Stick or Twist? My Views On The Enforced Three Year ESS SIMS Contract

ESS SIMS recently informed their schools that they will be changing the terms and conditions of the contracts supporting their SIMS Management Information System. It’s quite a change. One which has prompted other MIS suppliers to comment here on LinkedIn and even the education press are reporting the news.

Traditionally, SIMS has been an annual agreement with a rolling renewal the following year. This approach has long been a staple of the ESS SIMS business model. To a large extent, this minimum one-year commitment has become a standard for our industry as educational software providers.

However, ESS SIMS’s latest contract changes have forced their existing school customers into a position of ‘stick or twist’; as they are set to enforce a minimum three-year agreement at the next enrolment point. And, for schools that auto-renew early next year, 2025 is a long way away.

When Is The ESS SIMS Contract Renewal Deadline?

Deciding on the Management Information System that your school or trust is going to use is no mean feat. The mechanism for identifying the best fit software and most complementary support for your school’s needs is a process that rightly should take time and due consideration.

However, this much needed time is now being denied to ESS SIMS schools, as they’re under pressure to provide notice of termination or commit to a three-year renewal before the imposed deadline of either the end of December 2021 or February 2022 (depending on the source of information you believe).

By forcing this impending deadline on such an aggressive timescale, I have to ask whether schools deserve this level of consideration after such an intense and challenging two years?

Why The ESS SIMS Three Year Term Is Bad For Schools And Trusts

The change in the ESS SIMS approach to strong-arming their schools into a legacy, on-premises MIS until 2025 is questionable at best.

The immediate ripple effect of ESS SIMS contract change on procurement, tendering and compliance with best practices in these areas will only add stress to schools that are just recovering from the worst two years we’ve seen for the education sector. And while I am untrained in procurement law, I would suggest that it may stray into a grey area in terms of what is considered a ‘material change’ to a contract, which ought to trigger a formal procurement process.

The Importance Of Choice

I believe schools and trusts should want to choose and review (and stick with) their MIS because it helps them drive pupil outcomes and helps deliver school management efficiency – not because their supplier operates a contract that makes it difficult to look at options.

Of course, I can understand why an MIS supplier might offer a brand-new school or trust a three-year term – it helps spread the costs relating to set-up, migration of data, training and other overheads. That seems fair enough. But, once that period has passed, an annual renewal seems reasonable, and to lock schools and trusts in for three years at short notice in this way is, in my personal view, unethical.

So… Stick or Twist? My Advice On Switching Or Renewing SIMS

My advice would be to take a four-step approach:

1) Tell SIMS you want to leave.

Give them notice. Comply with the terms of your agreement with ESS SIMS and do it as quickly as you can (regardless of the deadline).

2) Spend some time investigating your options.

A quick Google search will return you a list of school MIS vendors worth talking to. We will most likely be in the list, and you can check out our Horizons MIS (you might know it better as Pupil Asset) used in over 400 primary schools. 

See also

3) Consider using a purchasing framework. 

MATs in particular can speed up the process by using an established procurement framework for school MIS where lots of the legwork has already been done to ensure solution suitability and commercial terms. A good example is the Everything ICT MIS Framework.

4) Make a timely decision, but don’t rush it.

If you decide ESS SIMS are the best fit for your school or trust, let them know you would like to retract your notice. My guess is they’ll be delighted to have you back (in fact, you won’t ever really have left). If you’ve found a better MIS fit for your school, you have the freedom and flexibility to negotiate with your new supplier without the pressure of a closing deadline.

The chances are you’ll find another MIS vendor who will be able to offer you a more modern, much easier to use cloud-based solution that more than adequately meets your needs.

Lots of schools use SIMS. But is SIMS Still The Best Software?

The truth is, as the MIS marketplace has developed and cloud-based technology has become an essential feature in rival MIS solutions, SIMS is now very much the out-of-date elder statesman of the educational software world. More and more schools have been moving away from SIMS in recent years, and SIMS’s competitors are now adept at switching schools from SIMS to their rival platform. Here at Juniper, we are generally able to migrate schools in around a week. Sometimes less.

My personal view…

Finally, and on a personal note (the sort of thing people write in their Twitter bio that says ‘All views my own… etc’), I’m particularly saddened by the approach ESS SIMS have taken. Why? Because I worked at SIMS for many years.

It’s easy to see why the ESS management team may have taken this decision. Locking schools into a contract, maybe losing a few along the way, but keeping hold of the vast majority while preventing them from switching in the meantime and securing predictable company finances for the next three years probably looks like a good idea on paper. But it’s not the right thing to do.

Sure, the SIMS software is a bit long in the tooth. It seems a replacement cloud version is on the way at some point in the future. However, using this tactic to get to that point and keep as many schools as possible in the meantime is wrong.