Tuesday, 2 January 2018

MIS MARKET MOVES 2017: 860 schools switched MIS in the past year!

The English state school Management Information System (MIS) market is a peculiar beast. Nearly all schools buy a MIS, and larger secondaries can pay £10k+ for the pleasure, so there's proper folding money involved. I'd guess the total market is worth comfortably over £100m, and that juicy figure has led 15 companies to offer a product in the space in the past 8 years. And yet, in spite of the healthy competition, until a few years ago the only real takeaways from an analysis of the data were that SIMS remained huge, and schools don't like switching.

In 2012 for example, just 1.4% of schools switched their MIS (300 out of around 21,500 for whom we have data), implying that the average school was on track to stay with the same supplier for around 72 years. And to be honest, the 2011 and 2013 markets weren't much perkier.

But more recently, the market has finally shown signs of life. Over 600 schools have switched MIS in each of the past three years, with the number peaking at 860, or 4% of schools, in 2016/17.  What's more, the competition is now fiercer than ever. Consider this: in 2011, only one company managed to win more than 30 new schools (SIMS, naturally, who gained 262 that year). Even as recently as 2014, only four got over the 30 school threshold. However, in 2017, fully 8 suppliers topped that number.

It's hard to pin down definitively the reasons for the greater activity, but I would hypothesise that the following three trends are driving the increase:

  1. Schools want the cloud. Some 4,000 schools are now using a cloud MIS, up from 3,000 only two years ago. With SIMS now fully on the cloud train, this is set to shoot up in the next couple of years. Mind you, until now a move to the cloud meant a move away from SIMS; so it's hard to know what effect SIMS's cloud conversion will have on switching numbers.
  2. Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) are flexing their purchasing muscle. Increasing numbers of MATs are choosing a single MIS to use across the trust. Others are allowing for differences, but make their schools choose from a framework of preferred suppliers.  
  3. MIS vendors are differentiating themselves more and more. As I wrote in August, Scholarpack focus on primaries only; Arbor have gone big on data analysis, SchoolPod promote their low price, and Bromcom are flaunting their suitability for MATs. 

Anyway, enough waffle; time to show you the data. Repeat visitors to this blog will know the drill by now: below is a Tableau data visualisation showing you some key market stats from the past 8 years. Have a rummage around for yourself to see who's up and who's down. Then skip to the bottom for a bonus observation and a final data source caveat...

Now, to my bonus analysis...

A prominent person in the industry recently challenged me to dive into the data and look at how likely switchers were to stay with their new MIS. I have spent way too many hours down this rabbit hole, but my conclusion is that in general, once schools switch, they stay switched. Of the 338 schools who appear to have switched more than once in the past seven years, I could find only 45 instances of a school returning to their former MIS. And from the remaining 293, 220 were forced to switch at least one of the times (for example when Pearson e1 left the market). Furthermore, I can't see any evidence of a supplier that is more prone than others to winning, and then promptly losing, business.

This should offer encouragement to the challenger brands: school business may be hard won, but once a school has made the move they are unlikely to want to shift again any time soon. In a sense therefore, the MIS market is to edtech what current accounts are to banking.

A final postscript for those geeky enough to read to the end: as Keith Johnson (of Timetabler fame) correctly pointed out in the comments on my last post, the data used for this blog covers only English state schools, which means that MIS which are popular with independent schools (such as iSAMS, SchoolBase and WCBS) are missed out of the analysis. Sadly that's a hard gap to fill since I use FOI-ed public data, and there's no equivalent source for the Indie sector. It's also worth noting that the data excludes Welsh schools (who mostly use SIMS, with a notable minority using Ceredigion Teacher Centre) and Scotland (where more or less all schools use the council-owned SEEMIS).

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

MIS MARKET MOVES: 2017 mid-year update

Since MIS market information is collected by the DfE every term as part of the school census, in theory it's possible to request the data from them on a termly basis. However,  I normally only bother doing analysis annually, using data from the autumn term. This is partly because schools have historically preferred to switch over the summer, meaning the termly data doesn't usually show big movements; and partly because people laugh at me if I spend too many evenings writing about education technology.

