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Supporting you into the future

At Scomis, our purpose is to deliver innovative, high quality ICT services that make a difference and help our customers in schools and trusts nationally achieve their target outcomes. Learn more about us and how we might be able to help you. 

Debbie Foweraker, Head of Scomis and Hilary Lloyd, Customer Relationships & Business Development Manager, Scomis

Overview – Supporting you into the future 

Recognising and responding to what is important to our customers is what Scomis is all about. We will share with you some examples of the key challenges we can help you address and how we constantly challenge ourselves to improve so that we deliver the best possible customer experience.  

Ultimately, we’re here to support you with teaching and working together efficiently and effectively so that you can focus on your day job and reap the positive benefits of ICT. 

Even if you think you already know us, we can guarantee you will learn something you don’t already know! 

Debbie’s bio 

Debbie joined Scomis 13 years ago, with very little IT background having worked within Devon County Council for 15 years as an HR professional. Prior to this she worked at Devon and Cornwall Police where she obtained her HR qualifications together with further qualifications in Business Studies. 

A driven individual, natural leader and innovator, Debbie is passionate about empowering her staff and creating the right environment for them to flourish and grow both personally and for Scomis. She is committed to delivering the best possible experience to her customers and partners. 

Next steps 

Read more about some of the challenges we have helped our customers address 

Find out what our customers think about us by watching our Scomis video 

For an overview of our products and services, you can find more information on our website or download our Scomis brochure 

Please contact us for more information. 

The most important reason for Scomis’ success, is that they put the customer at the heart of everything they do and are passionate about delivering customer service excellence and continual service improvement. 

Thomas Wilson
Political Editor, The Parliamentary Review

Download a copy of the Parliamentary Review

Further reading and reference material

To follow

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Offering over 20 hours of appropriate learning content for School Business Leaders. ISBL members can register their attendance against their annual CPD commitment.

Sponsors:

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Session Transcript

HILARY: Good afternoon. I’m Hilary Lloyd, I’m delighted to welcome you to the session with Debbie Foweraker. At Scomis our purpose is deliver high quality ICT services that make a difference and help our customers in schools and trusts nationally achieve their target outcomes. Recognising and responding to what is important to our customers is what Scomis is all about. We hope you’ll leave this session with a better understanding of who we are, where we’ve come from, what we do, how we do it and where we’re going next, as we constantly evolve into response to our customers’ needs. Debbie, welcome this afternoon. It’s great to see you again. Before we talk more about Scomis, do you want to start just by telling us a bit more about yourself?

DEBBIE: Yes, thank you. Yes, I’m Debbie Foweraker. I suppose the first thing that I would say is that, before I say anything about myself, I actually consider it a privilege to lead the Scomis organisation. On a personal front. I’m married to Norman. We have three children and five grandchildren. In fact, our eldest granddaughter has just secured her first position as a newly qualified teacher. So, keeping the link with education in our family. I do have to say we have a puppy called Ruby. So that’s me. That’s me as a person. So, my background? Believe it or not, actually is in HR, not for IT at all. I worked for Devon and Cornwall police for several years and then transferred to Devon County Council. Whilst undertaking a very large restructure across the ICT services, an opportunity arose in an organisation called Scomis, who I’d come across but hadn’t a lot to deal with. It was business development manager. I thought oh, that’s a bit different. So, any way I decided to apply. I was delighted to secure the position. So, I joined Scomis approximately 13 years ago. When, in my opinion, Scomis was then a traditional SIMS support unit covers about 350 schools in the county of Devon. So, I’m a member of the digital transformation and business leadership team. We actually report direct to Phil Norey our chief exec. I have to say, Phil has been a fantastic supporter of Scomis over recent years and in fact, he opened our last Scomis event three years ago for those that were there. It’s absolutely brilliant to have people at the top of the organisation recognising Scomis and still giving us the permissions to flourish and grow.

HILARY: What’s it like being the leader of an organisation like Scomis? I suppose another way of putting that question might be what actually makes you get out of bed in the morning Debbie?

