The Capita SIMS annual conference opened with a change this year – gone was the “external host”; and instead we had a welcome return for Graham Cooper – Head of Product Strategy. Grahams opening had one key message – “where SIMS is used well in schools, it has the power to make a difference to children’s’ future”. Fitting, in a time where there is so much focus on the complete journey of a child.
A departure from some of my more recent posts about System Centre – now time to concentrate on more of the Consultancy and Technology Evangelism Im also involved with.
This time, I was very fortunate to be invited to the Capita SIMS LA Conference, held at Alton Towers. Thanks must go to Cath Lane and her team, as well as Phil Neal and the Product Managers who spared their time to talk to me. This is the first of a selection of posts which will appear this week discussing the themes of the event.
So, on to the actual event, which centred around the way in which the Schools ecosystem is changing. Even Capita (who I know some of my audience will suggest otherwise) appreciate the need to better understand the market – and what we need. IT as a technology, as a platform for use in Schools is changing. Schools are very data rich – but often are not in a position to understand, filter or use this data properly. This is where SIMS, and other Capita products and services come in.
Phil Neal spoke on stage about the demanding competitive landscape which exists, both in terms of product and also the ancilliary services such as LA support services. Again – I know some of my audience wont believe that the MIS market place could be seen as competitive, but the simple truth is it is. The Academy system has changed the ecosystem – Schools and Colleges have a choice.
There are more developers and products on the market, and there is a greater awareness of them. I think a lot of this has to do with the changing professionals in Schools, and groups such as Edugeek.
There are more decision makers – no longer is it an LA decision which MIS, or other systems a School uses. Schools in isolation are making this decision, although – that being said – there are also Federations of Schools choosing a product or service. Software and support providers are having to change the way they market themselves and their products – to make themselves understood to a different audience.
The move to the cloud also is having an impact. Product launches such as the competitive Serco Progresso raise the conversation “is there going to be a Cloud SIMS”.
Despite the bleak outlook when the Academy system started, Capita have been making gains in 2011/12 of roughly 50 schools. They also won Norfolk LA, and that is despite the concern of LAs “loosing control” of their Schools.
The change to Academies has brought on its challenges. Academies have to go to market to asses what is available to choose what is needed for them. Converted academies are doing well, sponsored academies less so – as they tend to be groups or adopt whatever the sponsor is using.
LA tenders are progressing, and there have been gains such as the Norfolk LA gain earlier. The new DfE framework brings its own challenges, the problem is that the tender can be all about the terms and conditions rather than the functionality and software. This is where the definition of core and non core models is important. The staggering truth there is that according to the framework, Exams and Upgrades are not part of the core, while cashless management is. Go figure?! So, in short, if you are a School or LA tendering – make sure you check carefully what components you want/expect to be included in your costs, or you risk getting stung! After the demise of BECTA, some may see it as no surprise that there is also no mention of parental engagement. If you are a School or LA who has rolled this out already, or has plans to do so (bear in mind that this is still part of Ofsted monitoring and evaluation) – you need to check carefully that you include this too.
Capita have understood one clear thing from the community – and that is the quality of their communications with people on the ground. Their surveys of the user group showed some interesting results. Quality of training materials and Uptake of SIMS in the Classroom – key drivers were varied. There is going to be a lot of work taking place to improve this soon. There has been limited takeup Discover and Solus 3 – but those where it has been implemented, it has taken off. Discover is changing the market place. Whole industry around developing aspects for Discover.
Also questioned was whether support to schools was direct or via LA.
So – what is changing soon?
Learning Gateway is due to have extensive developments, and now has a new Product Manager. The first big change is to add data collection sheets. The second will be a complete re-write of the “person webpart” – which is responsible for the old style Student and Staff details pages.
T4 is dead as a product. T6 now has all the functionality, and the Timetable printing functionality is all embedded in the main SIMS.net product. Finally, you can say goodbye to this relic of SIMS.
FMS has document management and cost centre manager permissions. Auditing reports and specific reports for Academies is also now included. This was one of the big criticisms of the product. Finally – and Phil was very proud to announce this – FMS is now Financial Authority Accredited.
In Touch is being revitalised as a product. There seems to be limited awareness of this nationwide. I guess, in part, this is due to the plethora of competitive products such as Groupcall, Teachers2Parents etc. However, ask youself this, why use these if the functionality can be “there” in SIMS. Anyway – coming soon to it are improved alerting and automated notifications.
And finally from Phil’s stage section was another bit of pride for more awards – Finalist for BETT 2012 and Winner of ERA for innovation. Not bad for a years work!