Simplifying Digital Reporting Tools in WMG, Warwick Uni

As we’re speccing and delivering more digital systems at WMG, Warwick University, we’re beginning to re-evaluate how we handle reporting from each and every system. It’s becoming clear that every online application or process seems to implement a different set of reporting tools by default.

Currently we have 2 which output custom .csv’s (comma separated values), another system that you only get reports out if the developer is available and we have 3 more systems planned for release in the Summer all with reporting requirements.

Clearly we’re need to start offering a more unified interface for our users, so we can,

  • reduce the strain on developer time per. system (a premium)
  • simplify the learning requirements per. system per. staff member
  • improve product delivery time

As a potential solution I’ve been looking into clever add-ons from, which as a dev is my favourite. However, that would be a new system for admin staff to have to learn. Also, we can’t implement it on all the systems, just a few of them.

Another potential system might be Microsoft performance point, however, no-one here knows that system. Also, we’re unsure of which technology stacks it will hook into.

However, we’ve discovered a more generic solution that would build on our staff’s Microsoft Office skills rather than learning technologies and it can access any technology stack.

It appears that Microsoft has an add-on called “Power Query” which connects directly to Azure, SQL and Mysql databases. With a read-only database account for staff and administrators, they would connect directly to the database and with some guidance access and work on real live data. If we were to organise a shared OneDrive folder with the queries and charts in, then we would reduce the team’s adoption.

This way, I won’t need request time to build custom reports on every project, unify our reporting technology to one piece of software and reduce the cost of licensing to our current Office 365 licence.

We’re at the stage where we are going to trial Power Query and I’ll report back on our findings.

State of the Unicorn (from Sep to Dec 2015)

Super proud of my husband for getting the job he wanted at the University of Warwick! Congratulations!!!

The previous state of the union post.

I wanted to do more, of these but have I? This is just a post reminding me of various bits I’ve done these past 6 months.

Digital Strategy

  • Unify our custom development endeavors
    • Leading the unification of previous dev work into a team accessible resource
  • Staff training in GIT
  • Staff training in Gitlab
  • Staff training in Gitlab CI
  • Researched, Created and maintaining standards for our dev team to work with (simple stuff docs and processes)
  • Started our “disaster docs” if someone is hit by a bus / wins the lottery
  • Identified need for QA resource
    • Got the QA resource!
  • Roadmap
    • Asked for and took Action to start a “Technology Enhanced Learning Operational Roadmap” aimed at engaging team members with future considerations
    • Actioned the Roadmap meetings and discussions
    • Lead the Roadmap meetings (ongoing)

Human Resourcing

  • Completed the Line Manager Hiring training
  • Completed the Line Manager Ethics and Diversity training
  • Sat on the interview panel for 3 WMG roles
  • Spoke my mind clearly to Head of interview panel
  • Invited to help write job specs for 2 roles
  • Invited to help create job interview tasks

Representation of WMG

  • Invited to the MyDay CollabCo User group to represent WMG & UoW

Agile & Project Management

  • Improved on the Agile workflow I introduced to work better inside the University environment
  • Project problems solver – became the goto person for digital projects going “haywire” and turning them into achieving projects
  • Had our first Agile vs. Culture issue, got knocked, learnt and then spoke with the relevant people to be less knocked next time
  • Ran “Introducing Agile” for more staff again
  • Agile coached 2 Product Owners on their projects and any fails / issues they were experiencing
  • Ran multiple, “introducing Agile courses”

Actual Production

  • Lobbied and received Continuos Integration access from Central IT
  • Setup Gitlab CI to build, test and deploy on master push
  • Changed development method to BDD (Behaviour Driven Development) with Behat
  • Created local, feature, pre-production and production flow
  • Built a Transaction and BDD testing process
  • Built re-usable modules for
    • Continuous Deployment
    • Google Analytics
    • Environment Banner to identify app servers
    • Basic User Role ACL control
    • HTML Helper templating
    • HTML / CSS workflow
    • Model Repository Modules
    • Pulling live DB to local DB for testing
    • Clearing DB automatically
  • Improved my Laravel 5 understanding


  • Maintenance on Biddr (my custom reverse bidding web app)
  • Launch and Maintenance of critical Supervisor & Project matching tool for 1000 users
  • Parachuted in to sort 3 broken projects
    • Applied Trello Story Points
    • Started the team talking again (humour and leadership)
    • Created strategy to bring the external developer more “internal”
      • Skype
      • Daily scrums
      • Internal account from IT
      • VPN access
      • Added to our Gitlab central repo
    • Applied Weekly sprints
  • PM Elective Selector
  • PM MyTime
  • PM Visits
  • Maintenance on Gradr


I’m moving towards more Project Management, so training in that and more experience.

Maybe become a line manager


An intro to using Trello

More and more University staff here are using Trello for sharing ideas and collaborating on projects.

So I’ve made a super quick intro video which I’d like to share on using Trello for Tracking bugs.

WMG IT - Using Trello
WMG IT – Using Trello

Please remember that Trello is a cloud service and we must abode by the University’s Cloud Usage Rules,

State of the union (since starting at Warwick Uni)

A small state of the union post so I don’t forget my journey so far…

The largest change is introducing my Agile experience into many aspects of workflow and to many members of staff.

Agile Training
* I have delivered three separate sets of Agile training
* Once for the Project Management Networking Group
* Once for the WMG IT team
* Once for an individual member of staff

I have introduced some better online tools to support the University’s work
* Trello – The whole IT team use it now to track and collaborate on their work
* Quickcast – The use of screen casting to show staff how to use certain material
* Continuous Integration – GitLab’s CI runner Is now provided by the University following me pushing for access
* Google analytics – To prove that students are using more of their own devices which are Apple based, than the university owned Windows machines
* Twitter Bootstrap must be used across all our custom apps. Our custom built apps from externals had custom CSS wrappers, but now use Twitter bootstrap 3.

