printed. This will be circulated widely when we begin to make contact with universities and industrial contacts systematically later this year. See Appendix B.

1.2.11 The Maxi project was run for MSc students under the management of Stan Price. He is an experienced software project manager and consultant and the specific course project in question requires groups of students to carry out a development project for a real client under the direct management of Stan. He tries to treat them exactly as a "real" project manager would. His report follows:


Summary

The Maxi Project for 1996/97 is now complete except for the marking. This will be completed by 6 May 1997. Subject to any issues that are revealed by the marking all the 12 student teams that finished the Maxi have produced, at least, a satisfactory, product. Chronicle The planning - plan, diary student and user briefings were produced in August 1996. The Maxi commenced on 2 October 1996 with 56 students spread over 5 courses viz.:- Telematics (T) Software Systems Technology (SST) Software Systems and Parallel Processing (SS & PP) Advanced Software Engineering (ASE) Cognitive Systems (CS) The 22 T Students were split into 5 teams, the 27 SST/SS & PP students split into 6 teams, the 5 ASE students into 1 team and the 2 CS students into 1 team. The T students had a telematics project with a member of the Computer Science department as a user while the rest, apart from the ASE team, had an English Language Training tool as a project with 2 staff members from the English Language Training (ELT) unit of the University as their user. The ASE team undertook a timetabling system for the ELT. Two students dropped out about 1/1/97. Unfortunately one of these was in the 2 person CS team and the remaining one of the two was reassigned to the team which had also experienced a dropout.

Note: apart from the CS team, all teams had 4 or 5 members.

Internal disputes took place in at least 2 teams, in one case because of the transfer of the CS team survivor. All teams produced an acceptable integrated product with user manuals and all other hand-ins by the designated project end date 12 March 1997. Not surprisingly the ASE team produced the most advanced product. Problems 1. The Users, who are University personnel rather than external industrial/commercial, are hence not ideal. 2. The budget for my time, even at a charge of half my commercial fee rate, leads to a reduction in the Maxi content (e.g. risk management) and the quality of my supervision of the project. 3. The equipment provided by the University Computer Services is not sufficient (slow network speeds, limited choice of software languages etc.) for the Maxi and particularly for a telematics Maxi, with its needs to access network internals.


1.3. Planning for progress.

The late start of the project has entailed a recasting of the original timetable This will mean that some of the original deliverables will be made about 9 months later than originally intended. The details are to be found in section 2.


2. Plans for 1997-8.

As mentioned above, the activities described in the original plan will be delayed by up to 9 months.


2.1 Milestones and deliverables for 1997 - 8.

The project will now be phased as follows (the deliverables are defined in Appendix B):


July 1997 - September 1998. Setting up of network (D4), development of database (D1), preparation of first report (D2.1), first conference (D3.1 - possibly jointly with other FDTL projects). October 1998 - September 1999. Further development of network and database, report (D2.2). October 1999 - June 2000. Further development of network and database, reports (D2.3, D2.4, D5), conference (D3.2).


2.2 Academic questionnaire and announcement.

We will be contacting all university computer science departments with information about the project and a questionnaire which will attempt to identify those departments that are interested in the issue of student group projects involving industrial clients. It is anticipated that interest will be expressed at various levels from a desire to become actively involved in the project to one of just wishing to be kept informed. The survey will also try to establish the type and nature of information and support that associated departments might wish to have from the project.


2.3 Industrial questionnaire and announcement.

This will also comprise details of the project's objectives and a questionnaire aimed at identifying people and organisations from industry and commerce that might wish to be associated with the project in a variety of ways, perhaps as clients or in a more passive role. We will also seek to raise a greater awareness of this type of activity amongst industrialists in the hope of encouraging them to support universities more.


2.4 Setting up of the database.

The results of the questionnaires (2.2, 2.3) will provide information for the database of potential clients. Telephone sampling will also be carried out and potential clients identified. Visits will be made to selected companies to discuss the practical details of the process of acting as a client.



Section B. Commentary and future development.


3. Review.


3.1 Recruitment difficulties.

The main post associated with the project was difficult to fill. This has caused a delay of approximately 9 months.