DEBBIE: Oh, what a question! So, for me, it’s all about wanting to make a difference, whether that be in my role as a senior officer for Devon County Council, leading Scomis or with our customers and suppliers. It’s all about making the impossible possible. Working in an organisation that actually makes a positive contribution to the chances of children and young people. Actually, one interesting fact, I don’t know if you know this or not, one interesting fact that somebody gave me the other day, if you count up the number of people, we support it would be actually in excess of 276,000 which was quite an interesting figure. Why do I get out of bed? It’s also about personal relationships, which I’ve established with our customers and partners and the importance of relationships. As you know, I have many mantras, you remind me of them quite frequently.

HILARY: You do!

DEBBIE: One of them definitely is all about relationships. I also look ford to the challenge of the day. Sometimes there are many. And actually, I’ve learned this from my husband, who served as a police officer, you never know quite what the day is going to bring. Sometimes you have to think on your feet in order to make the best outcomes for any given decision. That’s fine as well. That’s what we do as leaders. For me, it’s always about putting the customer first, you know, we’ve always had to put the customer first. One of my sayings again, if you put the customer first, then hopefully everything else will follow. I know you and I have had that conversations many times.

HILARY: We have. It’s a very different approach to lots of commercial businesses. I think, that’s another Big Ben fit for us of being part of Devon and not for profit. It gives us that ability to put the customer at the heart of what we do and focus on serving them. It’s a real public service ethos.

DEBBIE: Exactly. And I suppose something else as well, I just love working in a learning organisation. I’m sorry about this, another of my sayings every day is a school day. I know that’s replicated across Scomis really. As a leader, ultimately, I have to take responsibility for the objections of the organisation. But I’m always prepared to listen to the views and suggestions of people I lead and our customers and, you know, I’m absolutely passionate and committed about the quality of service that Scomis strives to deliver on a daily basis. it’s all about continuous service improvement. Over the years, since I’ve been with Scomis, we’ve actually had many accreditations, but one that I’m immensely proud of is when Scomis was recognised as an exemplar of best practice by the Parliamentary review. There I was stood on the banks of the Thames in Parliament, surrounded by all these clever people, representing Scomis. I don’t think that moment will ever leave me. It was quite surreal. Yes, I think those are all the reasons why I get up in the morning.

HILARY: Thank you. Obviously, we’re here to support education and we’re very, very aware of the impact the pandemic has had on everyone in schools. But it would be really interesting to hear more about the impact from your perspective. What has the last couple of years been like for Scomis and your staff and yourself for that matter, and what’s the plan going forward?

DEBBIE: OK, so if I start with myself, I suppose, really. For those members of staff that have worked with me for many years, they’ll know that I was someone that always was in the office except for when we’re out on the road, our user groups or going out and meeting suppliers and partners. I was one of those that was in the office every single day. And I haven’t been in that office for two years. For me, it’s been a fundamental shift and actually leading an organisation through that pandemic, you know, there’s been lots of learning, learning along the way, sort of well-being has definitely been something we’ve had to be very mindful of for all of our staff. The way that we recruit has radically changed, as it has for everybody. The way that we bring people into the organisation, the way that we mentor, that’s all had to change. Obviously, our services, some of the them had to change overnight, if I’m honest. If I think about our training portfolio, we used to do classic based classroom training. Well that just stopped overnight. So, we had to radically rethink that portfolio. So, we’ve introduced our digital learning. That’s proved very, very successful. That’s now offered free to all of our customers. The other big shift was around the way that the customers started to interact with us. I think you’ll remember this. Everyone we believe our customers tell us that everyone likes to pick the phone up to Scomis. They like to speak to our analysts. But obviously with working from home, that became more difficult for some people. We actually noticed a real shift in our e-mails, if you remember, that was coming through. That was quite a fundamental shift in how we dealt with those inquiries coming in. And fortuitously during the pandemic we launched our my Scomis portal. This is where people can log a call, log an incident now online. So yes, I think that really, really helped us as well. As well, we were in a very fortunate position regarding one of our products, which is our hosted application service. So, these are the schools that are hosted with Scomis across the country, currently about 650, but that’s actually increasing. They were used to working from any place, any time, anywhere, because that’s what they do, with our hosted application service. That was great because the pandemic kicked in and they could still continue to work. As I say, over the two years we’ve noticed a rise in the number of customers that are taking up that service. Yes, we have had to make some fundamental changes but we’ve continued to operate. We’ve continued to run. Yes, we’ve changed some things as we’ve gone. I think that needed to happen anyway. I think it was always going to happen, but for everybody, everyone’s just had to embrace the significant changes that we’ve been through.

