CEO, Trisat Communications Limited, Abiola Oseni, spoke on the importance of locally developed smart apps that would address the administrative bottlenecks in the school management system. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:
What is the relationship between Trisat and Notify software app?
Trisat Communications Limited is one of the leading ICT firms in Nigeria and Africa. We offer three major services: the first is Network Solutions, which is a platform, where we provide inter-branch connectivity, via internet for corporate organisations. The second major service is Certification Training, where we train people in computer networking and programming, and at the end of the training, we certify the trainees. The third major service is Software Development. Trisat has been in operations in the past nine years, and within this period, we have embarked on projects that are remarkably successful and reliable.
In software development, we have developed homegrown software for organisations, which they are currently using to improve work efficiency and productivity.
In a bid to develop a wide range of software applications that could be used commercially, we came up with Notify App, which is a smart school software solution, developed to eliminate administrative bottleneck in school management system. Notify App covers exam testing, admission, fees collection, notifications, communication and general school administration.
So what exactly propelled you into developing software solution that addresses administrative bottleneck in school management system?
As a technology company, we were able to envisage how software application can increase efficiency and productivity, while addressing peculiar challenges. So we looked at the education sector and discovered a lot of administrative challenges in the areas of admission, fees collection and remittance, as well as communication between parents and the school authority, and we decided to develop Notify App to address all these identified challenges in school management system. So in a nutshell, the solution is designed to help increase efficiency in school administration.
How exactly does the software app address the identified administrative challenges in schools?
Permit me to begin by explaining that Notify App was developed based on failed project, which we earlier developed for schools. The project failed because the solution did not address key challenges of school management processes. We developed a school management software, which appeared to us as fantastic solution, since it had to do with school management, but the solution did not address the key challenges of school management and so schools did not invest in it. We felt schools will need the solution, only for us to find out, after going to the market with the solution, that it does not address key challenges of school management. So the project failed and we lost some money.
After that, we constituted a focus group, which comprised of business analysts, programmers and school administrators and teachers. The focus group helped us to understand the actual challenges that schools were passing through in terms of administration and we went back to the drawing board, where we analysed the challenges and then developed Notify App to address those challenges. Now, I will answer your question on how the app addresses the challenges. Through the focused group, we were able to identify the actual challenges such as the difficulties in conducting entrance examination in schools, and we came up with a computer-based solution that will help schools conduct entrance exam for a large population of candidates, mark the scripts instantly and produce accurate results for admission same day, by eliminating paper work that hitherto makes the conduct of such exams very cumbersome. Again, we identified the challenges of collecting school fees, which has to do with accountability. We discovered that schools have challenges to track debtors, especially debtors that have outstanding school fees. So Notify App is able to track fees payment from entry level of the students to exit level of the students, such that no parent will owe the school without the school knowing. The solution also helps schools to know how much fees were collected at every given term, as well as outstanding fees, just at the click of a button. Our solution also helps to send push notifications to parents on a regular basis, informing them to pay up their children/wards schools fees as well as notifying them of important information like school open day, cultural day, parents-teachers association (PTA) meetings, among others. So the Notify App comes with three modules: the smart testing, smart payment system and the smart messenger.
How long did it take to develop the solution and what has been the response of school administrators, since it was developed?
It took us 18 months to develop Notify App. We started developing it in January 2015 and we completed it in June 2016. Before we got to the final stage in June, we were test-running the different modules of the app with some school administrators and the ones that have used it so far, liked it. So we have done pilot testing of the various modules with most schools, before finally completing the app last month. One of the very successful modules is the smart admission engine, which is a module under the smart testing system. It handles admission and internal exams. We tried it during the pilot testing for admission into schools, as well as for internal exams with most of the schools and it worked very well and the schools liked the efficiency and convenience in the use of the app. Five schools that piloted it have continued using the app.
How did the schools rate Notify App after usage?
The rating was high and this was so because our system is machine-to-machine (M-to-M) based solution. It is integrated in such a way that there is less human interface and interaction. So it eliminates the physical process of admission and internal exams in schools. So school admission and exam registration are all done seamlessly online. The solution conducts the exams, mark scripts, records marks and publish results same day that the exam was taken. The administrator will thereafter upload the scores to Notify portal and Notify will match the scores with the criteria set for the exam, and any candidate that meets the pass mark, gets instant admission as well as admission letters. That dame day, the parents receive admission offer letters via emails. Those that did not meet the score could be considered for selective/supplementary admission.
Nigerians believe more in foreign developed software than the locally developed ones. Do you see this as a threat to your locally developed Notify App?
We cannot rule out the fact that most people inclined more to foreign products than to locally developed products, but the truth of the matter is that locally developed software solutions are as good as the foreign software. We are trying hard to disabuse the minds of Nigerians who still have strong perception for foreign developed software. One thing we have done with the development of Notify App is to develop it in three versions and Nigerians can subscribe to them free of charge. Although the free software has limited features, but it can allow users to interact and retrieve students information. So schools can log on to www.notify.com.ng to access the solution and use it for free, just to convince them that the solution is as good as any foreign software, addressing the same purpose. They can try the free version and see how reliable it is before making up their minds for the paid version.
