How does a unit get specialist software developed?

#1
Hope this is the right forum to ask this question.

Is there anywhere in the Army or MOD which will creater a basic software application for a TA Unit? i am involved with a specialist TA unit, and we have recognised the need for a single interface that allows about 12 users on a local network to access the same files, spreadsheets, a database, forms that can be filled in to create an electronic logsheet, and have a simple messaging system between users. It would probably be in the form of a web page avail to net users only not the www. it doesnt require any fancy calculation stuff, and is mostly a way of grouping together information on existing Microsoft products. We have created a dummy showing what it should look like. We need someone to make it work. Is there anywhere in the system we can turn to??
 
#3
There are commercial applications that will do this - MS Sharepoint springs to mind. There will be licensing costs, but any IS engineer should be able to configure it to your needs. Before launching down the slow and expensive MOD route (LAIPT or others), I'd look to do it within the expertise available in the TA - try 2 Sig Bde for further advice. Its geek-rich.
 
#4
Don't forget accreditation issues as well-this could mean a long delay!
 
#5
warcorro said:
Hope this is the right forum to ask this question.

Is there anywhere in the Army or MOD which will creater a basic software application for a TA Unit? i am involved with a specialist TA unit, and we have recognised the need for a single interface that allows about 12 users on a local network to access the same files, spreadsheets, a database, forms that can be filled in to create an electronic logsheet, and have a simple messaging system between users. It would probably be in the form of a web page avail to net users only not the www. it doesnt require any fancy calculation stuff, and is mostly a way of grouping together information on existing Microsoft products. We have created a dummy showing what it should look like. We need someone to make it work. Is there anywhere in the system we can turn to??
I would encourage you to have a look at the new 2007 version of Microsoft Office, specifically the Groove application which is used to create distributed "workspaces" to allow for information sharing and handling its replication and updating. A very good tool this, which myself and Ghost_rider had a play with last year. The product is in beta version at the moment. Groove also offers instant messaging, whiteboarding, voice chat (in pretty much the same way as MSN Messanger), it comes in both server (giving you your back end) and client versions.

There are avenues you can following through the IPT's, however development of bespoke software isn't an easy route to follow in the days of DII. Development, testing, Integration and maintenance of your product would be hugely cost prohibitive, and as you say in your post, what you are really looking for is information and application sharing. The tools are already there, you need to see if you can find the relevant experience in your organisation to develop a solution.

Please PM me with some specifics and I will see what I can do to help.
 

Alsacien

MIA
Moderator
#6
warcorro said:
Hope this is the right forum to ask this question.

Is there anywhere in the Army or MOD which will creater a basic software application for a TA Unit? i am involved with a specialist TA unit, and we have recognised the need for a single interface that allows about 12 users on a local network to access the same files, spreadsheets, a database, forms that can be filled in to create an electronic logsheet, and have a simple messaging system between users. It would probably be in the form of a web page avail to net users only not the www. it doesnt require any fancy calculation stuff, and is mostly a way of grouping together information on existing Microsoft products. We have created a dummy showing what it should look like. We need someone to make it work. Is there anywhere in the system we can turn to??
As mentioned by others, try to avoid proprietary SW development and get 1 (or more) COTS (Common Off The Shelf) products to do the job. Maybe worth enquiring if you could get support in definition of the user requirements and to outline a system specification (known within IT as a Business Analyst). Then you could go direct to a vendor or consultantancy and get a turnkey configured product for a fixed price. What you mentioned does not sound unusual or uncommon. MS Sharepoint use maybe covered under your existing license depending on how it was procured and sounds like it could cover a lot of your needs.
 

Alsacien

MIA
Moderator
#7
Alsacien said:
warcorro said:
Hope this is the right forum to ask this question.

Is there anywhere in the Army or MOD which will creater a basic software application for a TA Unit? i am involved with a specialist TA unit, and we have recognised the need for a single interface that allows about 12 users on a local network to access the same files, spreadsheets, a database, forms that can be filled in to create an electronic logsheet, and have a simple messaging system between users. It would probably be in the form of a web page avail to net users only not the www. it doesnt require any fancy calculation stuff, and is mostly a way of grouping together information on existing Microsoft products. We have created a dummy showing what it should look like. We need someone to make it work. Is there anywhere in the system we can turn to??
...and dont forget security (Note. Does not exist in MS products) depending on what importance your data has.........