HILARY: In some ways we kind of were able to switch over quite seamlessly to delivering services remotely, because the service desk delivers remote support and we got the hosted service for SIMS. So, people could carry on accessing that. In other ways we had to respond rapidly and change the way we did things, like the training that you mentioned. You talked a little bit about staff well-being. We had to put a lot of effort into that as well in terms of encouraging people to take time away from their screens. I remember you introducing your dish washer sections. I don’t know if you want to say something about those?

DEBBIE: Yes, so, within Scomis, one of my little pet hates, as many staff will know, is if I go into the kitchen and the dishwasher is not looking maybe as it should be. So – I used to have fantastic chats with staff in the kitchen. So, I put together these Debbie’s dish washer sessions they were called. we held them weekly. They’re fortnightly now. It was just a forum that staff could come in and we just chat about everything and anything that we’d have done in the kitchen really. They’ve been really well received. As I said, they are still running. Yes, that was a fundamental change. We used to be out on the road a significant amount of our time as well with our user groups and going out and meeting customers. Actually, inviting our customers and suppliers down to Scomis as well. And all of that had to cease straight away. But it has been interesting how the technology now, you know, we have great conversations with our customers and our suppliers, and actually how we changed the user group sessions. Now we’re running master classes that, again, are free and they have really grown in the attendance that we see on those sessions.

HILARY: As you say a lot of good learnings, we have got a lot of feedback from customers and staff about everything. So, going forward, we will pick the best of what we’ve done and as in many schools, have a much more blended approach.

DEBBIE: Yeah definitely.

HILARY: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Scomis where we’ve come from and some of those key milestones or sometimes you call them pivotal moments, I think, that we’ve had along the way.

DEBBIE: Yes, certainly. So Scomis started, gosh, about 40 years ago now within the county of Devon. It would have set up to support schools using IT. When schools started having a management information system embedded in the schools, you know, Scomis was there to help and support. And in 1990, I believe it was, Scomis became one of the first SIMS accredited support units. Really proud to say we still hold that accreditation today. So, one pivotal moment, I believe, was way back in 1998, when Devon actually became a unitary. We had Plymouth and Torbay. Obviously, they were part of Devon. They went to unitary. They decided that they didn’t wish to bring together their own SIMS support unit. They asked us or Scomis to provide that support. So, I always say that since 1998 we’ve had three masters. I think that’s really helped us from an early day to be quite agile in our approach for our customers. I suppose, the other pivotal point was in 2004, when Scomis, I use the word “spun up” hosted application service. And that was primarily for primary schools that were in Devon at that time. It was the little primary schools that didn’t want to spend a lot of money on hardware. So, it was spun up from the primary schools. Then, within Scomis they saw the opportunity that actually it wasn’t just the primary schools that would benefit from this, it was the secondary schools as well. So, you know, our hosted application service has been many, many, many years and had a tremendous amount of financial input. We’re now in 650 schools across the country. So, that has really, really, really helped Scomis over the time. But I suppose another pivotal moment was academisation. That was more or less a year or so after I joined Scomis. So about 12 years ago. I remember sat this thinking, oh, my goodness me, academisation. What will we need to do? We decided to be brave. We’re often quite brave. But this was one of our brave moments. We decided to start telling our services outside of our county of Devon. You look back now 12 years ago and think my goodness me, Scomis wasn’t anything like it is today. So, we had no brand. We had no identity, if I’m honest. So, we went away, we did a big brand essence exercise. One of the things that I needed to make sure in my mind that Scomis was ready for this significant change and so, invited a business manager from one of our secondary schools to come and do an inside out on Scomis. Some of the staff, if you speak to them today, still remember that session very, very well. He had no brief. He was just honest with us. Probably told us that Scomis wasn’t perhaps as good as we thought it was. And actually, it gave us the permissions for change. I like to have my hat off and gave us the permission for change. And from that session, we started to make significant change and the other thing that we did as well, we had always had an accreditation, it was charter mark moved onto be customer service excellence accreditation. That really put us fundamentally change some of the practices within Scomis that we had. Yeah, there’s been some absolutely significant changes along the way. And one of my mantras, change, change, and change again. I often say this. Obviously the last two years have been testament to that, how the staff have embraced change as well. And yes, we’ve grown. We’ve absolutely grown. Today, we support over 800 schools in 55 authorities now. So, that’s a significant uplift from where we were. Just very recently Cornwall County Council, who for a lot of reasons, decided to make a shift in their MIS support provision. And have or are closing down their support function, have actually nominated Scomis to be their approved support partner. So, you know, that’s great. We’re starting to onboard many Cornwall schools. That’s really good and really – we’ve worked really well in partnership with Cornwall County Council as well. It’s been a really smooth transition. So, yes. There’s been many changes and we’ll continue to change because that’s what you just need to do.

