Why Azure is the default choice for Microsoft in Education partner Capita SIMS

The following post is written by Gerald Haigh.

Capita’s ‘SIMS’, is the management information system of choice for eight out of ten schools in England and Wales. This means that Capita’s increasing use of Microsoft’s ‘Azure’ Cloud for SIMS applications is effectively a vote of confidence in the reliability, functionality and flexibility of ‘Azure’. This is a message that should not be lost on schools (some3000 already) who are experiencing Azure via Capita SIMS.

New SIMS management products from Microsoft partner Capita Children’s Services, to be featured at Bett 2017, mark the company’s increasing confidence in the benefits of cloud hosting with Microsoft Azure.

SIMS SchoolView is aimed at the leaders and administrators of multi-academy trusts. It provides them with a dashboard that shows current data on attendance and achievement across multiple schools. Automatic calculations of key performance indicators make it easy to see which schools and departments are showing best practice, and which will benefit from support.

Then there are two new apps – SIMS Parent app and SIMS Student app following on from the now well-established SIMS Teacher app. SIMS has always, with its SIMS Learning Gateway (SLG), made key performance data available to parents. The latest enhancement to SLG, the SIMS Parent app, goes a step further by pushing information to parents, directly on their phone, tablet or PC as they choose. It offers an overview of their child’s life and learning in school, and there are alerts for events that call for parental attention. Having up-to-date information on your child, to hand on the phone in your pocket, is a potential game-changer for parental engagement.

"Azure is now our default choice when looking at new products and services."

The SIMS Student app offers the student key information on their phone or tablet – homework, timetable, alerts about sport fixtures – the possibilities are endless. Not all students, to say the least, are well organised, and the SIMS Student app is going to be something of a life-saver for some.

All of these new features, and presumably any others to come, are Azure-hosted, and been interesting to see Capita moving to this level of confidence in the Cloud, and Azure in particular.

The first step came with the launch, at Bett 2013, of SIMS Agora, a system making it easy and safe for parents to pay money into their children’s schools for lunches, school trips and whatever other transactions the school chose. SIMS Agora was the first SIMS product to be Azure hosted. It pointed to what Managing Director Phil Neal at the time called, ‘the direction of travel’.

I discussed Capita SIMS’ Azure journey with Hosting Director, Winston Poyton. He agreed with the notion of a ‘direction of travel’.

“That’s absolutely right. Over the past two years we’ve gone from using a bit of Azure to the point where Azure is now our default choice when looking at new products and services.”

The ‘as a service’ nature of Azure, he says, brings huge advantages for scaling and upgrading the offering to users.

“Our school business is massively predictable – people start logging in at 7am and are mostly off by 6pm at night. So, we can more effectively scale from using two servers at night up to 80 during the day, and because we’re not buying servers, we can pass savings on to customers.”

Capita’s commitment to Azure for hosting SIMS is highly significant. SIMS is the runaway market leader in the field of management information systems, and so is responsible for Azure having a presence in a very large number of UK schools. This can only increase. As Winston Poyton says,

“We’ve worked out where Azure works well for us, and because we have that experience, we are able to push ahead and use it to develop the new services. Our next challenge is how we do that to scale, with everything based in Azure. The challenge of how we maintain quality still remains, but what we haven’t done is fall at the early stages."

You can find Capita SIMS on stand B190 at BETT 2017.

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