And yet, after skimming through the May 2017 data (requested in an FOI by Richard Harley, founder of Scholarpack), I thought the numbers were interesting enough to whack up a quick blog post / Tableau viz of the data. I have also heard from reliable sources that Wauton Samuel (WS) is exiting the market, having come to an arrangement with Scholarpack for a large proportion of their schools to switch to them. Since WS had 115 schools at the last count, that'll inevitably boost the total 16-17 switching number further, so it looks like it will be a (relatively) busy year for the MIS market.

Anyway, here's the data in a few tables and charts. My analysis is below.

My key takeaways:
  1. Nine companies now have over 100 school customers. This compares to just five in 2014, making the market more competitive than ever. I consider 100 schools to be something of a magic number - many MIS founders will tell you the first 100 are the hardest to come by, and it's also a level of market share that could conceivably sustain a small business, or at least give confidence to shareholders eager to see growth to justify their investment. Of course, the exit of WS will take this down to 8 come next year, but still, that's plenty enough options for schools to feel like they have good choices.
  2. 534 schools in England switched MIS between September 16 and May 17. That's a lot by historical standards. Unfortunately I don't keep tabs of the in-year numbers, so I can't give you accurate, like-for-like numbers for previous years, but I do know that 659 switched in the whole of 15-16, and I'd take an educated guess that the number has typically been lower than that in recent years. Given the Wauton Samuel news, I now think it's highly likely that we're on track for 700+ switchers in the academic year. 
  3. Scholarpack are the big winners, followed by Arbor, Bromcom, Schoolpod and Pupil Asset. Scholarpack gained 213 schools net in the first two terms of the academic year, with net increases of 36 for Arbor, 27 for Bromcom, 26 for Schoolpod and 17 for Pupil Asset. These five companies have all shown significant year-on-year growth for the past five years now, and between them they represent 6.4% of the market. 
  4. SIMS still has over 80% of the market. Just because others are doing well, it shouldn't be assumed that SIMS are struggling. Indeed, if you can retain an 80% market share in the face of increasing competition from those around you, you're doing something right. 
  5. Advanced Learning (AL) may turning the corner. In the past six years the AL market share has dropped from 6% to 2.3%, and while there were further net losses this year, there are also more positive signs for the company behind both CMIS (locally hosted) and Progresso (cloud-based). The net loss of 80 schools over the two terms is likely to be weighted heavily towards CMIS (the two systems aren't separated out in the data), and the company will no doubt be encouraged by the 46 new school customers (presumably for Progresso). Stripping away those losses, after Scholarpack (214) and SIMS (125), AL actually ranked third overall in terms of number of new customer wins, which will please fans of a competitive market.
  6. MIS are increasingly finding ways to differentiate themselves. That's not just my view; it's evident from vendors' own websites: 
    1. Scholarpack say they are "built for primary schools". In other words, they aren't focussing on the secondary market.
    2. Arbor promote their data and analysis capabilities, pitching themselves as the system that will "integrate all your data in one place"
    3. SchoolPod care about price-competitiveness so much that they say "if you can find a cheaper price, we will match it."
    4. Bromcom claim to be the "MATs’ number one choice for a Cloud based MIS", and proudly display the logos of several Multi Academy Trust customers on their homepage

A final observation: with Capita having announced revamped, cloud-based versions of SIMS for both primary and secondary in 2018, every vendor in the English market is publicly pinning their future on a cloud-based product. Perhaps unsurprisingly (given that I run Assembly, a cloud-based schools data platform), I think that's a good thing. The cloud offers flexibility and simplicity that should bring significant benefits and savings to schools.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

MIS Market Moves 2016: Schools Are On Cloud Nine (Options To Choose From)

The first rule of journalism is: be fresh. Nobody likes old news.

So thank goodness I'm not a journalist. Because this blog post publishes school Management Information System (MIS) market data from September 2016, which I've been sitting on since December. But enough people have asked me about school MIS stats recently that I felt shamed into updating this series of "MIS Market moves" posts I started in 2014.

Anyway, to business. For the benefit of those who haven't read this blog before, a cheery bunch of education data folks (including Twitter's own @GrazReed and @DavKellyPro) submit Freedom of Information requests to the government for up-to-date MIS market stats, who happen to collect data on school MIS choice as part of their census data collection process. I then piggy back off their hard work by plonking the data into Tableau (the data visualisation tool of choice at Assembly, the schools data platform where i work.)

