The ONTO Group is an education technology company supporting schools in their use of data. Among other services, it provides data management tools, including those used in exam and assessment processes and for the delivery and distribution of documents, such as timetables. Based in Manchester, ONTO provides services across the UK and worldwide with clients in Dubai, Malawi and South Africa. The ONTO Group worked with Quadient to harvest the right data to deliver clear, comprehensive timetables that can be rapidly and easily sent to parents by email or SMS text. Neil Gregory, Co-founder at The ONTO Group, told Intelligent SME.tech more about the solution.
The normal school day was heavily disrupted during 2020. Many pupils had to stay at home and receive their lessons remotely. Some pupils were in school but in different class groups. The school day’s start and finish times were staggered to alleviate groups of children arriving and leaving at the same time. With the usual school day so significantly changed, teaching timetables previously in place were unworkable.
Schools worked tirelessly to rapidly develop new timetables to fit the changed circumstances of an unfamiliar teaching schedule and amended year groups. As schools now needed atypical timetables that did not conform to the templates generally in use, ONTO looked at how it could provide support by creating new documents that drew on data in a completely different way.
“As education specialists, we use technology to help schools achieve their goals,” said Neil Gregory, Co-founder at The ONTO Group. “These were exceptional times; we were keen to find the best solution to meet an unforeseen need as quickly and effectively as possible.”
The process: customisation and training
Gregory was familiar with technology from Quadient that helps organisations personalise and distribute communications. A Quadient representative assessed the ONTO Group’s requirement and listened to Gregory’s objective, which was to gather data from the schools’ management information system, use this to populate new timetables presented professionally and customisable by school and send these to parents simply and quickly.
ONTO worked with Quadient’s support team to harvest the right data to feed into communications software where it could be formatted and the resulting documents could be processed for sending. Once the solution was up and running, Quadient organised training for ONTO. “It’s a tool that’s really simple to use,” said Gregory. “Mastering the process was quick and easy; the software has a user-friendly interface, and we were able to create the templates we needed for the documents.”
Quadient Impress is a comprehensive outbound document management platform that automates communications workflows and provides the flexibility of sending documents through print or digital channels. By automating access to the data needed by ONTO to compile the schools’ timetables, the platform avoids any slow, manual data collection or error-prone retyping of information for rapid and efficient document delivery. Personalisation and formatting of documents is simple, enabling ONTO to add school logos and other customisable information for a professional end result.
“The great thing about the Quadient platform is it supports a range of fields, so we could create bespoke timetables to suit this very particular situation and present them in a professional way. As a communication tool, it’s really good,” said Gregory. “Compatibility wasn’t an issue – the platform is able to draw on the data it needs from the systems that hold it.
Through automation and personalisation, ONTO delivers clear, comprehensive timetables that can rapidly and easily be sent to parents by email or SMS text, or made available for them to access through a secure portal. The option is also there to send documents to be printed to an outsourced print facility at the click of a button.
The templates have been developed according to each school’s particular needs and can be adapted to maximise clarity and presentation of the information. The time it takes to develop and issue the timetables has been reduced from days to less than two hours. “It’s been really good,” said Gregory. “It’s meant the schools can communicate effectively with parents, manage the process more quickly and produce timetables to suit the situation. That’s the power of the system – it can be unique to each school; whichever way they want to display the data. We’ve also used the solution to deliver worksheets for schools and it works really well for that too.”
Gregory, Co-founder at The ONTO Group, spoke to Intelligent SME.tech in more detail about the company and the services it provides.
Is the right data always available to carry out the task or does it sometimes need to be inputted?
In general, we always have the right data available. We work with Quadient Impress, which enables us to draw on data from schools’ Management Information Systems (MIS). Using school data directly means we have all we need to create bespoke timetables that suit schools’ and pupils’ needs.
Do you need to get permission to use the data from pupils and parents or is it just from the school?
No – since we are gathering data directly from schools’ MIS, it is already covered by their agreements with pupils and parents.
When did ONTO form and what gap in the market did you see?
The ONTO Group was formed in 2019 to plug a gap in the market for business support solutions in the education sector, providing managed services for everything from mock exams to timetables. We also provide data consultancy for areas such as personnel and pupil analysis, as well as data services and Power BI services.
Essentially, we’d seen that many schools were struggling with legacy IT but didn’t have the in-house resources to successfully modernise and take advantage of new trends while also ensuring a full time service. Our support helps schools navigate a new path past legacy IT systems and in-house IT teams, saving time and money as well as eliminating problems like IT downtime and term-time-only contracts.
We typically save schools £5,000 to £8,000 a year – which, especially given the budget cuts on education – can alleviate significant pressure. We also save schools a lot of time previously spent managing data in-house, and our industry knowledge helps them to stay on top of emerging trends.
After the pandemic, what is your most popular service?
Timetabling and data management services, such as analysing data like parent questionnaires and year-end close-down procedures, are among our most popular core functions.
Although schools were forced into staggered start and finish times during the pandemic, many of them have now developed a taste for them and chosen to continue scheduling in this way. Having navigated this difficult period without IT staff on site, many schools are now more open to using remote managed services in general, as they are confident that data services can happen remotely – they don’t necessarily need an IT expert physically sat in the school building.
Why did ONTO select Quadient?
We chose Quadient because its customisable, modular Impress platform could automate access to the schools’ data, removing the need for slow, manual data collection and enabling us to produce bespoke timetables rapidly.
The technical services team at Quadient was brilliant during the consultation process – they listen to what you need and design a service to suit your situation. Education is a very niche business area and no two schools are the same, but Quadient’s technical expertise and the adaptability of Quadient Impress enabled us to produce timetables that are unique to each school.
Were you already working with the schools which used your services during the pandemic or did schools seek your services?
It’s a bit of both. We were already working with many schools pre-pandemic, and those naturally benefitted from our work with Quadient. However, during the pandemic we also hosted webinars on timetabling which, in combination with word-of-mouth from those we were working with, helped spread the word and caused a lot of schools to seek our data services.
What does the future hold for ONTO?
The ONTO Group has grown more than 120% in just a year. To keep pace with the rapid growth of our business, we want to use AI and automation to become more efficient, save costs and cement ourselves as a leader in data management for schools.
Part of this will be gaining the maximum value from our existing tools. For instance, at present we use Quadient Impress for a specific tailored purpose but are looking to expand our use of the platform, as we know it has a much wider function, powering all kinds of multi-channel document delivery. As our relationship with Quadient evolves we look forward to exploring how Impress can automate manual processes to eliminate mistakes and speed up work with key documents including invoices, notifications and letters.