School software provider moves to 3-year licensing agreements • The Register

Update Education Software Solutions – a former school software provider owned by Capita, now controlled by Montagu Private Equity – is in the process of being unbranded by customers to move to license agreements with a minimum term of three years.

Sold in December for £400million, ESS is now part of the same group as ParentPay, led by CEO Mark Brant, who wrote to school customers last week.

“We hope you are beginning to enjoy a more stable academic year,” the letter seen by The Reg States. “The pandemic has impacted all of us, especially students and those responsible for their learning and development. As we return closely to our normal routines, it is time to share updates within the SSE and explain simple actions so you can continue using SIMS – the UK’s first GIS [management information system] for schools.”

For the uninitiated, SIMS (school information management system) is a client-server architecture, with a back-end built on Microsoft SQL Server. The business logic is handled by a bespoke .NET Framework module and the client application is also built with .NET. It came out in 1984.

As of October 2020, between 70-80% of UK schools are using SIMS, although this represents an 80-90% drop in market share from October 2017, according to data provided to the Competition Authority. markets when considering the sale. from ESS to Montagu.

The letter reminded customers that ESS is now part of the ParentPay “family” and that the new owners are committed to “investing millions in the future of SIMS. We are actively preparing to deliver new and improved features for SIMS “.

“We will also bring greater consistency and focus to our communications and training materials, allowing you to get the most out of SIMS.”

And then came the talk of “moving to three-year contracts” and attempts to justify it by describing the provision of “first-class solutions and increased value for users”.

“[W]We are making changes to your annual SIMS plan. We are extending the term of the agreement to three years, giving you the certainty of a fixed cost for the first year and a capped price increase for years two and three. The revised agreement provides full access to enhancements we are making to SIMS, including “Next Gen” software feature sets. These SIM card enhancements will be available at no additional cost.”

The letter isn’t explicit about the new features, but does mention helping schools and school groups “transform” the way they use GIS; “redefine the way they use data”; and allowing users to be “enabled ‘anywhere, anytime’ [to] access to school GIS.”

These new features should be in place by “early 2022,” the letter says.

A technical contact at a school that uses SIMS said the move to a three-year deal was “ill-advised”. He said schools are more willing to use alternatives to the cloud and have benefited from greater flexibility in the choice of providers by local authorities.

Others jumped onto the Edugeek community forum to express their annoyance at being asked to upgrade to longer contracts, with many saying they only wanted to renew it for 12 months when they planned to upgrade to a new MIS. The forum chatter spans six pages.

“This is incredibly poor. We don’t want to sign a three-year contract. This would force us to go to a full tender due to the value of the contract,” user localzuk said.

In response, paulkerton said: “Well, there would be a certain irony if a company decided to push everyone into a multi-year contract in order to try to secure themselves, ending up forcing everyone into a situation tender rather than their real intention to maintain their monopoly on the market.”

Another said they were told that if their portal process under renewal was not completed by February 1, “a deal will be generated for existing products with a 3-year term.”

“They are trying to lock schools into a three-year contract, with no apparent possibility of renewal for the standard term (12 months). For many schools, this puts the contract above the bidding threshold and requires them to compare incumbent to other providers (Bromcom, Arbor, etc.),” ​​localzuk added.

The Competition and Market Authority disapproves of aggressive renewal tactics. Earlier this year, it hit the knuckles of the antivirus vendor community, especially McAfee and Norton, and put some guidelines in place.

However, ESS contracts relate to schools and are therefore not considered consumer contracts, which means that the laws that the CMA applies do not apply here.

We asked ESS, CEO Brant and the Ministry of Education to comment. ®

Updated at 2:59 p.m. on November 19, 2021 to add:

Mark Brant, CEO of ParentPay, sent us a statement to say that while “customers continue to respond positively to the new agreements, we sincerely apologize if our last communication on the new SIMS renewal terms caused concern.

“We have communicated to our customers the need to upgrade our basic SIMS contracts to a three-year term, reflecting the approach taken by a number of our competitors for many years. Longer agreement terms are becoming more common in our industry and allow suppliers to commit to sustained investment programs, which result in better products for schools. Until now, SIMS was really the anomaly.”

He said that when buying ESS, ParentPay Group pledged to reinvest “every penny of after-tax profits back into the business for at least the next four years in a multi-million pound investment”.

“If schools choose to move forward with the revised agreement, they will benefit from access to our Next Gen software features from early 2022, guaranteed supply and longer term price certainty. term.”

SIMS, Brant added, is “already available as a cloud solution” and a number of schools are using it. “To suggest otherwise is fundamentally incorrect.” Starting in the first calendar quarter of next year, it will offer “enhanced browser-based access to all existing SIMS functionality, via a new hosting solution called SIMS Connected”. It will be a cost-effective and high-performance alternative to on-site SIMS.”

“The Next Gen project will deliver all the benefits of the industry-leading GIS, future-proof without the risks and costs of a disruptive wholesale migration. We will deliver purely cloud-based enhancements to SIMS to sit side-by-side alongside classic SIMS functionality, giving users the ability to evolve at their own pace.Next Gen will retain the breadth of third-party integrations that are a valuable part of the SIMS ecosystem and differentiate SIMS from other GIS vendors.