Back when I was a teacher working with SIMS in my old school (see my previous blog for a good laugh at some old pictures!), there was one thing that would get me vexed. Whenever I had a good idea for a SIMS feature or spotted an annoying irritation in the software - I try not to call them bugs - I never really knew what to do about it. What could I do to influence the people who make SIMS to put my feature in there?
Sometimes, it seemed to take a long time before something that I thought was a good idea actually turned up in the software. But now having worked behind the scenes at SIMS for many years, I can explain how we prioritise features for inclusion in SIMS and why it can take longer than we (and you) would like to add new functionality.
Who manages SIMS software?
The content of the SIMS software is managed by our product managers - I'll introduce you to some of them in a later post, but you can meet Geoff Perry and Chris Sherwood. It’s their job to determine which features need to be in SIMS to help and support schools with a constantly changing set of challenges and priorities. They also work to ensure that the software includes the features that you require.
We work closely with schools to determine how SIMS needs to be enhanced. Most of the product managers are out in schools every week discussing how customers use the various parts of SIMS and how they would like to see it improved. They also meet colleagues from local authority SIMS support teams regularly and discuss the software with users at events, such as the Bett Show.
The development process
There are three SIMS releases a year, taking place in spring, summer and autumn. A good feature identified tomorrow might take nine to twelve months to find its way into the software as we have to go through several processes to get to the end results you see in each release.
Planning and estimating what to put in happens before design and coding. Once we stop writing code for the various parts of the SIMS software, there is then a three month window for internal pre-release testing and assurance on early adopter sites before the software ships.
For smaller changes the processes can be shorter. Where a statutory change is needed (if, for example the DfE decided they want all schools to record 'shoe size') we would do our best to put that in SIMS as soon as possible.
Your ideas count
Your ideas are important to us to shape a better SIMS for the future. Did you know that you can register ideas for software enhancements called Change Requests (CRs) on the SIMS SupportNet portal? For example, following a CR for SIMS Personnel, the autumn 2012 release saw the ability to re-admit a member of staff through a new employment history functionality. Previously, the only way to re-admit a member of staff was to remove their leaving date, giving them the impression that they had not left to begin with. The new functionality allows you to add a new employment start date if they return to the school.
If you do not have an account yet, you can get a SupportNet account here. Our product managers periodically review all the CRs for a product and use the feedback to help decide what features and changes needs to go into SIMS. We're currently working on a brand new customer portal. Find out all about the new portal in our blog.
If you want to hear more about how we build SIMS, look out for my next 'Behind the scenes' post coming soon!