It’s been a year of Tenders for Capita SIMS, reports Phil Neal – Managing Director for Capita SIMS. We opened with some statistics about the year that has been. In terms of Tenders – 10 have been won, 1 pending (which is being expected to be lost) and finally a great announcement (which followers might have seen I posted on Twitter) – G-Cloud will also host SIMS 7.
In other news, SIMS Learning Gateway (SLG) hosting is on the increase, Schools have begun to re-assess Parental Engagement – and many are subscribing to the enhanced and improved SLG, which includes a mobile version as well as the full browser version. You can’t have missed the big announcement about the new Homework feature, which is linked into the classroom experience. For Teachers, marks go back into SIMS, and utilize existing mark sheets. For tracking – by staff and the student themselves – there are also flight paths showing progress. SLG, from Summer, will surface information into SIMS.net as well, for Data Collection and Homework.
Talking of Parental Engagement, the adoption of products in the SIMS ecosystem hasn’t just been limited to SLG – InTouch and Agora have seen significant take up and use. InTouch is being used by roughly a 1/3 of secondary schools, which is a larger number than I expected – and processed over 14 million emails last year. Email use is on the increase, and it is expected that the original SMS text usage will soon start to decrease. As an aside while talking about InTouch, it is worth remembering that any emails or texts inbound are attached to the pupil records – unique in the market. To help adoption, some of the barriers – namely the VPN requirement and IIS requirement, are both being removed. New to the market, Agora has also seen an impressive take-up. It has processed over 2.5 million GBP; and now has over 12,000 registered parents. Remember, that parents only need to register once, for their family – even across multiple Schools. Also, on the Agora front – the number of support incidents has been astonishingly low for a new product. The statistics show less than 1 per School averaged. Development is still active, and being an online “cloud” product, features can be added quickly. FMS links and Cashless Catering links are both due soon – FMS being added in the Autumn release. I spoke to Duncan Hield and Ben Jones about the Parental Engagement “suite” in more depth, and there will be a follow-up on this with a more “blue sky” view to the future.
Another development from last year was the improved Personnel module, which was expanded with the optional add on Staff Performance module. There was also significant development to bring in the Performance Related Pay options needed. In terms of developments to the Staff performance module itself, the ability for staff to complete a self-service update of details. Also being added are a selection of reports for performance, which are anonymized too – for Governors reports for example. I spoke to Lucy Crawford and Graham Cooper about this module later in the event – and I’m aiming to post a short article summarizing that soon.
An interesting comment from Phil, at a time when there have clearly been increased efforts on pushing new products and new product features to the fore… “there is a pressure to weigh up costs of development and implementations.” This is a clear indication that there is no complacency, as if one was needed based on some of my previous articles and interviews. Perhaps part of this is based on some other statistics that were presented – Academies uptake.
Sponsored Academies seem to have a much lower uptake, attributed to sponsors forced take-up of their product. This is changing, and there has been a trend of Academy Groups converting to SIMS recently. Work on products like MultiView, which gives the ability for comparisons between Schools and group dashboards, will undoubtedly help this.
FMS take-up is also low; due to a perception that it is based around the “single school” model, rather than groups and the view that reporting for Academies isn’t there. Again, there are significant developments coming to address and publicize what FMS and FMS MultiView will be able to do for Academies. PDF emailing being added to FMS is another key development to help match features to competitive products, and drive efficiency.
So, to more recent developments, some of which you will see now in the Summer 2014 release – and others will be coming in the Autumn update. The first to talk about is Assessment, although like the Staff Performance Module – there is so much to say about this! I got the opportunity to speak to Rachel Marshman and will run through this in a separate article. But, to summarize – every data managers dream, grids and colour-coding in the core product – marksheets etc. Even better for those Discover users – links are transferred. To deal with the challenge of a “World without Levels”, there will be an assessment mapper included in the Summer update – which gives Schools the ability to map aspects from their own system to Capita provided details. This is what is provided to Discover. Template copying will also be in Summer, which can also be used to swap aspects too. Not truly assessment, but you may have also noticed a small announcement about Exams, in that its reporting is moving into .net. Options for EDI transfer in future are also be investigated.
Solus 3 is now at a .7 version, which supports patching rather than full updates. It also has a re-designed user interface, bringing it in line with the rest of the suite. As there are still many schools and support units who are not yet on version 3, Solus 2 supported has been extended beyond April 2015. Version 3.8 is in development for Autumn, which will add prevention steps to stop upgrades failing if the client is in use or opened mid upgrade. Prompts will be given.
We also talked about support, and the way in which support for SIMS is changing. First off, there is the new online Documentation Centre. This is role based, with a whole load of help videos and walkthroughs with product managers and support engineers.
There have been changes to the Capita SIMS ServiceDesk as well. First off, additional staffing has been brought in to better support customers. A “No activity report” has been introduced, which has reduced customer update requests by 35%. This is all about engaging better with customers. Connected to the work on the Documentation Centre, there has also been a lot of work put into updating and retiring old knowledge base articles. Part of this is to prepare for the new SupportNet. New tight process management procedures have been put in place around data transfer, to make it easier and more efficient to assist customers and support units alike. Phil was also pleased to report that escalations are reducing following an issue in Jan/Feb.
The focus for 2014 was “evidencing outcomes” – to help schools inspire learners; and now the introductions, keynotes and review were over – it was time to deep-dive into the electives. “Evidencing Outcomes” has been a big point for Ofsted of late, where the trend has been for Schools to demonstrate the learning journey a student has taken – and show their progression. Capita SIMS fits into this by being showcased as a tool for School Improvement, and the focus for the event and the year ahead is to demonstrate and add functionality to enable Schools to progress. As always, the event is also an opportunity to help get questions asked, as well as get a “heads up” on what’s coming up – within SIMS and education in general. This is the change to gain access to subject experts – inside education and inside the product. It always amazes me the number of colleagues that find new things, or things that you knew about but never used before. The number of colleagues at the event continues to grow, which also now also includes an array of Partners, leading Educational Professionals and private individuals. This year, we also welcomed the Let Teachers Shine Charity, supporting 14000, increasing to 20000+ learners – and the Teachers who won the Shine Awards. This outstanding group of Teachers bid for funding to support innovative projects for inspiring Students. More information about the Shine Awards, proudly supported by Capita SIMS, can be found at http://www.shinetrust.org.uk/site/pages/251_letteachersshine.php