MIS is a crucial piece of the SBM puzzle. A comprehensive solution, it covers core database, statutory returns, timetabling, behaviour management, extra-curricular management, assessments and tracking, text and email, parents’ evenings, online portals for staff, parents and students plus much, much more. Our experts explore some challenges, solutions and what the future holds for MIS
These days management information systems – MIS – are as familiar to SBMs as the sound of a school bell; this once unchartered territory has become a well-trodden path. For those interested in more than a basic understanding of what’s on offer – and keen to learn about what the future holds – an assessment of current trends and developments is worthwhile. Two distinct options have, traditionally, been preferred when working with MIS – a ‘one stop shop’ option and a general model. The first option allows users to gather all data together in a single space and to use it to perform the full range of administrative and financial tasks. “This saves heaps of time, especially as lots of modern systems now offer communications, staffing and pupil data all in one place,” says David Collins, project manager at Scholar Pack. In contrast, the general model requires MIS to integrate with other back office and/or financial software.
Challenges and solutions
Perhaps, however, it’s the dependence on technology in recent years that’s the most significant development for SBMs considering updating their MIS package or, indeed, thinking of switching provider. Put simply, the reliability of a user-friendly and efficient package can’t be underestimated. It’s with some trepidation, then, that SBMs will view a switch and may well be nervous of the future. For example, will an upgrade disrupt infrastructure and essential financial functioning and timetabling? How can existing data be protected from the possibility of loss prior to migration to a new system? Geoff Chandler, managing director at Moxton Education, explains that another key challenge is the so-called ‘cost of change’. “This expenditure is the hidden one that increases MIS costs above and beyond the licencing and any hardware that maybe needed,” he says. “For example, as MIS has become more widely used in schools it’s no longer just the domain of the school business manager; most school staff will regularly interact with the system. Thus, many staff need to be re-trained – and quickly – so that the school can stay operational and information effective; the cost of releasing staff to do this must also be factored in.”
Despite the challenges, solutions are plentiful and the future, even for those of a nervous disposition, is promising. More importantly, current innovations look set to redefine business decisionmaking for the better. For instance, Graham Reed, project manager at Group Call, says that SBMs would be wise to review their MIS and identify which areas they can strengthen rather than bowing to the traditional idea that switching MIS provider to a new model will be best. “Switching to something new because it is new does not guarantee value or success. Many SBMs are looking outside of just the traditional MIS vendors for solutions and looking to platforms that provide many of the key functions for the majority of their staff. These then synchronise with the existing MIS.”
Similarly, Will Jordan, education sector manager at PS Financials, says that schools are thinking things through carefully and asking, “Which data do we actually require?” meaning that bad data, or data that’s no longer of any practical value, isn’t converted to new systems when data migration takes place. Geoff adds that compiling relevant information requires thorough planning. “Many schools have a lot of legacy data in their MIS so datacleansing is key before transition. Remember that what comes out in terms of reports is only, of course, as good as what goes in in terms of data!” The old adage of ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’ still holds true!