The following Tableau Story takes you through the main headlines in the market. The first visualisation (or "Viz" in Tableau-speak) is the most flexible: you can use the menu options to filter the data by school phase and MIS vendor. Below the Tableau Story, you'll also find my commentary on the state of the market.

So as is seemingly the case every year, the biggest story is... there isn't a big story. (Don't get me wrong, there are medium-sized stories, so please keep reading, Just not a really big one...).  The MIS market moves slooooowly; changes in market share of 0.5% or greater (basically, a move of +-100 schools) are unusual, and therefore can be considered a BIG DEAL.

With that in mind, the big risers are Scholarpack (460 schools up from 305) and Pupil Asset (261, up from 119). It's no coincidence that both are proudly primary focused - it's been apparent for a while that primaries are happy to accept a thinner product than secondaries, providing it is tailored to their needs. They're also apparently quicker to perceive the benefits of the cloud; while RM (by far the largest cloud vendor by market share) serves both primaries and secondaries, its customer base is mostly in the primary sub-sector. Bromcom also deserve an honourable mention for rising from 93 to 155 schools; the biggest increase among MIS suppliers working across all phases.

The biggest drop in terms of absolute number of schools was SIMS (17,888, down from 18,162). However, in terms of market share, the move is hardly spectacular: a drop from 82.6% to 81.3%. Advanced Learning (576, down from 714) also continue to fall, presumably because of customers leaving their legacy "Facility CMIS" product. (The company also provides a newer cloud MIS called Progresso, but the government stats don't separate the two, so it's hard to tell exactly what's going on.)

However, individual vendor data tells only half the story. When you aggregate and compare cloud and non-cloud systems (the second viz on the Tableau story), you see that the market share of cloud vendors continues to rise significantly - up from 11.6% in 2014 to 15.9% in September 2016. In a slow-moving sector, that's a sure sign that something is happening. And actually, these figures understate the rate of change, since I've not been able to count Progresso schools in the "cloud" column, and recent high-profile MAT procurements from Harris (who moved to Bromcom) and AET (who moved to Progresso) are not reflected in the data.

Even more telling is the third viz, which shows how the net gains are all from cloud vendors. There are, in fact, fully nine cloud MIS suppliers with 25 or more state school customers, compared with just two locally hosted systems left in the market (SIMS and CMIS). It's in this context that the recent big announcement from SIMS of a move to the cloud in 2018 should be understood. Of course, many schools still love SIMS just how it is today, but clearly the company's future health is tied to how SIMS measures up to the ever growing crop of cloud contenders.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

MIS Market Moves: 3,000 schools now use cloud MIS

The last six years have not been kind to school MIS providers who live in the cloud.

Of the 22,000 schools for which data is available, the number of schools using cloud MIS went from approximately 2,300 in 2010 to 2,400 in 2014*.  In other words, the market flatlined, and suppliers struggled. Of the twelve organisations to have released a cloud MIS, Pearson and VS no longer have any presence in the English market, and while Tribal have five schools left using Synergy in Schools (down from ten in 2014), they are no longer promoting the product on their website. Even Capita - the market titans, with an 83% market share - have seemingly put their cloud "SIMS 8" project on hold (there's nothing about it on their website, at least) to focus instead on the locally hosted core SIMS product. So you'd be forgiven for wondering whether suppliers should just stop trying to make cloud MIS happen.

But hang on.

The 2015 data has just been released (following a FOI request from ScholarPack CEO Rich Harley), and it turns out that in the past year, some 600 schools moved their MIS to the cloud, taking the total to 3,000+. That's a 25% YoY increase in the cloud market share, and that's significant. Both standalone schools and Local Authorities are clearly signing cloud MIS deals with newfound enthusiasm.

Here's a short Tableau "Story" (a sort of data-driven Powerpoint, if you will) showing the news highlights in a short series of graphs. Click on the < and > arrows at the top to navigate your way through. Then look below for a bit more commentary from me on what's going on.

