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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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Session Transcript

Hilary Lloyd talks to Debbie Foweraker about how Scomis can support schools

DEBBIE: The first thing that I would say before saying anything about myself is that I consider it a privilege to lead the Scomis organisation. My background, believe it or not, is in HR – 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 for a business development manager. I thought that it sounded a bit different and was interested enough to apply.

So, I joined Scomis approximately 13 years ago when it was a traditional SIMS support unit covering about 350 schools in the county of Devon. I am a member of the digital transformation and business leadership team. We report direct to Phil Norey, our chief exec. Phil has been a fantastic supporter of Scomis over recent years; he opened our last Scomis event three years ago. It is brilliant to have people at the top of the organisation recognising Scomis and still giving us the permissions to flourish and grow.

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

DEBBIE: For me, it is 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 is about making the impossible possible. Working in an organisation that makes a positive contribution to the chances of children and young people. Why do I get out of bed? Because of those personal relationships I have established with our customers and partners and the importance of relationships. As you know, I have many mantras – one of them is all about relationships. I also look forward to the challenges of the day – and sometimes there are many. You never know quite what the day is going to bring. Sometimes you need to think on your feet. That is what we do as leaders. For me, it is always about putting the customer first – another of my mantras is that if you put the customer first then hopefully everything else will follow. I know you and I have had that conversation many times.

HILARY: We have. It is a very different approach to lots of commercial businesses. I think that that is another big benefit for us of being part of Devon Council and as 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 is a real public service ethos.

DEBBIE: Exactly. I just love working in a learning organisation – another of my sayings is that every day is a school day. I know that that is replicated across Scomis really. As a leader, ultimately, I must take responsibility for the objections of the organisation. But I am always prepared to listen to the views and suggestions of the people I lead and of our customers and I am so passionate and committed when it comes to the quality of the service that Scomis strives to deliver daily. It is all about continuous service improvement. Over the years since I joined Scomis we have had many accreditations, but one that I am 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: Obviously, we are here to support education and we are very aware of the impact the pandemic has had on everyone in schools. But it would be 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 is the plan going forward?

DEBBIE: For those members of staff that have worked with me for many years, they will 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. As we speak now, I have not been in that office for two years. For me, it has been a fundamental shift and leading an organisation through that pandemic has meant a lot of learning along the way. Wellbeing has been something we have had to be very mindful of for all our staff.

The way that we recruit has radically changed, as it has for everybody. The way that we bring people into the organisation and the way that we mentor has all had to change. Obviously, many of the services we provide have had to change overnight. We used to do classic based classroom training – that completely stopped. So, we had to radically rethink that portfolio. So, we have introduced our digital learning; that has proved very, very successful. That is now offered free to all our customers.

The other big shift was around the way that the customers started to interact with us. We like to think that everyone likes to pick the phone up to Scomis; they like to speak to our analysts in person. But obviously, with working from home, that became more difficult for some people. We noticed a real shift in terms of the emails we were getting; that was quite a fundamental shift in how we dealt with those inquiries coming in. Fortuitously, during the pandemic we launched our MyScomis portal – this is where people can log an incident online. I think that really helped us as well.

In addition, 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 number is increasing. That was great because the pandemic kicked in and they could continue to work. Over the two years we have 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 have continued to operate. We have changed some things – but I think that that needed to happen anyway, and that it was always going to.  Everyone has just had to embrace the significant changes that we have been through.

HILARY: In some ways the switch to delivering services remotely was relatively seamless, 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 wellbeing; 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 dishwasher sessions – tell us about those.

DEBBIE: Yes – so, within Scomis, one of my little pet hates (as many staff will know) is when I go into the kitchen and the dishwasher is not looking as it perhaps should be. I used to have fantastic chats with staff in the kitchen. So, I started these weekly sessions and named them “Debbie’s dishwasher sessions”; it was a forum that staff could come in and we would chat about everything and anything that we had done in the kitchen lately. They were very well-received, and they are still running now.

We used to be out on the road a significant amount of the time with our user groups, going out and meeting customers. Frequently, we would invite our customers and suppliers down to Scomis as well. And all of that had to cease straight away. But it has been interesting how we have been able to have great conversations with our customers and our suppliers thanks to the technology we have. Now we are running master classes that are also free, the attendance of those sessions has continued to grow.

Scomis’ Journey
HILARY: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Scomis? Where we have come from, and some of those key milestones and pivotal moments that we have had along the way.

DEBBIE: So, Scomis started about forty years ago now within the county of Devon. It was set up, initially, to support schools that were using IT. When schools started having a management information system embedded in the schools, Scomis was there to help and support. In 1990, Scomis became one of the first SIMS accredited support units – I am proud to note that we still hold that accreditation today.

One pivotal moment was way back in 1998 when Devon became a unitary. We had Plymouth and Torbay – they were formerly part of Devon, but they went to unitary. They decided that they did not want to bring together their own SIMS support unit, so they asked us at Scomis to provide that support. So, I always say that since 1998, we have had three masters. I think that has really helped us from then onwards to be quite agile in our approach for our customers. I suppose, the other pivotal point was in 2004, when Scomis “spun up”, so to speak, hosted application services. And that was primarily for primary schools that were in Devon at that time – the little primary schools that did not want to spend a lot of money on hardware. So, it was spun up from the primary schools. Then people started to see an opportunity – it was not just the primary schools that would benefit from this; it was the secondary schools as well. So, our hosted application service has been going for many years and has had a tremendous amount of financial input. We are now in 650 schools across the country.

