What is a School Information Management System (SIMS)?
SIMS, School Management Information Systems, School Information Management Systems, School Information Systems… What are they? Are they the same?
Yes and no. In general terms, these names refer to the same category of system, but just as one could refer to motor cars, automobiles and horseless carriages as the same thing, once one looks in the detail there is a large variation in how they work, the technology they use, the scope of their capabilities and their performance.
Some suppliers have used the acronym for what their product is as their product’s name such as SIMS and SIS or just the abbreviation MIS to signify management information system – all the same category of product, but with differences in design and capabilities.
Tech news and media publications have recently talked a great deal about groundbreaking changes in School Information Management Systems and, if you work in education, you may have read about or come across this type of technology before.
Perhaps your peers are already using an advanced information management tool or know how to benefit from it, but maybe you haven’t got round to looking at it yet – after all, we often struggle to find the time for new things.
This post is aimed at answering all the basic questions you may have about management systems and help you choose the right solution for your school. It sets out to explore and respond to all the issues you may face around software, whether you work for a school, academy, Multi Academy Trust (MAT) or Local Authority (LA).
Recommended Article: What is an MIS or a Management Information System?
So, what is SIMS exactly?
In plain English, a School Information Management System, or more generically MIS, is a central location for students’ data collated from a variety of sources. It manages and organises communication with students and parents, and aids with the running of assessments and finances.
SIMS is a type of MIS from Capita Education services and one that was quite prevalent in the UK until more recently. However, with the advent of cloud computing, schools have been moving away to more modern MIS. Because of the popularity that SIMS had acquired in the past, people often still use the acronym SIMS, when they actually mean MIS.
Cloud-based MIS technologies have brought an enormous innovation to the running of schools all over the globe. Just as we are seeing a digital revolution in the consumer and business world, so education technology (EdTech) is pushing the boundaries of traditional teaching… and this is a good thing!
Teachers are there to teach and students are there to learn. Yet far too often both parties have been involved in lengthy electronic and bureaucratic tasks.
Today, MIS platforms are designed to provide ease and alleviate effort in electronic operations, so that everyone can enjoy a better experience of the school environment – the complex mechanics are left to the machine, and humans do the human activities they’ve trained for and enjoy.
How can schools use SIMS or indeed any MIS?
MIS, have numerous different uses, for example, they can be used to facilitate assessment, track attendance and behaviour, communicate with parents and pupils, draw accurate analytics, and manage club activities and finance.
How many schools use SIMS and Bromcom?
Of late, more and more schools have been favouring the more modern option of cloud-based MIS and have been gradually abandoning on-premise SIMS.
The latest school census data (as published by Bring More Data) shows that in 2020 there were more switches to Cloud-MIS than ever before, with 901 schools changing MIS.
Bromcom has confirmed its place for the third consecutive year as the first choice of Cloud MIS provider to switch to for secondary schools across England and Wales. A trend that is starting to emerge in the primary schools’ sector too, as these also look to benefit from the platform’s cloud hosting and cost-effectiveness.
What is FMS, or SIMS Finance, and are there any alternative solutions?
Accounting for schools may involve a wide range of tasks, such as invoice processing, purchase order managing, central authorisation of invoices, dealing with cheque payments and petty cash transactions.
School management software can offer a variety of functionalities to process accounting.
The on-premise SIMS product offered by Capita, for instance, could be combined with a Finance Management System, or FMS, as an additional product.
Bromcom Cloud-Finance is a competitive product that offers anywhere and anytime access. It’s easy to use, and it’s integrated within the same comprehensive Bromcom’s MIS platform and includes a number of features to help manage and maintain day-to-day accounting practices in a far more efficient and less time-consuming manner.
When it comes to school information management systems, cloud-based solutions are proving to be more effective
The latest restrictions on movement following the Covid19 pandemic have highlighted the need for us all to rely on easy-to-access software and platforms. Although, this is not to say that the same necessity was not there before and, indeed, that it will disappear in the future.