Promising players are emerging, with RM leading the way: they now have 2,236 schools (mostly primary), up from 1,894 in 2014. It's heartening to see others following hot on their heels - ScholarPack topped 300 schools this year and Pupil Asset also came from the relative obscurity of 31 schools to an impressive 119 (largely thanks to a 100+ schools deal with Norfolk LA). Arbor, Bromcom and Progresso are also all up near the 100 schools mark. That means there are now six cloud players who now have sufficient scale to kick on and compete for business across the country, which can only be a good thing for the sector.

Of course, cloud is not the answer for everyone - 18,162 schools still choose SIMS (down slightly from 18,247 in 2014), and they do so because it's a strong product that meets their needs. So nobody is suggesting that the cloud is the only way to deliver a good MIS just now.

That said, you only need to look at the Advanced Learning trajectory to see what happens when schools stop believing in a locally hosted system. Since 2010 their market share has almost halved (from 1,380 to 714 schools). It's worth bearing in mind that during this time they've actually started selling Progresso (a cloud system), so the drop off for CMIS (the locally hosted system) is even more dramatic.

To be clear, I don't personally endorse or take issue with any MIS. In my most recent role at Ark I have worked directly with a whole host of suppliers and I've seen something to like in every system I've encountered. My new role is to lead Assembly, a joint venture between Ark and NEON that helps schools do more with their data (more on that in the new year), and our approach is to partner with any and all MIS suppliers. Rather, what matters to me is that customers know what's happening in the market, and can make an informed choice.

*It's hard to know for sure - Advanced Learning have both a local hosted MIS (Facility CMIS) and a cloud MIS (Progresso), and they show up as the same thing on the DfE MIS statistics releases. It is widely known that Progresso counts for a fairly small proportion of the total, but the exact breakdown is not published, so I am making my own assumptions in arriving at these figures.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Ark/PEAS SchoolTool Project (Part 2): System Evaluation

In my previous blog post I discussed progress in our project to get SchoolTool working across the PEAS network in Uganda. In this post I'm reflecting on the system more generally. But before I get to specifics, I'm going to digress for a few paragraphs.

Before I joined Ark, a friend and I set up a company called Unlocked Guides producing children's travel books. Here are the two main lessons I learnt from the experience:
  1. Make your customers part of the design process. They know what they want, and aren't afraid to tell you. Especially nine year olds.
  2. People massively overvalue ideas, and massively undervalue execution.
The background to point 1 is that the first draft of our first book (London Unlocked) was, with hindsight, terrible. Lots of pastel colours. No real structure to the pages. Not enough jokes. But mercifully, we workshopped the design with two hundred children before launching. And they told us that the first version was rubbish. So we iterated and iterated and in the end created a children's board of directors to gain regular input from our target audience. We ended up with a great product which still sells a few thousand copies a year, six years on.

The context for point 2 is that several times before and after launch, we got nervous about other people attempting the same thing as us. Lonely Planet launched a rival book. Sandi Toksvig wrote a children's travel guide. And, adorably, a furious parent approached us one of our book launches and told us she had been thinking of doing the exact same thing, but that her (as yet unlaunched) concept was much better than ours. But the thing is, because we'd worked so hard to make our product great, we never really suffered too much from competition. Rivals either fell by the wayside or ended up helping us by creating a new, browsable bookshop category (before we launched, children's travel wasn't really a thing). And we never did hear again from the furious "better idea" lady.

Which brings me back to SchoolTool.

If we're being super-picky, we'd say that SchoolTool hasn't had enough customer input over the years - particularly when it comes to school improvement functionality. For example, assessment was a rather thin module when we first started working with the system - it only tracked absolute scores, which made performing analysis really hard. And while the attendance module had some neat features for fast data entry, the standard reports available to track attendance changes over time were either limited or non-existent.

So we've become the nine year olds. As well as implementing the system in Uganda, we're speccing features we think will make the system work for school improvement, and paying for their development. (SchoolTool may be a free, open-source system, but it doesn't have an active volunteer developer community, so new features come at a price). Since we're requesting features based on both input from PEAS users during the product rollout AND our own experience of supporting SIS in the UK, we're comfortable we're asking for the right things.

