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  1. #31

    vikpaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GREED View Post
    Schoolcomms are building a mobile app to use their system as well, just thought i'd throw that into the mix!
    Coolio, i asked for an iPhone app a while ago. The current mobile version works pretty well on iPhone assuming you have the groups already prepared in SIMS, and ideally favourited. Scrolling manually is slow going.

    Yes, you've guessed it, another happy Schoolcomms customer here. It might be a little more expensive than some, but you get what you pay for, and the service is really good.

    Two way texting - if parent replies it goes into the inbox and if it's related to an absence, then you can update the info in SIMS directly as it's linked.
    Email replies go back to the sender but also sit in a global inbox. (We have multi-license.)
    Texting at the cheapest is 20,000 for £1000.
    Users can be limited to email only, and texting can be reserved for certain users only (We only use if for emergencies.)
    It has a mobile interface for use on smartphones which is new and is working well.
    It has a web interface so can be used from anywhere in the world.
    The client app allows overall management from the desktop.
    The synch to SIMS is really efficient and can be done in a few minutes depending on how many changes have occurred.

    Basically, all the features you're after are there.

    To take a longer view, it could be that InTouch would be the way to go, so be careful about how you evaluate, and the importance you place on cost, as the built in nature of InTouch has advantages, but you need to weigh this against how well it works, being such a new product.

    Just to throw another company name out there, at BETT i came across someone called Atomwide, who seemed to have a very low cost offering, but know nothing more about it. You pay for what you get, so you'd have to make your mind up there.

    The other thing i would say is, analyse exactly what you need, not necessarily what you want. There are many other ways of making contact that don't need a dedicated system. If you are using Sharepoint/SLG or another VLE that taps into the SIMS data, you may already have all the information you need to be able to email staff/students/parents etc without needing a dedicated package. The only part that they don't do out the box would be texting but there are schools out there that have set up their own texting facility, or there are systems we use that allow you to paste a list of phone numbers in to a web interface and text away, they can be very cheap. We still have an account open with 24X for this purpose. It doesn't link to sims but does the job we need which is emergency messaging, the data required is easily extracted via a sims report.

  2. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by vikpaw View Post
    The other thing i would say is, analyse exactly what you need, not necessarily what you want...
    Totally agree Vikpaw ... lots of schools are persuaded into buying something because of fancy functionality which they then never end up using. 'Absence' is a key one i.e. if you're a Primary school with no real absence problem then don't buy something which majors on absence.

    One other area of caution ... DATA PROTECTION!

    Make sure that you have the right permission from parents before extracting their data from SIMS/MIS. Some of these systems run a daily/nightly sync with MIS and extract data (contact details). If parents have said 'no' then you need to ensure their data doesn't get pulled out. Similarly if you have new parents joining mid-term and you haven't yet got their permission they too need to be excluded from any auto extract.

    Some of the apparently less sophisticated systems are that way 'for a reason' so don't be hoodwinked by technology for it's own sake :-)

  3. #33

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    Quote Originally Posted by marshharrier View Post
    Totally agree Vikpaw ... lots of schools are persuaded into buying something because of fancy functionality which they then never end up using. 'Absence' is a key one i.e. if you're a Primary school with no real absence problem then don't buy something which majors on absence.

    One other area of caution ... DATA PROTECTION!

    Make sure that you have the right permission from parents before extracting their data from SIMS/MIS. Some of these systems run a daily/nightly sync with MIS and extract data (contact details). If parents have said 'no' then you need to ensure their data doesn't get pulled out. Similarly if you have new parents joining mid-term and you haven't yet got their permission they too need to be excluded from any auto extract.

    Some of the apparently less sophisticated systems are that way 'for a reason' so don't be hoodwinked by technology for it's own sake :-)
    Worth noting that with some of these systems, most data never leaves school. Only the telephone number which is used for sending the message. Some systems on the other hand bulk upload data to their website, ParentMail being one of them.