Reportedly, “In 2020, if you are still evaluating whether or not to embrace cloud migration, you are already behind 90% of companies, according to a study by 451 research.” (Forbes, Oct. 2020)
The same will be true for schools and academies very soon. Modern education calls for modern systems.
It is easier to implement, use, manage and maintain a web-based interface than an on-premise software.
The sheer advantage given by cloud to the school management system is that it renders the whole interface dynamic, flexible and adaptable to the school’s demands. In more practical terms, a web-based system (especially one that is native cloud) is hosted by the vendor and simply accessed by a web-browser, whilst old in-house servers are installed locally, on the school computers and servers. This limits remote access enormously, and not just that…
Whenever a school requires a new functionality from its management system, if this is not cloud-based, the functionality has to be implemented by an expert IT team, who is familiar with the software. The process of doing this can be slow, disproportionately costly and time-consuming.
Companies providing cloud MIS can develop functionality faster, so schools can benefit from more relevant features and have more of a say into what’s included.
The difficulty in revamping and updating on-premise software is one of the reasons why older school management systems tend to offer fewer functionalities and solutions within one single interface.
Web interfaces are able to be much more inclusive of options. Bromcom, in particular, offers multiple features accessible through the same website: a one-stop shop.
The advantages of an integrated Finance Management Tool
In reference to the point made earlier about web-based MIS being more comprehensive, a platform that includes a finance management system accessible anywhere is doubtlessly value for money.
While most MIS products on the market lack this vital functionality, Bromcom’s solution for schools integrates its own finance software, so that schools don’t have to look elsewhere to purchase an FMS.
What are the key features of Bromcom Cloud-Finance (Our FMS alternative)?
- Bromcom Finance generates live dashboards for the leadership team so that schools can keep track of their accounts without the need for static reports.
- It’s also fully integrated with Bromcoms’s Advanced Report Builder (ARB) to enable the development of detailed reports for a wide range of purposes.
- Unlike other suppliers, there’s no sting in the tail when converting to an Academy, as there’s no need for a new licence and the associated charges.
As well as being ideal for financial management, Bromcom offers intelligent products for all the use cases mentioned above (assessment and attendance tracking, communication management and analytics), and solutions are tailored to the different school years, for both primary and secondary schools.
Bromcom’s solution for primary schools
Bromcom’s product is a bespoke cloud-based platform that offers flexible assessment tracking, enabling teachers to record both summative and formative assessments, and then analyse performance.
It keeps teachers and staff connected with students and parents by facilitating communication through email, SMS messaging and push notifications that can be viewed through the Student and Parent Apps.
In addition, it features an option to report students’ data into groups. This can be used, for instance, to identify at-risk groups by conditioning in terms of KPIs, such as assessment, attendance or behaviour.
Bromcom’s solution for secondary schools
When it comes to secondary schools, with teachers having more complex assessment tasks, Bromcom proves to be a compelling and popular solution.
When switching to a cloud-based MIS, the majority of secondary schools in the UK, over 70% in fact, have chosen Bromcom’s platform for its unique and personalised features and services.
Just as with primary schools, the MIS facilitates and speeds up assessment processes, multi-channel communication and group reporting.
How does Bromcom’s school management system speed up data analysis?
The preparation and analysis of data using an on-premise MIS such as SIMS, is a time consuming process, because data needs to be entered and processed manually. This is no longer acceptable, and neither is the fact that teachers have to waste so much energy on organising, inputting and extracting data.
By using the overview sheets that are automatically updated through the Bromcom Excel Add-in tool, the school can have the information ready at a push of a button.
Having timely access to insights means being able to gain flexibility and act rapidly whenever necessary. For instance, when it comes to detecting behavioural anomalies in student attendance or homework performance, teachers can swiftly intervene.
Speed and accuracy in analysing information ultimately leads to better results.
