Wednesday, 10 February 2010

This is what's wrong with school MIS systems these days

Why is there so little choice of good cheap target tracking, attendance and behaviour programs for schools? (Well, apart from IRIS anyway). The answer lies in the way that the dominant schools MIS providers lock up school's data. Here's an example:
Last week I went up to Tyne + Wear to demo our product to a school up there. When I got there it turned out to be a brand spanking new build. I did my demo to the behaviour leaders in the school. They liked it; thought IRIS was the best they'd seen and said they would like to move on to a trial. No problem, except that in order to get the shiny new building they had to sell their soul to the devil, in the form of that great Universal Step Backwards ... a managed service! They used to have an MIS provided by the dominant supplier, not perfect they would agree, but they were reasonably happy with it. Now, they have to use a different one provided by the company awarded the managed service contract; like it or not, it's all part of the 'service'.
So, the next thing is the school arranged for a nice man from the company to phone me up to discuss data transfer from the MIS to IRIS. What do we need? Oh, yes that's fine we can do that; yes, no problem we can do that too. Just when I thought things were going just a bit too well, came the 'but'. Well, you can guess what it was. In order to release the school's own data from the MIS system (that they are paying for, mind) we have to pay said company £2500 per year plus another £129 (where do they get the 9?!) per school per year!
Here we are, just trying make an honest crust and yet again being shafted by the big guy. It's the school's own data, for heaven's sake! They own it; it's their's! They want to share it with us but are effectively being prevented from doing so by the people holding their data on their proprietary system . If this happened on the high seas, it would be called piracy. The school is paying god knows how much per year to the company for the 'service' that they provide; part of that service should be facilitating data sharing with whoever the school wishes, NOT preventing them from doing so putting physical and financial barriers in the way.
In this way small companies are squeezed out of the market place and competition is reduced. The natural concomitant of this is that quality of product decreases while price increases. Until we remove the dominance of a few major players in the school MIS market this situation will continue; schools will continue to be provided with poor, overpriced software. Big companies are milking the school ICT market for millions of pounds per year. Becta estimated in 2005 that schools in the UK spend over £80 million on MIS services alone. That's £80 million taken away from schools and pupils and put into the pockets of shareholders and CEOs of the big companies who care less about education than they do their bottom line.
It is our intention to do our bit to open up the market by provided connectivity to IRIS FREE to whoever wants it (unless, of course it's one the big guys!)
;-)

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