Methods of working
* A lot of the Moodle work is “Handle turning”, I have floated the idea of an apprentice, which has led to a summer intern coming in (got ahead of myself, summer interns are always here!)
* IT partners – Following the Agile training, the following ideas of roles and responsibilities of a Product Owner leading and ordering tasks in priorities was taken on for our WMG IT partners
* We use an Agile approach to define what work should be done next. “If it went live tomorrow, what would we need?”

Development Bootstrap
* Deployment
* Folder organistion
* Server registration
* Repository Model
* Interfaces
* Behaviour Driven Development testing
* Unit testing

University Wide
* One of my three University wide ideas has gone onto review stage, using rechargeable mics for presenting will save on batteries and reduce support calls

* Biddr – an online reverse auction. I coached Agile to the staff and also built this learning tool in Laravel 4.
* Gradr – an online app to consolidate marks from multiple modules into one simple dashboard. It provides students a single overview and tutors an overall table of their students marks. I coached the staff in Agile and also built this in Laravel 5.

  • More Project management
  • More Laravel 5 and Elastic Search
  • Improving the University’s IT network (of people, not wires)
  • More training, hopefully in leadership (it’s different here to a small self-owned company!)

Excellent Customer Service training

Today I attended some training on Excellent Customer Service provided by the University.

The reason I signed up was because some of the work I’ve taken over here for providing Moodle Gradebook support is not “so hot” right now. It feels like we’re failing on some really basic stuff, which is frustrating to both me and obviusly the staff. Also, by failing on the basics, it knocking effect of WOW things, like custom code of the gradebook.

To be fair, a lot of the stuff I have taken on is going pretty well and the tutors seem very happy with my Project Management and Custom coding. But, I still want to be doing better in the areas I’m presently weakest in, whether they are inherited problems or brand new.

The first things to learn was, “who is my customer?”, Because yes, my work affects the students too, I did wonder if they were my customer. However, nope. My work sits in a chain of support and my direct customer is the staff I deal with on a day to day basis.

Then we used a very useful model and excercise, the Kano Model. It splits and identifies different parts of your service from Basic, Satisfactory and WOW.


It turns out after doing the excercise, I identified loads of basics, but had trouble picking anything above that. Which is becuase, in a few ways the service isn’t even hitting the basics, so there’s no point offering WOWs. The analogy we were given was, “With a hotel, your basics are Bed, Clean room & Toilet. So if none of those basics are met, you wouldn’t be so overly happy with a WOW of champagne on arrival”.

So… to identify some of the basics within my control,

  1. Staff know when Moodle is going down for maintanence
  2. When marks are released, they stay released
  3. Course rollover will happen

So.. to identify some actions to help with those basics,

  1. Maintenance
  • Create a staff list / Sharepoint group for notifications
  • On receipt of Russell’s emails, share with the list

2. Marks released

  • Map the Moodle Show / Hide flow
  • Request a Show / Hide logger from Central
  • Dan Course to take on marks release for the rest of this term
  • Analyse the Service Now calls raised

3. Course rollover

  • Inform staff when this will happen

Professional alternatives to Facebook groups or Moodle Forums

You will find many different tools used for business collaboration, and new ones pop up every year.

Here are some we know of that you could use to replace your Moodle Forums and Facebook problem and be more on the “pulse”.

Google Drive

Share Documents, Spreadsheets with version control. Also a tool to have hangouts (video conference) and have group text chats. Free service.

  • Documents
  • Spreadsheets
  • Group text chat
  • Hangouts (Vid. Conference)
  • File Sharing


A repository for files, it will automatically push any saved files to all the other members with the shared DropBox. Good for saving large files and sharing with each other, less useful for versioning without an account. Free service.

  • Shared folder (you still need Office apps)


Microsoft’s offering, share documents and more. Takes setting up and costs, however it’s an industry standard.

  • Documents
  • Spreadsheets
  • Group chat
  • File Sharing
  • Versioning


You can setup a group and hold a chat on the network you’re always on. But, we doubt an organisation would handle all their business discussion here. Also, would you want to mix work and online socialising? Free service.

  • Group chat
  • File emailing (No versioning)


The technology that runs Wikipedia, gives the ability to create shared pages and thoughts and revisions. You can share, collaborate, update and see revisions. Free services available.

  • File sharing
  • Text versioning


Some services come with versioning on documents, which means you can see the updates and text changes on files. This allows users to work collaboratively and see what changes the group have made, and discuss them. Also, it stops the need to keep naming files like, “copy 1”, “copy 2”, “Final Version”, “final version 2.3” as it’s just one continues file.


Lots of companies advertise their products as “Free”, however that comes at a cost not associated with money. They effectively own your data, and probably have free reign to sell it on, use it to advertise with or if they shut down, your data goes to the highest bidder.

Other services may offer you a limited time access or file number limit before you need to pay.

Moodle Forums, are they any good or do your students prefer Facebook?

Are your students favouring Facebook groups for course discussion over using Moodle forums?

You wouldn’t be the only University with that problem. Naturally water follows the easiest path, and presently for having online discussions it’s simpler to jump on Facebook for a casual chat. It totally beats some clunky Forum software.

But, is that even a problem? Is this practice just replacing them chatting about their project down the SU over a pint?

To be honest, in a lot of the cases there’s no problem for a casual chat. But as there’s pressure to prepare students to be more work ready, I can’t think of a workplace I’ve been in where sitting on Facebook to work would be thought a good idea. Also, by the staff being removed from the equation we’re missing the chance to pick up on problems.

So in a future blog post, I’m going to list some alternative “professional” software which your University could recommend to them.