Monday 13 April 2020

Faronics Wise: a new(ish) entrant to the English MIS market

When I'm asked what advice I'd give to a company wishing to gain a foothold in the English MIS market in 2020, my response is usually something along the lines of "start at least five years ago, or buy someone who did".

It's not that you couldn't start now. But, you know, it's really hard to get your name out there! Schools generally aren't spending every day pondering their MIS choices; if they were, it wouldn't be the case that the highest churn we've seen in the market over the past decade is a whopping (drumroll)... 4%! At that rate, schools change their MIS at the glacial pace of every 25 years.

That said, we do now see a strong slate of challenger MIS picking up market share... but it's been a slog. The biggest winners of the past three years (Scholarpack, Arbor and Bromcom) have all been  refining their offer since at least 2012, and if you speak to the people who made that happen, none of them tells you it's been a doddle. But still, over time they each found their niche, and kudos to them for that. They picked a strategy, executed on that strategy, and kept banging on about it until eventually, one day, schools started to hear it and believe it and felt confident enough to make the switch. But nobody has found a short-cut to that process; rather, it would appear that those MIS with the clearest differentiation and a consistent long-term strategy have ended up with the greatest traction.

Anyway, this isn't supposed to be a blog about the wider market. Instead I'm writing about a new(ish) entrant, because a few days ago I had my first catch up with Chris Stockley, who oversees the commercial side of Faronics Wise. Before the chat I really didn't know too much about them, and so I thought I'd summarise what I learned for anyone similarly in the dark.

But first, allow me one more piece of preamble. I've said this before, but I should reiterate that I don't see it as my role to pick winners in the MIS market. Though these days I do have friends and clients within the MIS world, this blog will always aim to shine a light on the market while remaining studiously neutral. So what follows isn't an endorsement of this (or any) particular vendor; rather, it's a little bit of information about a new player, which may be of use to those who don't yet know about them.

So, who are Faronics? Well, they're a Vancouver-based technology company and a global player in classroom management software (the kind of thing that Impero and NetSupport do). They employ over 100 people and the CEO, Farid Ali, has led the company since founding it in 1996. Chris says that this corporate structure allows them to be patient.

Clearly that patience has come in handy, as Chris tells me he's been working on the rollout of the product for a full five years now. That came as a pleasant surprise to me, since in the latest English market stats they only have one school customer. Clearly, Faronics have been playing the long game: despite the extended development lead time, they only chose to launch the product at BETT 2019, once the census reporting module was ready.  Chris also points out that they have had notable successes elsewhere, and particularly in the international market, where they have 1m system users (80% of which are in Europe). I'm also told they have almost 200 English language schools in Spain alone.

Importantly, Faronics have spent that time refining their product-market fit for English state schools, and it looks like they've found a niche. They showed up on my radar in 2018 with that first English state school: Cranbury College, a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Reading. Chris tells me that this choice was no accident - they have been focusing on the needs of PRUs, Alternative Provision (AP) and Special schools in particular. They're interested in other types of schools, of course: the international schools are all-phase, and Chris talks about functionality they hope will resonate with English primaries, like formative quizzes and their parent-school portal. But still, a lot of time seems to have gone into building the behaviour module (see screenshot below), which sets them up as an intriguing competitor to SchoolPod, Arbor and RM Integris, who are the strongest cloud vendors in the PRU / AP part of the MIS market (77% of cloud MIS share between them, and 22% of total share; SIMS is on 71%). Chris also says their cover module - which has features like managing cover when staff are teaching remotely in hospitals - is popular.

Screenshot of Faronics behaviour module
Another intriguing detail was that Chris says they're actually already working with 22 schools in England. He expects at least some of these to show up on the census data soon, but explains the lag by saying that Faronics treat MIS switching as a project that happens over a period of time. I was also interested to learn that their product manager is Tom Guy, previously a publisher at GL Assessment with a background in SEN products. No doubt Tom offers useful experience when planning their Special school / formative assessment features.

Will Faronics succeed in the notoriously tricky English MIS market? Well, like I say, thankfully that's not my job to decide! But what I will say is that they appear to be a serious company with a long-term plan. I look forward to tracking their progres...