But another pivotal moment was academisation. That was a year or so after I joined Scomis, so around twelve years ago. I remember being very worried about it. But we decided that we had to be brave. We decided to start selling our services outside of Devon. We had no brand and no real identity at that time. So, we went away and did a big brand essence exercise. One of the things that I needed to be sure of was that Scomis was ready for this significant change and so I invited a business manager from one of our secondary schools to come and do an evaluation. He had no brief – he was just honest with us and told us that perhaps we were not as good as we thought we were. But that gave us the permission for change. We had always had an accreditation – it was charter mark moved onto being customer service excellence accreditation. That helped us to fundamentally change some of the practices within Scomis that we had.

Another one of my mantras is “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 we have grown – today, we support over 800 schools in 55 authorities now. So, that is a significant uplift from where we were. Recently, Cornwall County Council – who, for a lot of reasons, decided to make a shift in their MIS support provision, and are closing their support function – have nominated Scomis to be their approved support partner. We are starting to onboard many Cornwall schools; we have worked well in partnership with Cornwall County Council as well. It has been a smooth transition and there have been many changes – and we will continue to change because that is what you need to do.

HILARY: Tell us why people want to work with Scomis. What do people tell us about why they come to us in the first place – and more importantly, why do they stay? Some of those partners go back to the start of that forty-year period. What do people say?

DEBBIE: Put very simply, we are a customer-centric organisation and we do genuinely place our customers at the heart of our business – as I said, if you put customers first then 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: I always try to be open and honest. We will not always get everything right. When we do not get things right, I think that we are open with our customers about that. But we will do everything to get it right in the future. We do consistently ask them to give us our feedback. We work extremely hard at building relationships at all levels – from the service desk to you and I; from our leadership team to your team; by going out and meeting the customers or our account managers. It is about understanding the school’s challenges and needs and helping them to address them.

Another thing I think that we do well is that we say, “you go off and do the teaching because that is what you do. You are the professionals at the teaching; we will be sat here in the background helping you with your IT.” And I know that we have had a lot of compliments come back from customers about how we manage that. We work with a very wide range of partners, and I know that to some people this will sound a little strange, but I only like to work with people who I like. That does sometimes sound a bit strange. But I can remember at least one meeting where some suppliers came in and we sat around the table, and they did not make it past the first cup of coffee – because I just did not think that their ethos and their hearts and minds were in the same place as our ethos. To me, that is incredibly important and something that I have always kept flowing through the organisation.

I think that it is also about letting our customers make efficient and effective use of all the technology that they already have. We are not ones for just putting in shiny new kit for the sake of it. One of the things that customers will often say to us is that they do not know what they do not know. So, that is our job – to try and find out what they do not know. And that comes all the way back to those relationships.

HILARY: Obviously, Scomis is quite widely recognised as a SIMS support unit – in fact we’re one of the largest SIMS support units – but we also 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 have taken in the last 12 months is that we are now an Arbor support partner as well. That was a big strategic decision that we made. But our customers were asking us. They were taking the opportunity to move to alternative MIS and saying that they wanted to keep us as trusted partners if only we would look at supporting an alternative product – so we did. We spent many a long hour in the due diligence around all of this.

Yes, we are now an Arbor support partner, and it is going well. We have many customers on it, as well. We have more customers in the pipeline. So that was a product that has been added to our portfolio in the last 12 months. Additionally, we have got a large technical portfolio too, which up until now has been predominantly for our Devon schools. And we have invested a lot of time and money in updating and bringing our technical services portfolio bringing up to speed. We are now an accredited Google partner and have Microsoft 365 in our portfolio too. We can go into schools and help them with all of that. We have taken some of our services into Cornwall recently for the first time, and that is working extremely well; there has been a lot of investment made in that.

Something else I have not yet actually touched on is that within the Scomis group we are responsible for managing the data for children in education across Devon. We have a group of people that we refer to as the one team. They do 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; that is a key strategic arm of Scomis. And we have started to grow that business slowly, but that is the way that we started with the MIS in the early days. We are now supporting Torbay and Oxfordshire, giving extra support to those two local authorities. We were also commissioned by Devon County Council to deliver a corporate service desk back to them, and that serves around 5,500 staff here in the county – anything to do with IT, they phone our service desk. So that is another area that we now have within the Scomis Group that’s changed as well over the years.

HILARY: What does the future hold for Scomis?

DEBBIE: I think that, like everybody, we should 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 are happening so quickly. More and more, we are moving toward these green Cloud-based technologies, and 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 have had in Scomis over the years which has been successful, which is helping our customers address their key challenges and helping them adapt their new technologies as simply and seamlessly as possible.

Also, we are going to be on a journey with ESS – that will be a major challenge, as we take all our services and our customers on that journey alongside ESS. So, as I say, that is going to be a fundamental shift. But that will be very exciting over the next few years. We will continue to invest in our partnerships and our relationships with EdTech partners. We will continue to work with our customers. Our job is, I believe, about scanning the horizon – it is about exploring emerging new technologies and delivering what our customers want us to deliver. So, we will continue to do that.

I just would like to sincerely take this opportunity to thank our customers and our partners; as Hilary mentioned, 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 is always helpful and helps us to drive the business. And finally, I would just like to all the Scomis staff on behalf of the senior leadership team. You do an 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 would not be what it is without you, and I could not do my job without you. As I say, my thanks to everybody.