SAY school management software in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and in most cases you might just as well say SIMS, such is that firm's domination of the market. North of the border, though, the picture in Scotland is very different.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the growth of management information systems (MIS) in Scotland has been the progress of Phoenix, a modular product from Phoenix First (formerly Scott Reed Associates). Though it comes from Alton in Hampshire, Phoenix is relatively unknown south of the border. It is now established in 15 Scottish authorities, with more to come. (This represents the majority of the 20 authorities outside the 12 that replaced the Glasgow-centred mega-authority of Strathclyde. These are still using Strathclyde's own product).
How is it that a successful English product can be almost unknown in its own country? It has partly to do with the strength of SIMS, which was in the market early and is now firmly embedded to the extent that all potential competitors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have found life difficult.
Scotland is different. The leading product there was SCAMP, developed by the Scottish Council for Educational Technology (SCET). This software package did the job but something more up to date was needed. SCET worked on a replacement - SCETWorks - which, by 1995, was being piloted in a number of schools.
Then, in 1996, local governmentre-organisation came to Scotland and the new authorities took the opportunity to look afresh at what was on offer. The problem for SCET was that there were hitches in the development of SCETWorks, to the extent that they effectively missed the boat. In the end, SCET stopped work on its home-grown product, and when SCETWorks did eventually come to the market place in 1997, it was as a modified and re-badged version of the familiar RM Key Solutions software. This product was, and is, well-known to a number of schools and authorities south of the border as probably the most successful of the suppliers competing with SIMS.
By the time SCETWorks 97 arrived Phoenix was on a roll. Crucially, it already had a product well-established in Scotland. Orkney and Shetland had been using Phoenix on the Mac platform since the early Nineties. One by one, other authorities followed. For Phoenix First, the challenge of this expansion has been considerable. "We thought we had a Scottish product," said Ann Scott of Phoenix First, "but we still had to make enormous changes to reflect the needs of the authorities." The main part of the workload has been that of converting existing data from SCAMP to Phoenix.
Keith Thomson, of the Dundee authority, who is chair of the Phoenix User Group in Scotland, said Phoenix is successful because "it's intuitive - very easy to use for the operators and the schools".
Meanwhile, the only authority which has chosen SCETWorks is Western Isles.
Phoenix First stand 269