Reflecting on 2013, our ‘aha’ year
The Signmee team has had a great year taking the Signmee network (a consumer electronic forms service) from concept through to production. Along the way we have enjoyed the ‘aha, that makes a lot of sense’ reactions from principals, teachers and parents. The step into a full production both nationally and internationally is very close, making the year ahead an eagerly anticipated prospect. The challenges and rewards from 2013 have been a plenty, and here is an overview of the journey traveled so far.
Leading up to 2013, Signmee was taken from concept to a working visualization (realistic mock up) with the help of iRise Studio (www.irise.com – highly recommended); a nifty piece of prototyping/visualizing software offering a really good interactive mock up of software. The working visualization was invaluable as a proof of concept, giving principals, teachers and parents the ability to test drive and provide feedback on Signmee UX, features and functionality prior to any real development taking place.
The Signmee ‘networking’ concept was well received with comments such as: “This is a bit like connecting to friends with Facebook… but connecting for work rather than social“; “We can connect to more than one school/club/business with our personal account”; “We can see our response forms at any stage in the future in our own account”; “More than one parent can link to a student, and we can see all our children in one account”.
There were some good questions asked about the service, leading to the addition of further functionality.
Throughout the early evaluation stage there were continual ‘aha’ moments, as principals, teachers and parents discovered that :
- Signmee is not like any existing piece of software or service, but offers a new way of connecting and networking to share business matters, with a web editor component for composing content, a survey component for creating response fields, an eCommerce component for adding payments and charges, a payment gateway for the business to collect money, and the customer to pay, and an eSign facility;
- Signmee is not just another broadcasting service which pushes information and documents to others, rather it is two-way and real-time;
- Signmee is not just another eSign tool where a signature is appended to a document and stored for the business to access, rather it is an account based content management service with verification signatures and locked records;
- Signmee is an extension on services such as TryBookings and SurveyMonkey and MailChimp by providing a more comprehensive solution to response and information management for the school/business and parent/customer;
- Signmee offers everyone equal ability to control shared communications and response forms, rather than one single party having the control.
Armed with the knowledge that the Signmee consumer forms service was well received and desired by teachers/admin and parents, the founder headed off in search of funds to pay for a team of software engineers to begin the build.
Early funding rewards came in the form of a successful grant bid with Commercialisation Australia (CA), an Australian Government initiative (http://www.commercialisationaustralia.gov.au/OurParticipants/Pages/FlowFX%20Pty%20Ltd.aspx). Funding assistance was awarded in recognition of product innovation and commercial value to the Australian business community .
The CA grant board accepted that a school of 300 students currently spends around 4000 hours managing the response forms life cycle – creation, distribution to student and home via school bag, response and signature then return via school bag, collection, collation, recording, storing…and chasing missing response forms. The grant board could see that Signmee would reduce this figure to something in the extent of 700 hours. In the age of the crowded curriculum, the notion of reducing teacher workload bears considerable weight.
The CA grant board understood the need for consumer software to solve the age old problem of managing school response forms, understanding that the existing solutions (I.e.email, enterprise student management systems, intranets, portals, web publishing, apps) have proven to be less than adequate solutions, working as ‘add-ons’ to the form management process, rather than an adequate process ‘replacement’.
Importantly, the board could see that Signmee, as consumer software, was offering something quite unique in enterprise content management; a paradigm shift from traditional forms solutions where ownership and control lives with the business via enterprise software - log in to our portal, log in to the intranet – to a customer centric approach giving parents total control and visibility of their own response data.
With funding secured, it was time to get the show on the road. Developers were engaged to begin the build. Lead by highly experienced John Vesey, the team focused on using the latest technologies (responsive and fluid interface design) to deliver a device agnostic consumer software service, with intuitive design.
Whilst the build was underway a lot of other work was happening in the background. A new Signmee website was set up to promote and explain the product (www.signmee.com), and a fab little explainer video was created by Hana, engaged through oDesk. We were all thrilled with Hana’s explainer – check it out at http://meesys.wistia.com/medias/8enygfebzy.
By term 4 the core system was up and running, and a number of schools were lined up to participate in a free trial of the BETA version. The first school to take the plunge was Fish Creek and District Primary school (http://www.fishyps.vic.edu.au/). The 90-odd student rural school was a great test for Signmee. With a few hours of set-up and best practice support for the office staff, the students were loaded, a connection invitation email was sent to parents. Within minutes parents were signing up and accepting the connection invites. With some minor teething issues, most of the parents were signed up and connected within a few weeks (we’d love to say days, but with change and many different people involved, these things take time). Bugs with oAuth were resolved, and the connection business logic was refined to improve the ease of connecting for all future users.
The most exciting day came when the first communication was distributed by Fish Creek to all the connected parents. Distribution went ahead and around 50% of parents had signed the form within 3 hours and over 80% in 24 hours. A few issues with parents assuming they had signed and left the page before the actual confirmation, lead the team to add a spinner to the page to ensure that the signature (password entry and submission) was clearly evident. Parent feedback (on the school FB site) was just as the team had hoped, suggesting Signmee was very easy to use. The most significant feedback from the school was that a number of families who were well know for being tardy with returning forms, had all fallen within the 3 hour response window. As such, the school was thrilled with the result. They sent just under 1,000 communications using Signmee in term 4.
