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Coming back stronger

Education Today magazine were delighted to catch up with John Dunham, Business Manager at Frontier Software plc. John discusses the company’s current position and casts his eye over the education and wider landscape as the country moves towards a post-pandemic future.

Q1. Generally speaking, one of the lessons the pandemic has taught us is that remote working is a viable means of keeping certain businesses open. While school staff cannot work remotely while schools are open, many of the functions that schools rely on to keep open can be successfully run remotely – how can Frontier’s solutions help with this?

Although the trend for flexible working was already growing, the pandemic forced the situation and working from home quickly became the norm for 50% of the UK’s workforce. Whilst this is not an option for school staff during term time, Frontier Software’s solutions can help support both school and staff to operate more flexibly.

As a specialist Payroll and HR solution provider, we offer choice on how and where the payroll is processed, how and when the staff member records absence, views their payslip or completes a performance review.  24/7 access to information is possible through the use of browser based software and self service portals.  Software modules are available to support many elements of HR from recruitment and onboarding, training and performance management, all utilising self service interfaces for access anytime, anywhere on a range of devices. Remote working may not be an option for all school staff, but administrative tasks can be supported in a flexible way.

We’ve had a lot of interest in payroll services from schools looking to outsource payroll to save time and money. It’s an option that delivers the same accessibility, flexibility and control of running in-house, without having to allocate staff, equipment, time etc. Plus, the school doesn’t have the worry of keeping up to date with technology and the constant changes to pay legislation.  Remote access for data entry, enquiry and reporting is an option or the entire process can be handed to Frontier Software and valuable time can be spent supporting staff and not on processing pay.

Q2. The pandemic has taken its toll on many people’s wellbeing, teachers and students included. How can technology support and enhance wellbeing in this area?

Deploying technologies that support the work experience are now seen as a priority.  Use of business software to minimise or automate routine tasks that are often considered “boring”, help staff to pursue activities that are more engaging, which in turn can enhance their wellbeing. Administrative work is a necessary part of many jobs, but too much and staff can forget what they love about their job.

From an HR perspective, workflow and self service technology in particular help to automate processes and support staff.  For example, absence recording and reporting doesn’t have to be time consuming. With the right software in place, it is quick and easy process with statistics emailed to the leadership team on a pre-defined schedule. No one is motivated by a week that starts with a mountain of forms for data input and ends with a confusing or misleading absence report that has taken hours to produce.

Again, employee self service offers benefits in this area. Autonomy for entering all types of leave with workflow approvals and emails generated at every step.  Self service is a practical, effective tool that puts the staff member in control of their data, eliminates paperwork and cuts routine admin.

Q3. The pandemic has changed the relationship between schools and students when it comes to keeping learning happening via remote study technology and more. On the wider point, what impact does Frontier see technology making in the future as we adjust to a post-Covid work landscape?

Technology and digitalisation were at the forefront of efforts to limit the impact of the pandemic and the UK and the education sector in particular, took to the internet to ensure some degree of continuity. 

What felt alien to us before the pandemic is now our normal and the use of applications such as Zoom and Teams is here to stay.  Frontier Software has been able to implement new systems and train users remotely with considerable success. The acceptance of on-line interactions was forced by the pandemic, but it has opened our eyes to inefficient and unproductive ways of working, pre-pandemic.

The ability to positively apply digital technologies will be crucial. It’s our view that migration of assets to the cloud, increased awareness of business continuity and improved data security will all impact the workplace of the future, especially where these issues may not have been seen as a priority. From Frontier’s perspective we expect the increased interest for outsourced services, Smartphone apps and e-learning tools to continue as the UK adjusts to the post-Covid workplace.  New developments and enhancements to technology that support the hybrid work landscape will take priority for some time to come.

Q4. School budgets are under pressure now as never before, how can Frontier help schools save money and restructure their processes to manage budgetary pressures?

Frontier Software is well placed to help schools save money and manage budgetary pressures. Our software will cut down paper based processes that consume staff time and resources.  Plus, we offer a product that covers the end to end staff lifecycle, all from one single database. Frontier Software is a one stop shop, removing the need to pay multiple providers  licence and support fees for multiple systems that may not even talk to one another!  Duplicated data entry takes time and put simply, is wasteful. The best use of staff is not to input details to a HR system, then Payroll, then Absence and so on. And, as our solution is modular, schools can buy what they need now and look to add functionality from the budget in future years. Options for solution delivery include Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and outsourced payrolls, both great options for knowing costs in advance and managing expenditure. With both these options, responsibility for the infrastructure can be handed to us, so schools do not have to buy and maintain the equipment to run the payroll.  Added to this, they benefit from the knowledge and experience of a specialist provider to ensure they are processing data in accordance with legislation. Furthermore, use of workflow enabled software will streamline and support processes.

Q5. The teaching profession has shown itself to be resilient to the pressures of Covid, but it remains a fact that good teachers are highly sought after – how does Frontier help schools ensure they are getting the right people for the right job and equally as importantly, how do you help them keep the right people once they find them?

Getting recruitment and retention right is a challenge that impacts every organisation regardless of their market sector. Precious time and money can be spent recruiting only to then quickly lose a staff member because of non-existent or ineffective processes before, during and after the recruitment phase.  It is so important for new recruits to be onboarded quickly and efficiently and for them to have the right tools in place to succeed from day one.  In addition to recruitment software with an applicant portal for streamlined recruiting, schools should consider onboarding software to engage recruits ahead of their actual start date, which can often be months away.  Smartphone access to progress activities, submit documents, sign contracts etc is a key aspect of onboarding. It identifies you as a progressive employer, especially with younger staff coming into the sector.

We offer a range of talent management tools that will enable schools to record and maintain details of all the staff skills, capabilities and experience and to easily develop and track career plans. The exact skills mix needed in the future may not be known right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare by developing career and succession plans, identify training needs and act on gaps in workforce capability.

Through a focused, professional approach to recruitment, onboarding, development and career planning, each school or Trust can differentiate themselves in the eyes of prospective staff and, maybe, parents too. Investment in talent management software should be viewed as an investment for an engaged, motivated and productive team, equipped with the best technology and future ready.

Q6. E-learning became commonly accepted and used practice during the previous lockdowns – where does Frontier see the benefits in adopting an e-learning approach to training?  

Our planned introduction of e-Learning for users was accelerated by the pandemic and we continue to expand the range of tutorials available. The e-training approach is now widely accepted and I think the core benefits of this approach centre on efficiency and accessibility.  Each user completes the training at their own pace to suit their individual needs and workload.  At Frontier Software our users have access to e-Learning tutorials on the client area of our website.  Whether they need to brush up on how a function works or understand a whole new module, they complete their learning online and on-demand. With e-Learning it is easy to review and revisit a training module later.

Q7. Equality and diversity have become important topics recently, and the pandemic has thrown up some stark figures showing the disproportionate effect of Covid on certain ethnicities. How important is it that establishments have a secure handle on relevant data in this area?

It’s very important and in some sectors a legal requirement to collect, report and publish data about the make-up of the workforce.  Progressive organisations understand how important recording and publishing this data is to how they are perceived amongst staff and customers. HR software makes it easy to collect workforce diversity data and to report in real time and on-demand. Being transparent about this information has never been more important.

Originally published in Education Today October 2021