HILARY: To question of that, I think. So, tell us a bit more, why Scomis? What do people tell us about why they come to us in the first place and probably more importantly, why they actually stay? Some of them going back all of those 40 years. What do people say?

DEBBIE: So, I think, put very simply, we’re a customer centric organisation and we do genuinely place our customers at the heart of our business and I talk about how if you put customers first everything else follows. That means understanding your customers’ needs, listening to their feedback – good and bad – and delivering a consistently high level of service. This is how I am as a leader, always try to be open and honest. We won’t always get everything right. When we don’t get things right, I think we’re open with our customers that we haven’t got things right. But we’ll do everything to get them right in the future. We do consistently ask them to give us our feedback. We work really, really hard at building relationships, at all levels, from the service desk to you and I, to our leadership team, to your team, with going out and meeting, the customers or our account managers. It’s understanding the school’s challenges and needs and helping them to address them. Another thing that I think we do well is we say you go off and dot teaching because that’s what you do. You’re the professionals at the teaching. We’ll be sat here in the background helping you with your IT. And I know we’ve had a lot of compliments come back from customers about how we manage that. And you know, we work with a very, very wide range of partners. I know some people will think this a bit strange, but I only like to work with people I like. That does sometimes sound a bit strange. But I can remember, we have many, many people, well they used to be banging our doors down when we were in our offices, but I can remember at least one meeting where some suppliers came in and they wanted to have the conversation with us, which we did, and sat round the table and actually they didn’t make it past coffee time. Because I just didn’t think their ethos, the hearts and minds were the same as the Scomis ethos. To me, that’s really, really important and something that I’ve always kept flowing through the organisation. So, yes, I think, it’s also about letting our customers make efficient and effective use of all the technology that they already have. We’re not ones for just putting in shiny new kit as you know. We do try to maximise that. One of the things that customers will often say to us – they don’t know what they don’t know. So, that’s our job to try and find out what they don’t know. So, that comes all the way back to those relationships.

HILARY: Thank you. From what you’ve said, you’ve mentions SIMS a few times whilst we’ve been speaking. Obviously Scomis is quite widely recognised as a SIMS support unit, in fact we’re one of the largest SIMS support units, but we do other things. Would you like to just say a few words about what else we do?

DEBBIE: Yes, absolutely. So, yes, we are recognised as one of the largest SIMS support units in the country. One of the big step changes that we’ve taken in the last 12 months, and it was a really, really big decision for us, and actually, it was actually driven by our customers’ feedback, if I’m honest. We are now an arbour support partner as well. That was really big strategic decision that we made. But as I say, our customers were asking us. So, some of our customers were taking the opportunity to move to alternative MIS. They were saying to us, come on Scomis, we want to keep you as our trusted partner. Please will you look at supporting an alternative product. So, we did. We spent many a long hour in the due diligence as you well remember, around all of this. Yes, we are now an arbour support partner. It’s going well. We have many customers on it as well. We have more customers in the pipeline. So that was something that, a product that’s been added to our portfolio in the last 12 months. As well, we’ve got a large technical portfolio as well, which up until now has been predominantly for our Devon schools. And we’ve invested a lot of time and money in, I suppose, am I right in saying updating, bringing up to speed, whatever that looks like, our technical services portfolio. So, some of the things that we’ve recently done – we’re now accredited Google partner. So that’s excellent news. Microsoft 365 as well. We’ve now got in our portfolio. We can go into schools and help them with all of that. Our technical services, as I say, we are starting now – we’ve actually taken some of our services into Cornwall recently, which we’ve not done before. That’s working extremely well. As I say, there has been a lot of investment made in that. Something else I haven’t actually touched on within the Scomis group, we actually are responsible as well for managing the data for children in education across Devon. We have a group of people, team of people, that we refer to as the one team. They do, that’s actually an incredible job at supporting all of Devon’s statutory requirements around education. This includes tracking vulnerable children, and those that have gone missing in education. So, it’s a really, really key strategic arm of Scomis. And actually, we’ve started to grow that business slowly, but that’s the way that we started with the MIS in the early days. And we’re now supporting Torbay and Oxfordshire with giving extra support to those two local authorities. That’s working really well. And the other thing, as well, within the group, we are commissioned by Devon County Council to deliver a corporate service desk back to Devon County Council. So that’s actually serving about 5,500 staff we have in Devon. So, anything to do with IT, they phone our service desk. So yes, that’s another area that we now have within the Scomis Group that’s changed as well over the years.