    As I keep repeating to my colleagues ... we're buying a service not a commodity! And BTW - watch out for cheap text messages ... it often means they are using 'grey' routes (international mobile carriers) rather than UK only. The 'texting only' specialists tend to use these to get their prices as cheap as possible. There are security as well as reliability issues to be concerned about here. Ask for a written guarantee they are using UK services only.
    I discussed this with GroupCall at length and can say I was impressed with their handling of SMS.

  4. #34

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    A neat trick to ensuring you don't pull out parents who don't want this service: Set them as a particular priority (say 9) in SIMS.

    We never used priority as it was meant for, but rather as a grouping method so as to identify who was required for Schoolcomms

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  6. #35

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    Schoolcomms is uploaded to their site, however using Grahams tip, you can avoid that. Latest edition now has much more control over which priority contacts are imported too, can go up to 4 or more i think.

    Be interested to see what sort of app groupcall produce bearing in mind the nifty looking Emerge app for SIMS. [ Got one step closer to that today ]

  7. #36

    Edu-IT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vikpaw View Post
    Schoolcomms is uploaded to their site, however using Grahams tip, you can avoid that. Latest edition now has much more control over which priority contacts are imported too, can go up to 4 or more i think.

    Be interested to see what sort of app groupcall produce bearing in mind the nifty looking Emerge app for SIMS. [ Got one step closer to that today ]
    You can see the desktop app here:

    Groupcall - Parental Communications

    It's SchoolComms and ParentMail that are making the mobile app supposedly, GroupCall are a seperate company. GroupCall are the ones who make Emerge.
    Last edited by Edu-IT; 27th March 2011 at 08:13 PM.

  8. #37

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    I just tht in light of Emerge they would have a dedicated messaging app as a lot of work is done in Emerge already. In fact they could just increase the functions available as you can already call parents and it's fairly easy to text too I think.

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    We've recently trialled and started using Keep Kids Safe. I haven't been heavily involved in the set up so couldn't comment on it's good features, but a couple of practical problems have arisen:

    Texts cannot be sent in the middle of the night (there is window when texts are sent, something like 6am until 9pm.) This might not seem like a problem, but we had a school trip recently which was due to arrive back into school at 3am and the organiser wanted to text parents to update on arrival times. This was impossible.

    Texts cannot be sent abroad. Again, a foreign trip wanted to be "contactable" from back home so that the school could pass messages to the lead teacher via text but again this was impossible.

    I believe both probelems were reported and I don't know wheter they are being rectified or not but thought I would mention them. Can anyone comment on whether these problems exist with other texting services?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Edu-IT View Post
    Worth noting that with some of these systems, most data never leaves school. Only the telephone number which is used for sending the message. Some systems on the other hand bulk upload data to their website, ParentMail being one of them.
    I should check your facts here Edu-IT. Most of the systems to my knowledge take name and class/year plus email and mobile data out of SIMS. Also ParentMail are the ONLY company that by default provide parents with a registration letter so that they 'opt-in' in all cases. In fact we chose them for that reason. They also NEVER take contact data straight from SIMS/MIS so there is no way they can contact parents who haven't opted in.

    With regard to APPS I can't comment on that being offered by Schoolcomms, but I am told it is for schools to use rather than Parents (I could be wrong). ParentMail came into school about 3 weeks ago and their APP is aimed at parents rather than the school hence it being called ParentPlanner. It is designed to help them pay school bills and get calendar items (from school and clubs) onto their mobiles ... just to make organising kids activities easier.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecclesbury View Post
    Can anyone comment on whether these problems exist with other texting services?
    We use PM to send text messages internationally and to international numbers with no problem. The charge is the same as those sent in the UK.

    Amanda.
    Last edited by Nuttyprof; 28th March 2011 at 02:35 PM.

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    Sure you are aware that getting on the wrong side of data protection is a very bad thing. I took legal advise before deciding which type of system to go for as it was unclear after talking to a couple of the providers.

    Whatever you are told its the schools responsibility to ensure compliance NOT the communication provider. I was advised to be very carefull of those systems that simply suck out data to populate their database. Unless you are certain that your parents have given their permission for you to share/copy their details to another system wether its in school or not then dont do it.