Prior to the term 4 trials, we headed to the International Confederation of Principals Conference in Cairns, and the Victorian Primary Principals Association conference in Melbourne. These conferences were a great opportunity to begin the Signmee awareness campaign, to plant the Signmee seed, and to gauge feelings towards this new service. There were many ‘aha’ moments, in particular from the principal of Cambridge Primary in Hoppers Crossing, who insisted that Signmee was ‘exactly what her school had been looking for’. This statement was followed up with an invite to present a demo to the school staff (of the 900 student school), and then the booking of a year level trial in term 1 2014. The staff, including 2 school IT technicians, were visibly impressed with the service and what it was offering as a consumer content management service for two way communications.
Whilst a small number of early adopter schools are scheduled for a 2014 start, the buzz and excitement around Signmee is growing, as is the understanding that emerging consumer technology is a very good option for overhauling antiquated paper-based business processes. As more users come on board, the understanding will grow that Signmee is not just for schools, but for everyone and anyone to connect and share business. Viral growth is anticipated, particularly as we add new form templates for all business types (scheduled for later in 2014), and even templates for party invitations – parents to parents.
The development team has been working furiously over the summer break to put in place some final functionality to meet the needs of schools in 2014. The addition of Grabmee, BPay (in addition to PayPal) and archiving are just some of the new features to be release late January. There is obviously a long way to go with this product in terms of look and feel and functionality. We plan to use customer and user feedback from this point to guide our development schedule and pipeline.
The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred. – unknown (tweet)
The Signmee team are incredibly thrilled with the service we have created, knowing that it helps to solve a really big problem for schools and business – communication life-cycle management (from creation to collection and storage for retreival). We are particularly proud of the fact that we have a service which focuses on the customer (ie parent), not just the business (ie school). With Signmee, schools KNOW that parents have received a communication. Schools KNOW when it was opened, and by whom. Parents KNOW exactly what they have received from the school in terms of communications, and they KNOW what they responded as they have access to every single artifact within the Signmee service, even after the association with a school or business has ended. Satisfaction for all!
In 2014 we will be spending time in Australia and New Zealand, supporting schools and business with Signmee implementation and business process improvement. Later in 2014 we will look to ramp up our international profile, by promoting our service more broadly. However, given that Signmee is consumer software, there is no reason why any school/business/individual cannot create an account and begin using Signmee – this we welcome. We will continue to develop Signmee and further Mee products, and will begin to branch out and look at integrating Signmee into other business services and platforms.
Here’s to a very exciting 2014!
Cheers, Signmee team
Preparing for 2014 -
We have a new ‘bells and whistles’ release coming out late January, complete with all the additional functionality requested since commencing our school visits and demos. Some of the new features include:
- Grabmee – this is a great new feature allowing schools to publish forms and make them available to anyone connected to the school account
- BPay – in addition to PayPal gateway for schools/business to collect payments within Signmee. BPay, unlike PayPal, is not fully integrated, and will require manual confirmation that payments have been received. However, BPay is increasingly popular as a method for collecting payments at schools.
- Archives – to enable both personal and business account holders to move communications from
- Medical form – auto add medical form, which pre-fills for parents after initial completion
- More templates – for all business types, not just schools
- Changes to distributions to give schools the option of sending SMS alert (with the Signmee to notify that it requires a response), or to send without SMS (only an email alert advising parents that there is a Signmee requiring a response). This new feature allows schools to reduce costs. SMS notifications can be reserved for chasing responses. However, some schools/businesses may elect to use SMS on all occasions, as it means parents can easily access from smart phone.
We are working on Support material coming in 2014:
- Best practice guide for Signmee – as an emergency contact system
- Suite of explainer videos
- Knowledge base
Demo site is coming soon, so you can log in and see a fully operational Signmee site with connected contacts, distributed communications…etc
Some further innovations we are investigating in 2014
- Addition of Signmee messaging service
- Sign via SMS
- APIs and plugins for easy integration with other service
The gate keepers…
The most common misconception is the notion that Signmee is an “add on”; another piece of software to update and look after.
Parents see Signmee, use Signmee and love Signmee. When schools take the time to look at Signmee, they too love it. However, getting schools to actually look is the greatest challenge. The front door of most schools is closely guarded by office staff, many of whom are highly skilled administrators running very tight ships, with a series of well tried and true business processes. The notion of a ‘major’ change to existing processes can be daunting, and those with well embedded processes see it as unnecessary.
Many office staff advise that they are too busy to implement Signmee, as they already have too many balls in the air, or that they already have electronic processes for certain things. These administrators need to be educated that there is a new and improved way of managing forms and parent communications, and that the new way will replace a lot of the existing processes (both physical and electronic) and pull many existing balls out of the air. The new process does not look like the old. There is no need to create lists, there is no need to file, there is no need to duplicate, there is no need for data entry, there is no need to publish dates in various locations for parents to access on devices and the web, there is no need to update personal details…etc, as these processes are handled within the new communications service.
Our ongoing challenge will be to educate and inspire administrators to ‘take a look’, and let us in past the front door of the school. Once we get past the front door of the school, we can begin the conversation about the new technology, what it really is and what it offers.
A little laugh along the way…
One school administrator (gatekeeper) suggested their school was not interested in Signmee because “the parents prefer to receive a piece of paper in the school bag to be read and signed and returned”.
Not sure who she is kidding????