Bromcom’s solution for Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)
Leading Multi Academy Trusts, or MATs, are undergoing an important digital transformation and have started to favour modern cloud-based infrastructures to obsolete and outdated legacy school management systems.
The benefits academies can gain when moving to the cloud are substantial, and Bromcom is committed to delivering them.
By bringing their data together, Multi Academy Trusts can gain deeper and quicker insight into their staff and students. Bromcom’s functionality can save teachers time from laboriously leveraging and copying data from multiple systems, while, at the same time, saving cost by reducing the number of systems schools would have to implement.
Bromcom’s solution is designed to significantly reduce capital expenditure over time, and eliminate all the inconsistencies caused by the different systems of information, reporting and assessment used by various schools within the same group.
Resourcefully, the web-based MIS platform centralises separate, localised IT support systems working across the multiple institutions in a trust, saving time and adding consistency to every practice.
Bromcom’s partnership with Harris Federation is a great example of the advantages brought by modern EdTech to academies.
As reported by the same group, following the implementation of the new MIS solution in 2016, Harris Federation saw a crucial reduction of annual technical infrastructure cost, and over a period of three years, their savings amounted to £2.8 million.
So, if MATs are waking up to the benefits of modern systems and have started to transform and digitise their processes, why are Local Authorities (LAs) still lagging behind?
Local Authorities and SIMS
Local Authorities have undergone a long period of austerity, and school budgets are under pressure. A cloud-based management system for the schools they are responsible for is the solution that would reduce their expenses. Instead, they are, in great part, still dependent on old legacy IT infrastructures.
This is often because old licence agreements with SIMS appeared to be a cheap solution in their basic terms, making them a more attractive option. However, once the basic on-premise system was implemented, schools would often realise that more finances were needed to pay for extra add-ins and maintenance.
Savings on expenditure, when the selected solution can integrate various options and perform multiple tasks can be significant and this should be considered when choosing technology.
Another thing to consider is that collaboration and sense of community across institutions within the same locality are vital for the LA to run smoothly.
Web-based interfaces permit broader connectivity, and it is easier for different schools to co-operate, if they are plugged into the same server, use the same data reporting tools and communicate through the same channels.
For many years, schools have been familiar with the connectivity and collaborative capabilities of online tools such as email, social media, web apps, etc.
If empowered by cloud-based MIS, schools’ collaborative potential expands, making it easier for teachers, students and parents to connect with a broader community.
Bromcom’s MIS can support Local Authorities in their digital transformation
Bromcom understands the pressures and challenges Local Authorities face.
To name a few, the challenges are:
- having to work with a limited budget
- having to comply with complex regulatory demands
- having to coordinate operations across multiple teams
Here’s how Bromcom responds:
If the budget is limited, the solution must be cost-effective
For years the perception amongst users has been that MIS advanced tech is more expensive than in-house IT systems, but this is not so.
Taking into account the cumulative expenditures that Local Authorities have to bear over the years for running, maintaining and updating older on-premise.
In fact, having asked schools to ascertain indicative costs of data analysis by senior leaders within primary schools, feedback received by Bromcom has shown that the production, manipulation and analysis of performance information would take days and could be costing institutions up to £12,000 per annum.
Web-based MIS are, in comparison, far more cost effective. Bromcom’s school management system can save schools thousands of pounds each year.
The question of security
Another pain point for Local Authorities is ensuring that systems deployed in each school are secure and compliant with regulation. Data privacy and protection practices must be followed in order for schools to withstand dangerous cyber attacks.
Bromcom is committed to abiding by security requirements in line with governmental directions. Through its partnership with Azure, Bromcom inherits and adheres to the same standards upheld by Microsoft.
Bromcom’s partners recently completed a new set of independent third-party ISO, and Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) audits to expand their certification portfolio. Azure leads the industry with the most comprehensive compliance coverage.
By meeting all regulatory demands, Bromcom is able to offer local authorities all the reassurance they need around security.
Facilitating coordination by involving LA support teams
There’s often a concern that experienced IT support teams employed by a local authority may be literally alienated and left out by vendors of modern and advanced software. Again, this is not the case.