3.2 Changes to the plan.

3.2.1 The ideas that underpin the project have been subject to further reflection and development. Since it was not feasible to carry out the intensive survey and contact making activities required for the development of the database nor the production of the reports on experiences with running industrial projects within the University due to lack of available staff the opportunity was taken to plan for the extension of the learning experience for students by developing a new pair of modules for 4th year MEng students which will build on their experiences of dealing with real clients. The modules, entitled "Setting up and running your own IT company" have now been planned and approved by the Department, Faculty and University to start in September 1997. This will give students the opportunity to develop their own contacts with industry, to build on existing contacts and to create and manage small companies offering consultancy, product development and training services to SMEs. Significant support from local organisations and companies has been obtained for this venture - which is entirely in the sprit of the original proposal. One issue that it addresses is that companies who have had software developed for them by students often need the system to be extended and developed in some way. There is not a simple way that this can be done without the company having to pay commercial software houses for the service. This is one area where the 4th year student companies could be valuable.

3.2.2 Other developments include the proposal to host a conference combining the activities of 2 other FDTL computer science projects, possibly at Sheffield around Easter 1998. We are awaiting confirmation of this from the other projects (Kent and Teesside).

3.2.3 A joint MSc project is to be held this summer involving Teesside and Sheffield (an original plan to involve Leeds was not successful due to a problem in attracting a suitable student to do the project).


Appendix A.

Syllabuses for new courses to start in 1997/8.


COM401 Setting up and running your own IT company

10 Credits AUTUMN

Pre-requisites COM301, 302, 303, 304, 306.

Aims/Description. This half module involves students forming and running companies that offer IT consultancy and software development services to outside organisations. The emphasis of the work will be on learning how small IT companies are created and managed, the legal and financial frameworks with which such companies operate, the practical management of the companies and their successful trading. Students will involve themselves in the following activities: researching market opportunities for software products; carrying out IT audits on behalf of local organisations and preparing appropriate IT strategies; acting as software/computing consultants to local organisations; developing software for clients; maintaining software for clients; During the course of the module students will keep company records, prepare company reports as well as developing analysis and design reports and other consultancy reports for clients.

Staff contact. Professor Mike Holcombe.

Teaching Methods: Lectures, seminars, practical design work, client presentations.

Assessment. Coursework

Notes. Part of a degree course accredited by the British Computer Society for the Engineering Council.

COM402 Setting up and running your own IT company 10 Credits SPRING

Pre-requisites COM401

Aims/Description. This half module is a continuation of COM401.

Staff contact. Professor Mike Holcombe.

Teaching Methods: Lectures, seminars, practical design work, client presentations.

Assessment. Coursework

Notes. Part of a degree course accredited by the British Computer Society for the Engineering Council.


Appendix B

Project deliverables.

D1. A database of clients and contacts from UK industry willing to provide meaningful group software projects for students. [Years 1-3].

D2. A series of electronic publications (some on CD-ROM), providing support information on running such projects, examples of student work and software, articles sharing experiences of this type of activity, etc. [Years 1-3].

D2.1. A guide to the basic issues involved in the introduction of practical industrial project work, including the problems associated with finding a client and setting up a project, defining the learning outcomes and the assessment criteria, managing the project, monitoring and quality control, examples of problems that can arise and their possible solution, some descriptions of successful projects and student and client opinion on the experience and a discussion of IPR issues in collaboration with the University's Research and Consultancy Unit. [Year 1].

D2.2. A detailed educational report on the setting of aims and objectives for live projects, assessment criteria and assessment schemes that have been useful, relating the project to other parts of the course, a discussion of the most appropriate training needs of students and staff involved. [Year 2].

D2.3. A report describing in some detail successful projects run in a variety of universities with a commentary on the issues and problems involved. [Years 2 & 3].

D2.4. A final report on CD-ROM incorporating all of the previous reports, revised in the light of further developments and experiences with examples of software developed by student groups and articles and other material explaining the achievements of the programme written from the perspective of the student (both while at university and after going into industry), the academic and the industrialist. [Year 3].

D3. Two conferences (D3.1 and D3.2), possibly involving video conference facilities, focusing on the issues and experiences of carrying out industrial student projects. These conferences would involve both staff and students and a number of student bursaries would be available to support visits by students from a cross- section of universities to the conferences. [Years 2 & 3].

D4. An electronic network of interested staff, students and industrialists from across the country. [Years 1-3].

D5. An evaluation of the programme. [Year 3].