Supporting the update to Primary

The SIMs Primary adoption is currently via a growing pilot program; and is a process of learning – for both Capita and customers. As a result, there is an ongoing process looking at how documentation is provided and updated. One of the key parts of the program is suitability checking – not everyone is suitable to enter yet. Key in this process are Support Units, who can help to identify and engage with potential early adopters – and arrange their update with Capita.

As with any update process – one if the first steps should be a bit of housekeeping. Recommended pre-update housekeeping is recommended on

  • Addresses
  • Email
  • Phone numbers
  • Assessment

Once this is complete, the upgrade process can begin. First, a patch needs to be obtained from Capita. This enables the required menu routes in SIMS.net; and also initialises the settings in SIMS Services Manager (SSM). SSM manages the data transfer process; and locking (see later) of SIMS.net. The patch can either be applied manually from download, or via Solus.

Once the patch installation is complete, the School can authorise the transfer of data to SIMs Primary – by using the new menu route which will have been surfaced in SIMS.net. The process will transfer all data, including historical – and it won’t modify it. Once in Primary, tools will be available to manage historical data on a year by year basis.

Data protection issues of old system needs to have policy in place to handle.

Once authorized, SSM will keep polling the online service, but will only complete work through non-core hours. Transfers will take place in “chunks”, by section, and not necessarily at once. This is to ensure there is time to complete the transfer, and for data consistency checking. During transfer times, anyone logging into SIMS 7 will see that it is in “reference mode” only. The data however, is not locked during these times; since the transfer isn’t “live”. Once transfers complete overnight, messages clear. Once the School complete the final transfer and confirm the move to the live system, then SIMS.net is locked down and shows the messages permanently.

Above, I said that the initial transfers are not “live” – this is because the initial migration process are actually doing data consistency and validation/readiness to upgrade checking initially, and also this allows users can familiarise themselves with the new system on their data rather than training data. The data from the initial transfer can be played with, as it will be trashed when go live. During the “familiarise period”, the data can be refreshed as often as the School want; which has two purposes – clearing of issues and data cleansing. Data transfers will always wait until the evening window.

Until live, the familiarise data is in a non production environment at Capita. Data transfer to final is a one-time process, unlike during the “familiarise period”. It is not possible to send and go live, and then repeat. It will also not be possible to migrate, use the new system, and then downgrade back to SIMS 7. As mentioned, all data for current functionality will transfer – but it is important to choose schools which are appropriate as not all functionality .is yet supported. If there is data which isn’t supported yet; these Schools would be best waiting until further along the process as new functionality is being added regularly.

There are some technological changes which means some “old” functionality will not be supported, even in future releases – as shown below

  • Non Capita defined assessments and results are transferred, but in a Sims 7 format
  • Assessment formulas. Will bring the resulting data, just not formula
  • Parental reporting templates and selection. Resulting documents already produced will be transferred as Linked Documents.
  • User defined reports
  • Private documents

Throughout the whole of the upgrade process, the new SIMS Primary Support portal shows the status of site – whether data transfer has started, how much has been transferred, data validation, warnings, issues and errors. A data report is available after the first transfer, which shows the validation warning as would be displayed if entered through client. Also shows contextual data causing the issue too – ideal for quick resolutions. Full audit timings from the transfer shows when entered various states; which can be used to judge how long transfers take. As part of the transfer processes – there is full verification of any data being transferred. The data comparison checks are very comprehensive – everything from pupil counts per registration group, to year, to house, class etc.

Once your first data transfer has taken place – it is time to check and make sure what the state of the site is. Advisory in the data report, are exactly this – advisories. They are not issues, nor will they prevent upgrade. They are potential validation issues for example, which can be corrected easily in SIMS 7 before go live , or in SIMS Primary once go live has taken place. If something is really wrong with the data, or the process – Capita will follow up. The full warning won’t show – but Capita will be aware of it; and will manage the process from there. The data report will not prevent go live, they are just recommendations. The data report won’t even be shown if there are serious issues; as the processes won’t have for to this point. As a rule of thumb, as long as the site is not “on hold”; and the customers have completed the familiarisation – then it is safe to go.

At “go live”, a final transfer is completed. If this is successful – SIMS 7 will display warnings on all data access, showing it is in reference mode. All SIMS logins apart from System Manages will be locked out, and any External links will also cease to work.

So where does this leave SSUs; particularly those who currently provide their own hosted version of SIMS 7? Clearly, the business model for these needs to change, as the hosting will be provided directly by Capita only. To a certain extent; the majority of the technical support will also be provided by Capita. There are also some significant opportunities – particularly around informing users about the forthcoming change; motivating users to become early adopters; and also advise on the process. This could involve monitoring and supporting the upgrade; as a kind of managed service – wrapping up what Capita already will provide. More important though would be help with preparation; perhaps some pre-emptive data cleansing. A hybrid of these two is also a possibility – providing end to end care. As with all new systems – there will be an element of training; however, this is what the familiarise step is for; but there could be “managed” scenarios for users to go through.

The key difference in the adoption is that the training won’t be on training data – it will be the Schools’ own data, which they will recognise. This also makes it more realistic – since the “Green Abbey” and “Waters Edge” data are both well known! Rather than training, the plan is that it will be more about familiarisation; finding out the new ways to do things rather than go in cold. So far, the experience is that training is not as much of a requirement as most functionality is intuitive.

The early pilots have shown some early best practice too:

  1. Recommendation is to use this pre-pilot stage…where staff are able to “dry run” on their data but, without the concern that it is their operational system. Yes, this could lead to some duplication in effort; but so far, in many cases, natural inquisitiveness has lead users to look around the system.
  2. Keep referring to the “Resource Hub”, which contains activities to try out, walkthroughs to get to know the new ways of doing things. The project roadmap is also located here, so there is transparency on when features are slated for addition. This allows for planning for the project. All documents are live updated as the programme rolls out further; and will constantly evolve to take on feedback.

    To assist schools, various templates of project plans are available; and training/support materials are available for

  • Data transfer
  • Core
  • Statutory Returns
  • Preparing for new year
  • Staff/Personnel
  • Reporting
  • Assessment

3. Ensure you have a school champion, and know how much third party product use there is (and who). Engage early – with the third party; and also with key staff across the school. It is important to make sure that the school is suitable and ready to progress. Three key words – Engage, empower, feedback. 

4. Investigation – know the data you have. Key areas to look at are reports, third party integrations, data quality, assessment schemas. This is an opportunity for SSUs, who could assist Schools with this process – possibly though “Upgrade Readiness” services.

5. Planning for Support Units, for whom this also means a big period of change. Preparation is key to this. SSUs need to plan the resources needed to support their Schools in upgrading to SIMS 8 (whether that be Primary or Secondary). Resources doesn’t just mean people – although they are a big part of this. There will need to be a period of Staff upskilling and training; to allow the best advice and support to be given during the process. What role will a “Servicedesk” play in future versions of SIMS? There also needs to be a consideration of how success will be measured.

As more information about the pilot stage comes out; and I have access to imagery from the upgrade process – then Ill try to do a followup article; or add some to this post.


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