As mentioned by others, try to avoid proprietary SW development and get 1 (or more) COTS (Common Off The Shelf) products to do the job. Maybe worth enquiring if you could get support in definition of the user requirements and to outline a system specification (known within IT as a Business Analyst). Then you could go direct to a vendor or consultantancy and get a turnkey configured product for a fixed price. What you mentioned does not sound unusual or uncommon. MS Sharepoint use maybe covered under your existing license depending on how it was procured and sounds like it could cover a lot of your needs.
 
#8
What you describe is pretty straightforward and will be delivered as part of DII(F) which has started appearing in TA units now, and for which the roll-out will be completed over the next few months. If you do need Sharepoint (and I'm not sure, from your post, that you will) then you'll find it will be available as part of a DII software upgrade in late 07/early 08. And although it is not yet guaranteed, it is quite likely that the OA applications on DII will be upgraded to MS Office 2007 at about the same time.

If your requirements are more complicated then you may be able to get some help from the G6 branch of your local regional brigade HQ. That said, in order to justify spending the very limited funds that exist you will have to demonstrate why you can't manage with the same applications as everyone else.

Best wishes

Don
 
#9
the_matelot said:
Don't forget accreditation issues as well-this could mean a long delay!
Or making you nearly restart smoking several times in one afternoon ..... referential integrity ... such a sexy word ..... JSP440 DBA porn

soz .... off to have a beer and get back to the real world
 
#10
DII/F claims to have collaboration tools all wrapped up, however time will tell. MS Sharepoint sounds like what you need - read up on it online and you'll see whether it's of use. Web 2.0 technologies are very en-vogue. Wikis to act as an info repository, an IM client for interpersonal comms and an RSS reader for up-to-date news. Oh, and webmail incase you get scared of the new technology. Job done.
 

A2_Matelot

LE
Book Reviewer
#11
Careful boys, all reasonably interesting advice but the question you have to consider is a simple one: If you get it built, how is your gucci application going to be supported?

Is anyone going to create a proper User Requirement Document/System Requirement Document? If not how does the designer and developer know when they've done what the users want?

Who is going to pay - probably simple upfront, bit of an underspend..

Who is going to support it thereafter, especially when you get into the scenario 6 months later when the Unit PSIs have rotated and it doesn't do quite what they'd like?

This is one of the biggest problems MoD faces now and it will get worse as we move to DII(F) because then Access and other VB/VBScript applications cannot be hosted unless they have gone through integration testing so you have to approach application development properly which = time and serious money. And the development environments will only exist on certain parts of DII(F).
 
#12
A2_Matelot said:
Is anyone going to create a proper User Requirement Document/System Requirement Document? If not how does the designer and developer know when they've done what the users want?
From what warcorro said, it doesn't need that. As I read it all they asked was for a computer on a network. A system requirement document isn't needed maybe a justification for eRAS laptops.

As for sustainability, maybe your right. The TA element of this corps is hidding away and only coming out to support fixed Bde HQ's or large ARRC comms exercises, other customers such as the Media Group(V), 2 Med Bde etc are being ignored.
 
#13
A2_Matelot said:
This is one of the biggest problems MoD faces now and it will get worse as we move to DII(F) because then Access and other VB/VBScript applications cannot be hosted unless they have gone through integration testing.
The civvies also get upset when we military types work it out for ourselves. They prefer to go away and come back with a lucrative multi-£ solution that only they can support.
 

A2_Matelot

LE
Book Reviewer
#14
Ah PD, I knew you wouldn't resist.

Thats my point, there are lots of competent boys and girls out there and they crack on and make things work. Trouble is, is the next person as interested, able or even willing?

And whilst not every request needs a URD/SRD, even if its a 'simple' quick request you will all know of examples whereby such systems have become used daily to the point of becoming almost essential then the one person with all the knowledge in their head leaves and the system degrades into total disuse.

Been there got the tea & biscuits for developing ACCESS, VB and SQL Server solutions. Also got wholly reamed out by exceptionally unhappy SO1's who later had to find money to get people to properly document and maintain said solutions that had mysteriously managed to spread far and wide.
 
