Moving with the times
In early 2012, Craig Sandwell, Director of Communications at Trinity, realised the school could greatly extend the reach – and therefore usefulness - of its website if it made some of the information available for use on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. This would bring additional convenience and flexibility to the site, freeing families from the need to sit down at a computer when seeking information. For example, parents and students would be able to easily look up wet weather arrangements or check venue directions while on their way to a weekend sports fixture.
“We communicate with parents on many platforms. We knew that a growing number of parents were using mobile devices, so we realised it was time to provide mobile access to all the information that a child needs to function within the school.”
Armed with a clear vision of what was required, Sandwell spoke to technology and consulting services company, ACRESTA for assistance. ACRESTA recommended BlinkMobile and its Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) that Sandwell had previously seen in action at a number of other schools.
“I could see that the flexibility of the Blink Mobility Platform would be very useful. We could reconfigure whatever content or data we wanted. The other important thing was that the Blink Mobility Platform works with any internet capable device. This was essential for us as it had to be very easy for our parents to initiate the service using any smartphone or tablet,” Sandwell says.
ACRESTA worked with Sandwell to design and develop a solution that would draw information from the school's existing website and make viewable on any mobile device regardless of brand, operating system or screen size. They also included a facility to replace some of the school's paper-based administrative notes and forms with electronic forms.
“It was fairly straightforward,” Sandwell notes. “The main requirement was to define what we wanted to communicate. After that it was a matter of clarifying what would work and what wouldn't work from that wish list from a mobile user's perspective. Throughout the project ACRESTA were our facilitator and contact point. They case-managed all of the legwork to customise what we needed.”
Technology as a market differentiator
Development was completed by late May 2012 and the solution was then made available to the school community.
Within two months, the Blink Mobility Platform had enabled around 4,000 visits over a four week period. “To me, that's 4,000 convenient contacts for parents. You can't buy that kind of customer service in a school situation. Those contacts are people who probably found the information they were after, and had their queries answered faster than if using the school switchboard,” Sandwell commented.
Sport information, the school calendar and newsletters soon emerged as the three most frequently visited destinations. “Total sport usage for a typical month is around 1,500 contacts but this is higher in winter. It saves people from having to phone the school or ring around to each other to check on sports arrangements,” Sandwell says. “They aren't just checking when a sports game is on either. They use the system's location aware capabilities and integration with online mapping facilities to find the venues and gather directions as well.”
Parents have also warmed to the ability to electronically lodge forms. “From a functional point of view, if a child is at home sick, the parent can simply send us an absentee form using their phone. It makes it very easy for them to communicate with us,” Sandwell says.
To ensure the information remains relevant to families, Sandwell plans to conduct a review in early 2013. He'll check how people are using the service, confirm what information they would like to see, and whether any changes should be made to the format.
“We'll also certainly be looking to see what more we can use the platform for. The functionality of the software is great in terms of the way it works and I haven't had anything but positive feedback from the school community. Schools are all about communication. The value of this solution for us is that information is always available, no matter where or when a parent requires it, even if it is out of hours,” he concludes.