Heritage Operations Processing System
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Q: Is the cost for Option 1 plus VAT or are the costs inclusive of VAT?

A: HOPS is not VAT registered, so there is no VAT payable.

However, it is planned to become so in the near future when VAT will become payable on future subscriptions (which you can of course claim back (if you're VAT registered)).
Q: Is there a timescale that we are all working towards, or do organisations choose when to enter into the contract ?

A: There isn't a specific timescale, but there needs to be sufficient take-up to make it viable. If you were thinking of taking part but joining at some point in the future then if you could let me know your thoughts that would help me plan.
Q: One important thing that I feel is missing is any reference to improving the speed of the system. Sometimes HOPS is very slow to refresh a page after a piece of data has been entered by the user. (When constructing rosters, I sometimes enter almost a dozen users into turns before the page manages to refresh!) There are also occasions when the system goes for several minutes before a page will load at all. I presume this is due to the popularity of HOPS and the number of users logging on at once, as well as the vast number of emails the system sometimes has to send out. For a free system, it is quite acceptable, but a paid for service ought to be able to do better. Are there any plans to look at this issue?

A: Page speed is something that a few railways have raised, so that is already high on the agenda.
Q: I'm presuming that these will only be made available to those railways who subscribe to a Service Level Agreement. I think it will be having access to these features that will persuade railways to sign up over the long term, rather than just the assured response to support issues.

A: Yes - the new items, and improvements to existing systems, will only be available to railways who contribute to their development. Railways who are "out" will be able to use a version of the current system that won't be improved any further.
Q: The sting here might be a reluctance to sign up UNTIL at least some people of these features are available...

A: I think everyone will be at a different place on the spectrum of willingness to join in, from the railways that have already said they're in, to those that never will be. Those with a reluctance to sign up "until xyz is implemented" will be all points across the spectrum at whatever point we choose to draw the line, but I hope that six years of development so far is a good enough track record that railways will believe that I'll continue develop what I say I will.
Q: Might one possible benefit of signing up to the agreement be that railways who do so will have some input into the order in which these new features are developed, and can give feedback to the programmer (s) on what features and structures would be most useful?

A: HOPS has always developed at the direction of the railways, and the "favoured" requests in future will definitely be those from the railways that pay the bills. If it will help railways to commit to buying in then I will be willing to commit to developing a particular item with some timescales? Apart from that I'm not sure how else I could commit to a quantified level of requested development. I can't really say "every railway can have everything they want", but I don't think anyone will be unreasonably disappointed. It is in my interest that clients renew the following year, so I'll be trying my best to impress!
Q: I notice that the price is calculated according to the usage a railway makes - are we able to know roughly how this works is calculated (e.g. what would be the effect of a lot more of our users becoming "Live", and therefore causing more logins), or is this commercially sensitive information?

A: The pricing model is based on usage of the system, but this isn't just the number of live users. A number of other factors were included such as the volume of data and the size of the establishment (to try to make the fee relative to the potential benefit to the railway). Lots more users at one railway would raise the overall proportion of users at that railway and be one factor that affects the fee. Don't forget that other railways will be increasing at the same time, so the proportional increase will be tempered by that.

If it helps, the lowest fee was £300 and the highest was £3000. The average was £600. Of the railways that I hope* will take part (and therefore based more robust calculations), the lowest was £450 and the highest was £3000. The average was £1100.

* - I hope ALL railways will take part, but these were the top railways that I thought might!

Compared to other administrative services such insurance, leaflet printing, public websites, accounting, telephones, etc I hope these fees are acceptable. Administration such as that in HOPS is a requirement of the business of the operational railway, so hopefully HOPS will be seen as a solution to that worth investing in.

Ultimately, the scheme will cost an amount of pounds to operate, so that is the amount that needs to be raised. I hope that the benefit out of the system to the railways is greater than contribution needed to be put in. (And if the reverse is true and the cost of the system is greater than the benefit then this exercise will demonstrate that!)
Q: I tend to think that option 1 is sufficient. I'm not sure I see the point of Option 2.

A: Yes. Option 2 is really for the railways whose HOPS Administrators aren't as confident, so they want some backup in fielding questions from their staff. The ideal for you is Option 1 where you receive queries from your staff and funnel them up to me where appropriate.
Q: Will the forum continue as a method of getting help?

A: Yes
Q: As I understand it, there will be an enhanced level of support over and above what the forum offers and our occasional emails; am I correct in this assumption?

A: Yes - There will be a service level agreement, and you can email or telephone (during office hours!)

I have put some basic details on the website (following the link that was in the email), but these are being fleshed out based on the railway's responses and requirements.
Q: The $64m question – What time scale do you envisage the future developments will be available, particularly competence management & rostering and purely rostering, but we may wish to consider moving some other functions to HOPS?

A: I envisage progress will be a lot quicker than at present, but I also imagine they will be developed forever more. (So the timescale is both 'quick' and 'never-ending'!)

I'm happy to commit to specific things in specific times if they are a priority for you.
Q: What is your time scale for deciding whether your proposition to railways is going to allow the change to the new system.

A: It depends very much on the railways. Some have responded very quickly and some very slowly. We are about a third of the way there. I would think that we'll get this off the ground in about 2-3 months, maybe a bit longer.

I'll keep everyone up to date of course.
Q: Will we be expected to pay in a lump sum at the beginning of the year or can the payment be spread through the year.

A: Either is fine, but the licences will be annual. (Although we may reduce the first year pro-rata in order to get them on a January-December cycle).

HOPS is continually being developed and updated. Sometimes the screen shots in these help files might lag behind the most up-to-date views of the screens. Generally, however, the functionality of the page will be the same, albeit with a slightly different format or layout.

Thank you very much indeed to Emma Patrick for writing these support pages.