St Andrew’s College is a decile ten fully independent co-educational school for pre-school to Year 13 students established in 1917. It’s a school that prides itself on spiritual Presbyterian traditions and high academic standards.
Over the years, St Andrew’s College has built a reputation for leading New Zealand schools in integrating technologies with its teaching methods. It has done many innovative things with Office 365, OneNote and tablets.
St Andrew’s College has a five-member IT team that looks after all the information technologies operated by the school. It recently recruited a technology integrator who is tasked with assist teachers on developing new techniques that integrate new technologies with their teaching methods.
They recognise that good communication between all the stakeholders connected to the school is an important factor in building a culture of achievement and success.
Our Intranets Were Ugly and Difficult to Navigate
“We have a public facing website, an intranet for parents of students and StaffNet which is an intranet for staff members. On both intranets, we used SharePoint 2007. Parents found that it was difficult to navigate, information was hard to find and that information wasn’t being updated regularly. We also didn’t have consistency of branding and user interface design across all three systems,” says Sam McNeill, Director of ICT at St Andrew’s College.
“Ryan Brinch, now with Stratos, was a systems administrator at St Andrew’s College. He was instrumental in moving the school toward a Microsoft server platform. Ryan helped with setting up the original SharePoint implementation at an infrastructure level. When it came to upgrading SharePoint he was comfortable with setting up the networking and servers but less so when it came to the applications that ran on them. He recommended bringing in Stratos to round out our knowledge gaps.”
“Stratos are great to deal with; they were really supportive.” — Sam McNeill, St Andrew’s College
Stratos Filled In Our Knowledge Gaps
“Stratos helped us with the migration plan moving from SharePoint 2007 to 2013. If the earthquake hadn’t have happened we probably would have migrated to 2010 first,” McNeill says.
“Since it was public facing, Francesca Eathorne got involved because she is head of communications. Her group was much more involved in putting up content, which made the material updated more frequently, ensuring the content would be fresher. She met with every line manager involved, worked out what was needed and from that created a map from which Stratos was able to set up the permissions for each of those areas. We then had a far more defined permissions structure for the intranet so that no staff members could randomly upload material. Stratos and Ryan also did a fair amount of work configuring the SQL back end.”
For Independent Schools, Communications Has Come A Long Way
Eathorne takes up the story: “Communications departments have come a long way in many independent schools over the past five to six years. Now they tend to comprise a small team of professionals and it is not uncommon to have an in-house graphic designer, photographer and marketing specialist. The website and intranet are now key pieces of infrastructure for good marketing and customer service. We are very fortunate to have four full-time staff members working in this area.”
Branding is the Key
“Our Communications team is there to grow and nourish the brand both externally and internally. We’ve had conversations internally about what a brand is, and how everyone has a responsibility to help nurture the brand. That helped enlist the support of all the staff members in feeding us information for new releases, stories and photo opportunities.
“We also manage all the internal communications to our stakeholders, which includes developing our communications strategies and producing various publications like handbooks, diaries and the Curriculum book. At times we work on key projects, like planning and managing the change process around the new parent portal.
“My passion is organisational communications, I’m fascinated about how all that works, about when it flows well and when it doesn’t. In a large organisation there are many opportunities for communication to break down because of sometimes unpredicted barriers. It’s my job to put processes in place to smooth out them out. It’s always about being consultative and collaborative on projects. It does take a lot of time but in the end you get a better outcome.”
"We have a wonderful graphic designer on our team so we designed the original skin for it to ensure that it fitted our branding, we then took it to Stratos who told us if it was possible to build. Everything was really smooth. When it came back there were a few tweaks to fine tune. Anything we pushed back on Stratos was really respectful of, they wanted to resolve the issue and we were able to work it through without unnecessary conflict."
— Francesca Eathorne, St Andrew’s College
Matching Up With What Parents Want
“In the independent school industry, another challenge for communications and marketing is around the traditional expectations of what we think our customers want, grasping how fast that change is happening.
“We’ve shifted a long way in the last four years and we have to continue in that direction.
“A couple of years ago we had an open evening for Year 9 entrants because we were introducing our new 1:1 Computing Programme, where all students were required to bring their own device. The thing parents were most interested in was how would the College help students manage exams (that are still traditionally handwritten) if there was a big focus on using computers in class. Even when creating new programmes like this we always have to consider the practical aspects. ”
MacNeill says, “St Andrew’s College also holds open evenings where parents can learn about the devices their children are using at school. In this way, St Andrew’s College goes above and beyond what would normally be expected of a school but it helps parents to engage in and be a part of their children’s education. This is a part of our key messages.”
Our Old Intranet Had to Change
“When I first joined St Andrew’s College, I knew we needed a new intranet. The intranet was difficult to navigate and definitely didn’t reflect our brand. It was one of those things that had been set up and not been managed afterward, probably for lack of resources. People just kept adding things and it became this great big ugly honeycomb where it was impossible to find anything,” says Eathorne.
“We had identified the project to fix it back in 2010 but didn’t get around to it until 2012. Ryan Brinch and I had both talked to our executive team about it extensively. Ryan recommended Stratos and they came in.”
Stratos Smooths The Way
Eathorne says, “I did feel a little intimidated at these meetings where technological things were being discussed, and I had no idea how all these things related to one another, but I appreciated that Stratos was fantastic about explaining things, making sure that I was comfortable with what was being discussed, just breaking things down into lay people’s terms and not laughing when I used the wrong term for something. That was how Stratos came to join the project, through a recommendation, and it turned out to be a good one.”
“We started looking at the whole intranet and we broke it into two halves. One side was the Parent portal, that gave Parents access to the information they needed and the other was the Staff portal (or StafNet”). The Parent portal was simpler and we were getting so many complaints from Parents for it that we thought that it would be an “easy win” to do that one first.