    Some parents are very data aware and will let you know if you are using their contact details on another system without their permission.

    On a related note I am really suprised at Keep kids Safe - What's the point of a text messaging service that shuts down for 9 hours and doesnt let you send messages. Isnt that the point of a Text messaging service!

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    Text messaging with Emerge

    Quote Originally Posted by vikpaw View Post
    I just tht in light of Emerge they would have a dedicated messaging app as a lot of work is done in Emerge already. In fact they could just increase the functions available as you can already call parents and it's fairly easy to text too I think.
    Hi vik

    The next version of emerge has full SMS facilities built into the app and will be released immediately after the easter break (and it's works internationally).

    Kind regards
    Lawrence

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    Do you have to pay Capita again for the intouch install if you need to rebuild your MIS server ?

  14. #43

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nuttyprof View Post
    I should check your facts here Edu-IT. Most of the systems to my knowledge take name and class/year plus email and mobile data out of SIMS. Also ParentMail are the ONLY company that by default provide parents with a registration letter so that they 'opt-in' in all cases. In fact we chose them for that reason. They also NEVER take contact data straight from SIMS/MIS so there is no way they can contact parents who haven't opted in.
    They also NEVER take contact data straight from SIMS/MIS so there is no way they can contact parents who haven't opted in.
    Data is being taken out of SIMS and put online is what I meant, ParentMail is ENTIRELY web based? Therefore they need the data to be online. If it doesn't extract data from SIMS then are you saying you get the registration form and manually type in that data to ParentMail? What a pain in the backside that must be if it's the case!
    Last edited by Edu-IT; 31st March 2011 at 02:38 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Edu-IT View Post
    Data is being taken out of SIMS and put online is what I meant, ParentMail is ENTIRELY web based? Therefore they need the data to be online. If it doesn't extract data from SIMS then are you saying you get the registration form and manually type in that data to ParentMail? What a pain in the backside that must be if it's the case!
    Why speculate and pour cold water on a product through ignorance !?!?!

    ParentMail imports SIMS data directly, however it doesn't include the parent contact data from SIMS. This comes in from parents completing 'opt-in' data slips which ParentMail inputs so the school doesn't have to. (This is done within the PM subscription charges which are comparable with other products on the market).

    It is a process that ensures parents only ever get information if they opt-in, and also ensures that the contact data is bang up to date.

    Where contact data is extracted from SIMS it is often missing or out of date and so the comms service is limited by the quality and comprehensiveness of this data. It then becomes the schools burden to maintain the quality of this data in order that messages get home successfully (the comms provider doesn't care!). ParentMail is different and allows parents to login to their own accounts and update their own contact data and their system notifies the school whenever a parents updates their details. They also automatically remind parents to do this every term.

    In summary, we chose ParentMail very carefully ... because their processes are better thought out in terms of maintaining data accuracy over the long term, and also because they try hard not to place the school in any danger from a DP standpoint. They also take a longer view of the amount of work a school has to do to keep communications accurate.

    Apologies if this reads like an advert (and No I don't before someone asks) ... but I hate to see products maligned by people who are simply speculating.

    Amanda.

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    Ooooh ... this is a hot one to enter for my first proper post!

    Each of the comms providers does something unique and useful and each will appeal to some schools and not to others - sorry that was a very obvious thing to say! The market is big enough for a number of providers to happily exist side by side :-)

    Nuttyprof - you have it about right in terms of process. To clarify a little, we look at school to home communications primarily from one viewpoint which is effectiveness. Without correct email and mobile data, messages don't get home (again another obvious comment - but often overlooked)!

    Therefore from day one (8 years ago) we took a strategic decision to involve parents in that process rather than just extracting contact data from SIMS. This also reduces the burden on busy administrators of keeping changing contact data up to date.

    We all do things in slightly different ways :-)

    Paul.
    Last edited by PaulHughes; 10th April 2011 at 09:32 AM.

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