HILARY: Thank you. We’re hearing a lot of inspiring ideas at ScomisLive about the future of both management information systems and education technologies more generally. What does the future hold for Scomis?

DEBBIE: Right, OK. I think like everybody we have to acknowledge that we have seen a rapid acceleration of technology in the last couple of years in schools, which is great. Although technology is becoming increasingly intuitive, we know that our customers will still need their ICT support more than ever, because of the changes that are happening in technology so quickly. More and more we’re going towards the Advent of more green Cloud-based technologies. Although all this afternoon is up in the Cloud, schools will still need that support. So, I do think we need to acknowledge that. And I think we will continue with the formula that we’ve had in Scomis over the years which has been successful, which is helping our customers address their key challenges and making the most – I’ve already referred to it – and helping them adapt their new technologies as simply and seamlessly as possible. Also, this is exciting, clearly, we’re going to be very much in the journey with ESS to next generation, you know that’s going to be really exciting as we take all our services and our customers on that journey alongside ESS. So, as I say, that’s going to be a fundamental shift. But that will be very exciting over the next few years. We’ll continue to invest in our partnerships and our relationships with EdTech partners. We will continue to work with our customers. This will sound a bit funny the way I’m going to say it, but as they take more and more to the Cloud, such as our hosted applications service, you know, and now working with arbour and Google and Microsoft, so, it all becomes much more accessible. Our job is, I believe, about making, as I say, I’ve referred to this already, but maybe horizon scanning, and it’s about exploring emerging new technologies and importantly delivering what our customers want us to deliver. So, we’ll definitely be doing that. We’ve actually got a great forum whereby we can take our education road map to a group of people which is our strategic advisory panel, made up of senior leaders, head teachers, business managers, CEOs. They’ve been great support to Scomis over the last two or three years, when that group was established. So, it’s working alongside those and also the new partner forum that we’re putting together with some like-minded organisations across the country. So, as we can maybe sit round a table even, who knows, we could all maybe meet together and talk about the challenges that we all face in the future. So, all of that is going to be really exciting. So, yes, I think that probably sums it up.

HILARY: OK. That was your last question, Debbie, you’ll be pleased to hear.

DEBBIE: Right, OK! Thank you for that. So, can I just say something, if that’s all right, if that was the last question.

HILARY: Yeah, go ahead.

DEBBIE: So, I just would like to sincerely take this opportunity to thank our customers and our partners, as Hilary referred to, many of you have been with us for many, many years and have helped shape and reshape Scomis and will continue to help us as we move over the next few years. So, my sincere thanks to you all. Please keep your feedback coming. It’s always really helpful. It helps us to drive the business. And finally, I would just like to really thank all of the Scomis staff on, from myself, on behalf of the senior leadership team. You do an incredible job, an absolutely incredible job, every single day that you work for Scomis. I know many of you wear Scomis on your sleeve. I know what Scomis means to you. So sincerely thank you for absolutely everything that you do. Scomis wouldn’t be the Scomis it is without you. I couldn’t do my job without you. Any of you. As I say, my thanks to everybody. So, that’s probably it from me.

HILARY: Thank you. Thanks Debbie. That was a really useful insight into Scomis. And I think everyone listening can hear how passionate you are about Scomis, our staff and our customers. And all the organisations actually that we work for. And how inspirational you are as a business leader. It’s an absolute joy to have you leading Scomis. So, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time for any further questions now. If you have got anything you’d like to know, please do put it into the Q&A and we will come back with answers after ScomisLive. Or if you’d like to find out more about anything that Debbie spoke about, do get in touch either this afternoon by contacting one of the Scomis team at our genius bar or by contacting us after the conference. We would be very pleased to hear from you. Thank you