At the moment these features sit in our own project branch on the SchoolTool code respository, but they should all make it into the main project code in the coming months. The features we've funded include:
  • upgraded assessment module (making it much more flexible so it can handle a wide range of assessment structures)
  • upgraded attendance module (added group filtering and colour coding for easier data entry)
  • new assessment and attendance reports
  • central data sync and dashboard to allow a central office to see data from multiple schools
When it comes to to ideas vs execution, in contrast, SchoolTool has a fabulous and unique story to tell. I've lost count of the number of people who have conceived of an open-source SIS. We reviewed six before selecting SchoolTool. Scholarpack (which is now in over 300 schools in the UK) started out as a free, open-source product. We even considered developing our own.

But to our knowledge, the Schootool team are still the only ones that have actually done it at any scale and stuck with it. And it's still free. And it works. The problems mentioned above - and the ones covered on the previous blog post (like the fact that it only works on Ubuntu, and requires some technical knowledge to install) have no doubt constrained uptake. But our experience has been that if you can overcome these fairly minor hurdles and get the thing installed, it'll do a great job for your school at my favourite pricepoint. So sure, it could be better. But give the guys credit - they executed well on their vision of a free SIS where others have changed tack or given up.

What's next
For the next phase, Fran and Sunesh are looking at how we could reduce the barriers to uptake of SchoolTool further. For example, what if we could pre-install the software on cheap, compact hardware so that a school just needs to plug it in and bingo, there's a SchoolTool server up and running? And how could we produce better user guides to make adoption possible without requiring training sessions from experts?

We're also planning to test alternative ultra-low-cost SIS products in different contexts - we'll talk more about that in a few months time. But for now, if you're reading this and considering whether to use SchoolTool in your school, we encourage you to give it a go.

Ark/PEAS SchoolTool Project (Part 1): Implementation Report

Ark/PEAS SchoolTool Project (Part 1): Implementation Report

As we wrote last year, some colleagues of mine (Fran and Sunesh) have been working with the  PEAS network in Uganda over the past year to get SchoolTool up and running as their School Information System (SIS). It's been a fascinating project, and by helping PEAS deploy SchoolTool in nine schools we've really got to see the product up close. In this blog post, I'll update on progress over the past twelve months. In my next post, I'll reflect on SchoolTool more broadly.

Pleasingly, after a year of hands-on experience, our view of SchoolTool remains the same as at the outset: it's an intuitive and easy to use system. Teachers have little trouble getting started, even if they've never used an SIS before. Thanks to its usability, nine PEAS schools are already using it effectively to track student and teacher attendance, and a few trailblazers are also using it to manage assessment. That's big progress, and a testament to all involved (with special mentions to Abraham and Jakub from the PEAS team).

I was out in Uganda in the Eastern province in late May, and visited four PEAS schools in Malongo, Mukongoro, Nyero and Ngora. Malongo has had the system live since February and the impact on performance is already evident. Teacher and student attendance has increased, and crucially, the school are thinking through how to take action based on the messages contained in key system reports. Fran facilitated a fabulous conversation in the school around how to improve teacher attendance further. One teacher suggested putting the main teacher attendance report on the staff room wall to encourage shared ownership of performance on this key metric. That's the kind of conversation that makes you know that something good is happening.

Group discussion at Malongo about how to use SchoolTool effectively

Mukongoro, Nyero and Ngora all had the system installed during our visit, and broadly speaking, it was a smooth process in each case. The SchoolTool setup process isn't completely intuitive, so we still find that we need technical expertise on hand to be sure that things are established in the right way. That said, we've become accustomed to the potential pitfalls now, so troubleshooting takes minutes / hours, rather than days. Also, the schools had all done a great job of preparing spreadsheets for data upload, which is in many ways the part of the setup process where things are most likely to go wrong. Also, between our team and PEAS, all schools got a solid set of training on how to get started.

It was particularly heartening to hear school leaders from these three schools talk about their colleagues in other schools who were already using the system, and how they plan to share knowledge and expertise. Another nice touch was that Fran and Abraham had planned joint training sessions. Since there will only be a few users in each location, shared training works well - as with all systems, everywhere, the trick to high quality adoption is to become part of a community of users sharing experiences. PEAS are well on the way to making this a reality.