“We initially thought it would take 12 months to do and in fact it took 18 months. There was just so much consultation required. My role was pretty much to build a site map and to consult with parents.”
Extensive Consultation Is Another Key
“We did a survey of parents to find out what they used, what didn’t, we looked at the analytics, we did a lot of internal consultation. “There are different sections of the portal such as Exams, Careers, and NCEA. We went to each person who was in charge of these sections, and had in depth consultations about how they used it currently, how they wanted to use it, what tasks they expected parents and students to do when they went there, and how they would like to see it evolve over the next couple of years. “We did a couple of focus groups but the rest was mostly one on one interviews. It was hugely valuable to do, we were really able to get an understanding of what people wanted, and the buy-in was fantastic because they still got to manage those areas. When we rolled it out, the training went well and it all went smoothly.”
Stratos Managed the Project and Implemented the Site
“Stratos were really good about how long that consultation took to do because we had to fit in with everything else we would routinely do. Stratos also advised us about the questions we were asking and to make sure we were on the right track and we got some good advice around that — normal project management stuff — a good experience on the whole.
“We went with best practice and kept to everything being within one to three clicks away for the user. We kept to that one to three clicks standard and designed a shallow site. We looked hard at what needed to be there and what didn’t. It was a wonderful marriage of the Communications team and the IT team with this nice facilitation by Stratos to push us along and make sure we were on the right track.
“Stratos did facilitation and project management. We were able to give them a site map and to tell them how we wanted it to look, and then they implemented it.”
MacNeill says, “We also had to look carefully at enterprise licensing because we seriously considered using InfoPath forms and also the ability to do two-way read/write operations from SharePoint. Our main Student Management System (SMS) also uses SQL as a back end, and we would have liked to send and receive information in real time with the new SharePoint system.
“It would have been particularly useful around forms such as approvals for school trips and other things. In the end, we decided not to go there because Enterprise licensing was a significant cost and we couldn’t make the return on investment analysis work.
“We appointed someone in our IT team to liaise between the line managers identified by Francesca to get content onto the new system. He was also tasked with issuing new permissions and provide training. Ryan worked at the infrastructure level and liaised directly with Stratos.
“The project was delayed by several weeks. That was not Stratos’ fault, it was more a function of the sheer number of people and amount of content involved. We couldn’t do a soft launch, it always had to be a “big bang”, there was so much change from what we had to what we were going to release, and because it was going to be public facing, it had to be as near perfect as possible.
“For a while there, our databases starting ballooning in size as our content migrated across, fortunately Stratos came out and fixed it pretty quickly by implementing file compression.
“When we did go live, parents started using it again, there have been a couple of hiccups around permissioning, but I suspect they were probably a result of quirks in SharePoint.”
Success: Usage is Back; And No Complaints
Eathorne says, “We measured our success through parent feedback and their reaction to the new system. We also did some follow up around our managers to see what they thought of it. Once our analytics were set up we monitored them to confirm that our usage had grown considerably. The number of negative comments just dropped away all together.
“We made sure that our users, like the NCEA and the Careers managers, were comfortable with using it. They were getting continual feedback on their own areas, so we wanted to make sure that we were hearing that. We also wanted to hear from wider staff because they would go to the site too.
“It’s not the kind of stuff that, to be honest, is all that exciting. It’s a place where you go to find out the vehicle use policy, the alcohol policy, when the terms begin and end or where the sports fixtures are. It’s not like a new website that’s got fantastic interactive features. It’s functional and necessary. The fact we no longer get complaints and that our analytics tell us people are using it, tells us that it was successful.”
MacNeill says, “Stratos are great to deal with; they were really supportive; we were once invoiced for work that was really their problem; they were quick to acknowledge that and they showed flexibility in taking on that feedback.
“Our experience with Stratos was positive. Having said that, what we do isn’t particularly complex in regards to SharePoint. The permissioning, calendaring and everything else are pretty standard features. We aren’t using the more advanced features of SharePoint such as InfoPath forms and versioning.
“One area where we are likely to explore further is to replace our shared drives where our staff keep their teaching resources and use SharePoint instead for that. The upside of that is that our staff can access their materials anywhere. The downside is everything has to be downloaded from the cloud, which at the moment is still hosted in Singapore. Although the latency isn’t currently bad, hopefully when the Azure data centre is set up in Sydney that will make a big difference for us. We’ve already opened up a discussion with Stratos about progressing this.
“Migrating from SharePoint 2007 to 2013 meant we gained a lot more control over the look and feel, so we made it a lot easier for parents to navigate and since it started we’ve seen usage markedly climb.
“Stratos has also lent us their expertise toward physical appliances that manage resources between the local system and the cloud. We’ll certainly explore that further down the track.”
Eathorne says, “What impressed me about Stratos: they were down to earth people, that you could talk to from a lay person’s sense, I was thinking because I’m not a technical person, am I the right person to be doing this site map? Yes, I was because I had done all the consultation, and so I knew what had to be in the parent portal and my job as Head of Communications is to establish and understand that.
“It was really nice to know I was working with a group of people, not just internally, with our IT people but also with Stratos who would really support me on that, that thought I was perfectly capable of doing it, and were happy to give me any help at any time. I really felt well supported, and felt comfortable to ask any question. I never felt stupid. They were very approachable. They seemed to know their stuff. The suggestions that they made, especially on the design side, they took the time to explain it, they suggested not putting too much below the scroll, we came up with a few things that weren’t easy to implement so we worked through all that pretty well.
“I definitely recommend Stratos. They are worth contacting and talking through what the right solutions might be.”