A School “Portal” to Expand the Local Office UniverseAndrew Fish | June 09, 2015
In this era of austerity, is it fanciful to hope for a time when Local Authorities no longer struggle under the strain of decreasing budgets; instead embracing technology to progress working practice and thereby freeing up time to focus on improving customer relations and school transport services?
And if we could do this, is it possible the information systems supporting this could be made more open and accessible to external stakeholders - as well as internal staff - who could then work together in a more cooperative and inclusive workplace?
I recently wrote that online technology is enabling Local Authorities to streamline back office processes and mobilise external stakeholders as a business resource. Yet I believe we can go further still, and apply a similar approach to other Local Authority processes and so by doing, we can – very literally – discover “portals” that reach out, connect and expand the local office universe.
Making the grade
Local Authority staff charged with managing the provision of school transport not only contend with austerity and diminished resources; they also face other daily challenges, including effective data handling, and communication with large numbers of external stakeholders (by whom I mean parents, carers and families who apply for their child’s school transport).
A key challenge here is the number of disparate IT systems used by departments for processes such as school applications, eligibility testing and transport scheduling. These systems typically come from different suppliers, including ourselves at Trapeze, but they rarely connect seamlessly to ensure information flows efficiently between departments.
As a consequence, entering data multiple times creates a heavy administrative burden that can needlessly complicate processes, and inevitably leads to data entry errors that can erode the quality of the information stored. I believe technology can play a crucial role in helping Local Authorities overcome these challenges.
A bus will take you from A to B but imagination will take you anywhere
Imagine a system where families create an account and register their children for school transport, entering relevant information and submitting their application form online, and then receiving an instantaneous notification regarding transport eligibility. Following this, they would receive status updates on the progress of their application and, if successful, route assignment or even updates on whether their child has boarded or alighted from the vehicle – all through a simple on-line web portal. No longer would there be a need for expensive bulk correspondence using local postal services!
Furthermore, through this portal, families could pay – if appropriate – for the bus pass, which they could then print from the comfort and convenience of their own home or download to a smartphone device. The benefits of such not only applies to families, of course, because Local Authority staff will be freed from time consuming administrative processes, and thus be able to focus their time more productively elsewhere.
It needn’t be too hard to imagine such a solution – because it already exists…
With the ‘Family Portal’ implemented at a number of sites in Europe, we have developed a schools transport application, scheduling and financial management system that seamlessly integrates all back office business systems, creating a centralised and rich repository of information.
Of course, the school transport application process in the UK is covered by various legislative rules, with additional regional variations in the way legislation is applied. However, through cohesive and agile software engineering principles, it is possible to configure the portal in order to accommodate bespoke variations.
I believe this type of integrated and connected online system resets the technology bar for future schools transport systems; and creates the portal through which we can expand the local office universe.
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