#15
PoisonDwarf said:
The civvies also get upset when we military types work it out for ourselves. They prefer to go away and come back with a lucrative multi-£ solution that only they can support.
Amen!
I recall knocking up some batch files a while back to automate various rigorous BOWMAN routines, It seemed perfect sense at the time since it saved us several hours of mundane pointing and clicking, However It polarised opions between the "good effort, that saves us hours!" crowd and the "hmm, not sure you should be doing that..." AKA "I don't understand. Don't do things I don't understand."
Needless to say my pro-active attitude was soon quashed and the batch files deleted. :roll:
 
#16
A_NONYMOUS said:
and the "hmm, not sure you should be doing that..." AKA "I don't understand. Don't do things I don't understand."
Have to admit at seeing that, it does annoy me. Its officers and civilian project managers that tend to get in the way. If only full time SNCO could get to speak to part time SNCO
 
#18
warcorro said:
Hope this is the right forum to ask this question.

Is there anywhere in the Army or MOD which will creater a basic software application for a TA Unit? i am involved with a specialist TA unit, and we have recognised the need for a single interface that allows about 12 users on a local network to access the same files, spreadsheets, a database, forms that can be filled in to create an electronic logsheet, and have a simple messaging system between users. It would probably be in the form of a web page avail to net users only not the www. it doesnt require any fancy calculation stuff, and is mostly a way of grouping together information on existing Microsoft products. We have created a dummy showing what it should look like. We need someone to make it work. Is there anywhere in the system we can turn to??
I dont think you will be successful via the system on this one simply because you are asking for a bespoke application which is unique to your organisation. Many organisations in civvy st have their own team of developers to design build and maintain the business logic of the organistation into either the front or backend of the application. Distributed computing is a highly complex area which microsoft, oracle and other vendors are working feverishly on to improve the collaborative aspects of businesses. As far as I can see your problem is maintaining referential integrity between MS files you are sharing ( note only one file can be updated by one user at a time ie one user writes the others can read only) Databases on the other hand can be locked at various levels ie at table level or individual rows so using a database with permissions on objects may be your way ahead. Apps like sharepoint only replicate changes they dont guarantee the integrity of the data. Speak to a .NET expert/developer if you can for windows based solutions or an MSCD with a few years commercial experience.
 
#19
Ok

Seen this issue loads of times. Sometimes a unit might be lucky and have a suitably qualified person who can program, do client server DBs etc and the App may even be used very sucessfully and be of operational benefit.

The big HOWEVER is sustainability. When Cpl/Sgt Geekhead is posted what are the chances of:

- Getting somebody posted in who is qualified to continue the development - as the rules always change and the App will need to change.
- Will the lucky person want to pursue the software development route - it does not fit into the IS Engr job role.
- If you dont get somebody who can keep it going - does yr unit have a budget to bring in a civvi contractor - and do you want some company taking ownership and possibly screwing you later (EDS!!!)
- Will the person who built it fully document so that it can be passed on?

It really is a shame as I am in a unit that must have hundres of nominal rolls/spreadsheets duplicating data and making work.
 
#20
warcorro said:
a single interface.........12 users......access the same files/spreadsheets/database........electronic logsheet......simple messaging between users..........existing Microsoft products.
Superdood said:
I dont think you will be successful via the system on this one simply because you are asking for a bespoke application which is unique to your organisation.
......
As far as I can see your problem is maintaining referential integrity between MS files you are sharing ( note only one file can be updated by one user at a time ie one user writes the others can read only)
......
Apps like sharepoint only replicate changes they dont guarantee the integrity of the data. Speak to a .NET expert/developer if you can for windows based solutions or an MSCD with a few years commercial experience.
Let's hang fire here. There's a danger of over-complicating the issue. It's almost always the case that we can already do at least 90% of any given task with the tools we already have (primarily the various MS apps suites like Office) - with a bit of thought it's probably closer to 99%.

I see nothing in warcorro's initial question which indicates a need for data integrity over and above that which is already available by using our existing tools. The DII/C version of Sharepoint is rather limited, but even so it does provide a single web interface with access to shared files. It has built-in logging (e.g. last updated by....). The simple messaging can be taken care of by Windows Messenger (MS Live Communications Server). Going down the contracted .NET developer route is a recipe for disaster.

Warcorro - unless absolutely necessary, stick to what's already out there. That way it's supported and there's a body of knowledge out there to help if you run into trouble. Otherwise you will run into integration issues - maybe not next week or next month but it will happen.

bullshit said:
It really is a shame as I am in a unit that must have hundres of nominal rolls/spreadsheets duplicating data and making work.
Ah....remember the heady days of the HEMS database?
 

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