Bromcom values the experience and expertise that local teams bring, and is invested in working closely and collaboratively with teams across a locality.
Facilitating collaboration within the school community through modern versions of MIS
For MATs and LAs, it is of vital importance to have consistency across all behavioural, reporting and assessment practices in schools within their group. But how can consistency be achieved if each school relies on a different management system? The answer is simple: it can’t.
Using outdated local IT infrastructure means that each individual school must look elsewhere to purchase new functionalities and updates. This not only causes them to incur extra expenses, but it also changes the individual school’s user experience, reporting and assessment abilities. Hence, a disruption in data visualisation and communication results, making it very difficult for MATs and LAs to have a detailed understanding of data and processes across all institutions.
Deploying cloud-based MIS solves the problem, because additional options and updates to the basic platform can be issued quickly and uniformly.
MATs and LAs can then save time on interpreting different reports and different ways of presenting data, because they’re granted a more global, even and consistent view of developments, methods and performance through one webserver.
Additionally, Bromcom integrates easy-to-use communication tools. These can serve to connect individual schools in their groups and enable collaboration and sharing of best practices. Plus having access through the same platform to email and messaging helps to reach out to students, parents and teachers.
Teachers and school management systems
Teachers and school staff undergoing frequent change of practice are stressed.
However, change is not always driven by new technological directions. Adjustments and adaptations to shifting daily tasks and routine are often due to new rigid administrative demands.
Teachers’ roles have evolved and have almost become something else, as expectations increase for more time to be spent running reports and administering. This is in contrast with most educators’ vocation, because understandably, they want to spend more time in the classroom with their students.
A study by the Journal of Business and Psychology has found that: “Change is more likely to lead to stress when the change has consequences for matters that are central to employees’ sense of self.”
Having said that, the obvious question to ask is, why are teachers not being allowed to just teach?
This is where good technology can help.
Customer service and training on school information management systems – why it matters
While additional responsibility for bureaucratic chores can stress teachers, the implementation of a modern school management system can be stress-free.
Furthermore, over a short period of time, when the new system is up and running, teachers will enjoy the benefits of a technology that really frees them from admin and paperwork.
Bromcom knows this and is committed to ensure schools undergo the smoothest transition. Training and reliable customer service for teachers and staff is provided at the highest level. Feedback and questions are always encouraged, because as well as giving the platform a chance for informing, they also help the system to improve, adapt and evolve.
So, why should your school, MAT or LA choose Bromcom?
As the EdTech industry keeps on growing, so does the number of SIMS/MIS solutions on the market. Schools are often presented with a wide variety of choices, making decisions on which to opt for hard; however, what makes Bromcom stand out is the following:
- A customer-centric focus, with a customer team always available to answer your questions;
- An integrated Finance Tool or FMS
- A responsive and adaptable cloud-based platform, accessible at any time and from anywhere
- A cost-effective package that will make you save on expenditures
- The knowledge and expertise of a team with years of experience in the education sector
Bromcom’s values and commitments
At Bromcom, we listen to the school’s ideas, be they from a small, local school or from a large school trust, or from a local authority running multiple institutes. Our product has been developed on the solid base of an ongoing collaboration with schools that we’ve had for over thirty years.
Our experience has taught us that what schools care about is having a reliable and accessible system with integrated functions and a great user interface at a low cost. Therefore, this is also what we care about and what we strive to provide.
Because we understand that demands are constantly changing, we are committed to always innovating our solution to meet any new challenge and create new opportunities. In a world that is each day becoming more complex, populated and fast-paced, our mandate is simple: to listen, to innovate and to care.
Well, if this blog post has answered all or, at least, some of your questions, why not check the products, features and services offered by Bromcom and listed on our website? You can find detailed information and explore all our tools. And if you’d like to know more about us, just drop us a line or call us, we are always happy to help.
14 January 2021 / Liza Adebisi