CfBT Education Trust launched The Schools Partnership Programme (SPP) in January 2014, to bring together partnerships of schools to connect with one another on a local and national level, sharing their expertise and driving improvement across the school system.
To support schools connecting with one another, CfBT decided to launch an Online Sharing Platform (OSP). The OSP would enable the SPP member community to work collaboratively and share best practice.
“The main objective of the project was to offer schools collaboration” said Alison Smith, Systems Analyst. “Historically, information was shared via email and there was no other system in place for sharing data within the schools.”
“This was not practical or operating efficiently as a truly integrated solution. There were issues around document management when sharing files. It was difficult to control who had the most up to date copy and who had edited what within the document. Knowing who had the most recently updated documents and sharing information is really important and is a key part of the project” explained John Cronin, Project Manager.
The main business requirements were to provide the ability to:
- Share materials through a secure platform
- Share calendars / events
- Online training / meetings
- Share discussion / communication forum
- Collect information from partnerships
After reviewing several possibilities for a system which would best meet the business requirements SharePoint Online, a component of Microsoft Office 365 was considered as the most suitable option to develop the Online Sharing Platform for SPP. John continued, “feedback from the schools was that they wanted to share documents securely with those in their partnership’ SharePoint Online could make this possible.
“We looked into Google apps,” said Alison. “However there was a limit of 8 people to participate in a hangout and we wanted more. Google didn’t lend itself well to the business model that was needed and it seemed much more difficult to do what we wanted the system to do. SharePoint had so much more to offer over Google. The ability to use Office 365 as a non-profit organisation was very attractive and showed scalability.”
A bespoke development system was another alternative, but this presented a bigger cost implication and didn’t offer as much in terms of future growth. “The project was growing rapidly which means we needed to pre-empt this growth and have a system in place that is sustainable and would ultimately save costs in the long run,” said John.
The Online Sharing Platform, developed in SharePoint by Microsoft Gold Partners Polymorph, who came highly recommended to CfBT has delivered exactly what they wanted.
“Though there is a big learning curve ahead to encourage the schools to utilise and engage with the system, a challenge to use it regularly, there has been a positive response,” said John. “Schools are content in knowing the OSP is a secure platform and confident their data is safe.”
Polymorph provided excellent training of the OSP making the transition from originally sharing information through email to the new collaborative way of working a little easier.
There has been a huge recognition within the schools that the OSP was definitely the right thing to do. “Polymorph have been responsive to problems and have delivered a system that users can develop aspiration, a system that’s seamless, easy to use, integrated and adaptable,” said John. “The new platform gives a sense of professionalism, and reinforces the affiliation to CfBt.”
Going forward we would like to use more aspects of Office 365 and the capability to use Lync to communicate with each other, said Alison. “There are about 80-90 schools using the OSP at present with the intention to roll out to many more over the next few years, therefore the opportunity to connect to each other is extremely important as the project continues to grow.”
CfBT Education Trust is a UK charity working with governments, schools and other partners, who strive to provide excellent education for all. CfBT has worked in more than 80 countries around the world on projects that range from reforming national level education to improving the performance of an individual school.