What are some of the benefits of Notify App to users?
There are three key benefits of Notify to business owners and school owners and managers. Notify helps to save time, save cost, and it provides convenience to the teachers, parents and the school management.
If a school invests in Notify App, such school will save time and cost for itself. Using the example of students’ admission for instance, where parents have to go to the school, pick the admission form, fill it and return to the school, clearly shows waste of time management. But using Notify, which is an online solution, parents can log on to the site, access the forms and fill them online and also submit online, and this method will save a lot of time and cost for both parents and school management. Apart from saving cost and time, it also provides convenience and ease of doing things. It also eliminates paper work, which is always huge cost for schools. Invigilation cost is also reduced, because every entrance exam test on Notify App is on Computer-Based Test (CBT).
How easy it is to use Notify App?
The joy of any software is in the ease of use. When the use of a particular software is becoming cumbersome, then the essence is defeated. We have this in our minds when developing software and it has helped us to win several awards in software development and usage. The keyword about Notify App is simplicity because it is easy to use.
What competitive advantage does Notify App has over other software solutions that are addressing the same issue?
Notify App has competitive advantage over other apps because it has end-to-end integration. What this means is that 100 per cent of the processing is automated, and this makes it a lot easier to use. I can assure Nigerians that our solution is the only solution in the country that has 100 per cent paperless testing.
How can governments at all levels benefit from Notify App?
Aside schools, government can also benefit from Notify App. The app is capable of centralising the operations of branches of government organisatons. For example, a state government has several secondary schools and they conduct large exams like the Junior West African School Certificate (WASC) exam. What schools do is to send the names of candidates to the exam body and they use the list of the names to create schedule for question papers and answer sheets. They conduct the exam and send the results to the school principals. But with Notify, the entire exam registration process is first centralised and the exam officer in schools go online to submit their school registration. The Ministry of Education will then use the online information for budgeting of the exams and everything is done online realtime. Our CBT is fully integrated and it assigns the questions to the students and the questions can be attempted at any of the designated CBT centres. Notify App will mark, and create statement of result that is automatically uploaded online, to enable students check their results online. Through the same portal, successful students can apply for their certificates, and the ministry gets an alert, prepares the certificate and informs the students for pickup of their certificates.
Government is using CBT to conduct post UME exams, but majority of the candidates had challenges with the processes of the CBT exam, a situation that generated calls to scrap CBT exam in the country. What is your view about this?
No doubt there are lots of challenges to CBT exams, ranging from poor infrastructure, lack of computer laboratories and poor electricity supply. Another reason for the challenge is user proficiency, especially for students in the rural areas. But in spite of the teething challenges, CBT is still the best way to conduct exams because it is easier and cost-saving. It saves government a whole lot of money in the area of printing exam question papers. A state government can spend between N80 million to N120 million in printing only question papers for Junior Secondary School exam in the state, but with the use of CBT, the government eliminates paper work and save a lot of money as much as 70 per cent of the total cost of the exam. What government should do is to adopt new technologies, improve on infrastructure and boost electricity supply.
As a solution provider that is based in Port Harcourt, how do you intend to take your solution to other parts of the country?
Our solution is cloud-based and it is online, driven by internet connectivity. So it is accessible from anywhere in the country and from anywhere in the world. As of today, Notify is being used in three countries. We have customer in Uganda, Spain and in Nigeria, even when we have not officially launched the solution. So all we need do is to ensure that our web presence is strong enough for people to easily have access to the solution.
We intend to use channel partners to drive our presence in Nigeria, and the channel partnership programme is already up and running.
Since your solution is cloud-based, who far can it penetrate, owing to low broadband penetration in the country?
It is true the country’ broadband penetration is still low at 10 per cent, but government is making efforts to deepen its penetration and has projected 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018. With the projection, we are hopeful that our cloud-based solution will grow too. For instance, cost of data for internet connectivity is reducing. 2G data bundle on mobile device used to be N3, 000, but now 6G data is sold for the same amount. Also, 200 MB was sold for N1,000 before, but now, with N1,000, I can get up to 1.5G for my mobile device.
So more people will have access to the internet and they will be able to use our cloud-based solution that is driven by internet connectivity.
Our solution is hybrid solution, such that some parts of the solution are offline, which means they can be used without internet connectivity, while some parts are online, that actually need internet connectivity. So with or without internet connectivity, the solution is good to go.
Aside software testing, what are the other functions of Notify App?
Notify App addresses other school administrative challenges, aside CBT testing. It also does fees collection, and pushes payment request to parents by giving them multiple options to make payments to the school. The greatest challenge that schools face about fees collection, is that there is no timely reconciliation of financial transactions between the school cashier and the school authority. But with our online solution, figures are updated in real time and school owners can see at a glance from their computer system, the amount of money collected and remitted into the school account and the amount of money being owed by individual students. The payment solution has intelligence on due date of fees payment. The solution also has smart automated messages, whereby messages about school information are sent to parents. It can also send targeted information like school fees payment to only parents owing the school.