Management information systems

Competition watchdog launches another probe into SIMs

CMA probing concerns ESS SIMS could be 'abusing' its 'dominant' market position after Schools Week investigation

CMA probing concerns ESS SIMS could be 'abusing' its 'dominant' market position after Schools Week investigation

14 May 2024, 11:01

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The competition watchdog has launched another investigation into England’s largest school management information system (MIS) provider amid concerns it could be “abusing” its “dominant” market position.

The Competition and Markets Authority is probing suspected law breaches by Education Software Solutions, which runs School Information Management System (SIMS).

This comes after Schools Week revealed the firm had told its school customers they would be breaching their contracts if they sent copies of their databases to third parties.

Concerned headteachers and the MIS company’s leading rivals argued the practice has been commonly used to transfer information during provider switches.

The CMA said it is concerned that schools’ ability to move to a new system would be “severely hampered” by the move, as the alternatives are said to be “complex, time consuming and error prone”.

Concerns over ESS SIMS’ ‘alleged behaviour’

Juliette Enser, the watchdog’s interim executive director, explained: “We’re concerned about the complaints we’ve received regarding ESS’s alleged behaviour. As such, we’ll be investigating their conduct with urgency to get to the bottom of the matter.

“Management information systems are an integral part of protecting schools’ data, reducing costs, and safeguarding students. It’s essential that schools are able to pick the most appropriate system for their needs – and change providers with ease when their contract is up.”

Schools and competitors have also reported “that ESS had objected to the alternative solutions put forward to enable the extraction of their data”.

A notice posted online by the CMA added that it is investigating whether the firm “might be abusing a dominant position” in the supply of MIS. Its market share stands at just 50 per cent, analysis by the Bring More Data blog shows.

The watchdog will assess if competition law has been breached. As part of this, it will consider whether it “needs to impose interim measures to prevent harm from occurring” while it carries out its investigation.

A spokesperson for ParentPay, which has owned ESS SIMS since 2021, said the firm was “extremely surprised at this sudden announcement by the CMA”.

They claimed it “overlooks the fact that there are legitimate methods of migrating data from SIMS to the systems provided by our competitors”.

“Guidance on these methods has long been available and we have made multiple communications to competitors, customers (and their support providers) explaining this. 

“That some competitors have chosen to ignore these methods and have instead created a ‘workaround’ that accesses our core code, is the only abuse in this situation.”

In 2022, the CMA launched a separate probe after ESS announced it was scrapping its normal 12-month rolling contracts in favour of three-year deals.

It closed the case when the provider agreed to let eligible schools leave long-term agreements a year early. However, it did not rule on whether the company breached competition law.

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