Training at Nyero 

A final thought: I think it's important to empahasise that in all the schools I visited, the value of data was well understood BEFORE SchoolTool was implemented. See the colourful notice boards in the above picture from Nyero? Well, several of the displays were filled with well-presented tables and charts showing key school metrics. I mention this because it's important to acknowledge that part of the success of our project to date is that we're working with people who already "get" the importance of data. So it's worth remembering that a good deal can be achieved with school data even without a School Information System. The value of SchoolTool is that it streamlines data collection and enhances analysis. Crucially, that then leads to more impactful data action.

Ark/PEAS SchoolTool Project (Part 2): System Evaluation

Thursday, 12 March 2015

What the sale of Pearson's Powerschool says about the sad state of the global SIS sector

Pearson are looking to sell Powerschool. Here's why, in the words of Pearson CEO John Fallon:
"After careful consideration, we decided that these systems do not align with Pearson’s stated commitment to focus on products and services that shape student outcomes in a way we can directly measure and improve."
That sentence says a lot about the sad state of the global School Information System (SIS) market. The CEO of the company that produces the world's largest SIS (70 countries 13m students; $97m revenues; $20m operating income, according to Edsurge) doesn't see his product as something that can shape student outcomes. Think about that for a second. The SIS is, after all, the home of student data. It's where you store attendance, assessment, exam, behaviour and other contextual data. You know, the things that, umm, shape student outcomes.

I want to stress: I'm not in any way criticising Fallon. His rationale for describing Powerschool as non-core for Pearson does make sense to me. (Mind you, the FT and the Economist are not obviously school improvement products, but that hasn't prompted Pearson to sell their stake in either just yet.) What I'm saying is that his comment points to a terrible truth: the education sector sees the SIS primarily as an administrative tool, rather than as a school improvement system.

It doesn't have to be like this. After all, most school leaders now understand that if you use any half-decent SIS properly, you'll improve outcomes. Strong schools take time to decide what inputs to record. They then use the SIS to store and track those inputs: things like attainment, progress, attendance and behaviour. And most importantly, they analyse the data and take appropriate action based on what it tells them. So the problem is not that the SIS can't improve outcomes; it's that vendors haven't worked out how to give themselves an edge in this area.

Vendors who understand this have an opportunity to disrupt the sector by making it their mission to do exactly what Fallon things is not possible: measure and improve how the SIS can impact student outcomes. Here are some approaches they could consider:
  1. Make it much, much easier to track assessment. Anyone who's set up assessment templates in an SIS will know that it is often a bit of a mission to get a progress tracking system set up in a school. It's harder still if you want to use the same assessment model across multiple schools. There's just way too much manual, non-intuitive work involved. And there's no reason why an SIS couldn't include tools to make data collection and moderation easier, like online tests and past papers. 
  2. Set the data free with open APIs. If you've read my blog before, you'll know that sooner or later I shoehorn in a reference to open APIs. That's partly because I'm by nature a boringly repetitive person. But it's also because I'm right. Indulge me for a second while I rehearse the argument: in any industry, anywhere, ever, innovation in sector-spanning data systems requires agreement on how to share data (think BACS, for example). But way too often, SIS vendors make it hard or expensive to interoperate with other systems. So if you want to build a great testing tool, or parent portal, or analytics system, you have to work really hard to make your system talk to the different SIS out there, let alone integrate with other systems (e.g. HR, finance). That's holding everyone back. So SIS vendors need to start believing in open APIs. Even better, they could converge around common standards and principles. SIF 3.0, anyone? 
  3. Think about how to track the effectiveness and cost of interventions. I've not yet seen any school really nail how they track initiatives (new curricula; one-to-one interventions; pupil premium spend) in a way that properly interrogates their value for money and impact on progress. That's in no small part because I'm not aware of any software that really makes this easy to do. SIS vendors might want to get on that.
  4. Be more global. Powerschool is a rarity, in that it is a global SIS. Most vendors make a system for their home market, and in doing so, they keep their horizons - and development budgets - small.
  5. Integrate the SIS more tightly with the learning platform. To move this along, one of the big platform vendors, like Blackboard, could buy one of the big SIS, like Powerschool. Oh, hang on...
A huge amount of money is flowing into edtech, but school information is not getting its fair share of investment. And yet, when used in the right way, the SIS really can be a school improvement goldmine. It's time for investors and innovators to open their eyes to its potential.