Absence Reporting Management

This is an interim report on project 257 Absence Reporting Management.

The project's aim was to introduce a very lightweight mechanism for reporting absence in the School of Informatics.

Initial Meeting

When I met Liz Elliot to talk about the project several things became clear:

  • a solution was needed sooner rather than later
  • so the solution would need to be simple and quick to develop.
  • we would concentrate solely on the reporting of absence due to illness.
  • some schools with such a mechanism already in existence have a real problem with it being widely ignored.
  • the solution therefore had to be absolutely as lightweight to use as possible.
  • for simplicity, the solution would simply send an email message to the user's line manager who would then enter the data into Oracle HR, the university's repository of HR data. The absence reporting system would not have to interact with Oracle HR or store any absence data independently of it.
  • the solution would have to identify the user's line manager for him or her.

Following the meeting I assessed two main possibilities:

  • an email address which would automatically identify a message's sender and forward the message to her line manager.
  • a web page which would identify its user, inform the user of the identity of his/her line manager, and perhaps also offer to send a message to the line manager.

Possible Solutions

A Smart E-Mail Address

After looking at the data we hold, I had to reluctantly recommend against the "smart email address" idea, the address which would recognise who was mailing it and forward the mail to that person's line manager. We simply don't have an accurate enough idea of peoples' email addresses. Even if we limited this facility to peoples' university addresses rather than personal ones, it would have to be able to recognise at least person@inf.ed.ac.uk, person@staffmail.ed.ac.uk, P.Erson@ed.ac.uk, etc.; and our database doesn't have that many email addresses for our staff members. It might eventually be doable but it would be complicated and time-consuming to write and maintain and unreliable to use. It would also be insecure and wide open to email spoofing: just send email in which headers have been edited to make it appear to come from someone else. It would also be open to receiving spam from anyone anywhere.

A Web Page

The web page idea would not suffer from these disadvantages. Spoofing would be eliminated by the use of our Cosign authentication service. This would mean that access to the web page would be via a DICE username and password. Cosign login happens transparently and automatically from DICE machine web browsers, while on other machines it's done using a very simple "weblogin" form. We could use this to make the page visible only to staff members. The web solution would also not suffer from the need to recognise email addresses; it just has to be able to find out one valid email address for each staff member, and the database has this already. It appears that it would be quick and easy to implement, since all the functionality which it would need is either already in WebMark or would be trivial to add.

Remaining Problems

The Line Manager Data

There's a problem with the line manager data. The database doesn't appear to have any: there is no database record of who anybody's line manager is. We have now started taking a data feed from HR to our database, and this data feed notionally includes some sort of line manager data in it, but it's blank. We would need to fix this before we could put in any solution along the above lines.

This problem will be tackled by RAT (Theon trac ticket 1099), but not until more urgent Theon matters have been tackled, so there will be a wait of probably several months before the database contains our line manager data.


Liz remarks that the web page idea leaves some issues in terms of compliance. Whatever solution we go for would need to deliver or encourage the best possible compliance. However now we know more about what a solution could look like we can make an educated assessment of compliance.

Suggested Action

Liz suggests that we regard the scoping of the problem as complete. Once the line manager data feed is in place we can return to the problem to request implementation, which should be only a small amount of work when it happens. In the meantime there's an interim admin solution in place. I therefore propose that we stall this project until we're ready for implementation.

-- ChrisCooke - 27 Nov 2012

Topic revision: r2 - 28 Nov 2012 - 15:15:44 - ChrisCooke
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