Who is CountryNet, how did we get where we are today and where are we going next? This article looks at the company’s background, its services: PTO, SSO, SPO and Educonnex: why we’re doing these and the problems we’re solving.
CountryNet is a specialist software provider based on the Central Coast of NSW about one hour’s drive north of Sydney. We develop web-based services for school administration to hundreds of schools across Australia and internationally. But who are we and how did we get here? Whether you’re a customer who’s used our services for some years, or if you’ve just come across us for the first time, this article will tell you about our background and where we’re headed.
The company was founded by CEO Simon Totonjian in 1987 and at that time was primarily involved in providing internet to domestic and commercial clients plus providing technical services and point of sale software to local businesses. Apart from his background in hospitality and retail businesses, Simon was strongly involved in schools at a governance level, serving on the board of four different schools. It’s not surprising that Simon’s business interests and his passion for excellence in school management converged over the years. While continuing to service the technical needs of local businesses, several schools were added to the mix as clients and the demand for technical services in education kept growing.
It’s not surprising that Simon’s business interests and his passion for excellence in school management converged.
In the early 2000’s the rapid expansion of broadband internet service providers saw consolidation in that market and CountryNet’s niche ISP business contracted. But this change also brought new opportunities. Internet at ADSL speeds had by then become the norm in most homes. With this came a rise in the feasibility of web-based services – even for schools and their parent communities.
In 2006 CountryNet was approached by Gosford Christian School NSW (now St Philip’s Christian College Gosford) to develop an online booking service for parent teacher interviews. CountryNet took up the challenge and the system dubbed Parent Teacher Organiser (later renamed Parent Teacher Online or simply PTO) was used for the first time for interviews held in August 2006. PTO was the first widely used software-as-a-service system used in Australian schools. It was also ahead of its time in catering for both the technophobe and the technocrat – providing a smooth user experience where, after logging in, parents could make interview bookings using just mouse clicks – no keyboard entry was needed. Interest in PTO grew strongly in the following years and there have now been over 9 million interviews booked by millions of parents in all states of Australia as well as in 11 other countries.
In 2008 Billanook College VIC asked CountryNet to look at a subject selection system they were using that needed work. The concept was taken as a foundation a totally new system – Subject Selection Online (SSO) – allowing students to select subjects based on a flexible list of subjects and rules uploaded by the school. Again it didn’t take long after the introduction of SSO for other schools to become interested and schools across Australia, the United Kingdom and Europe now use SSO.
Both PTO and SSO evolved from their initial versions, drawing on valuable feedback received from schools and parents. While keeping true to their philosophy of being easy to use, especially for the end-user whether parent or student, both systems have a wealth of sophisticated functionality and options for the tasks they perform. Schools are constantly under pressure to cut costs, and manual handling of peak events like parent teacher interviews and subject selection can place an enormous burden on already busy administration staff. By providing online access to the end-users of these events, PTO and SSO allow those peaks to be smoothed out, or “resource-levelled”.
The next “O” system to appear was Student Pathways Online in 2013. SPO was developed for the MIPS (Managed Individual Pathways) program in Victorian schools – ensuring that students and counsellors keep track of students in senior years of education as they plan for future studies and careers. MIPS is a mandatory requirement for Victorian schools and schools are government-funded on a per-student basis, with higher funding for students identified as “at risk”. While schools were required to implement the MIPS, prior to SPO being introduced there were no effective systems available to securely record MIPS information. SPO is now used by schools in other Australian states where similar student welfare requirements exist.
2013 was a milestone year for another reason in the life of the company as it acquired the Quad school management system. Quad was one of at least twenty different school administration systems being used by Australian schools. As Simon spoke with staff in hundreds of schools over the years he kept hearing the same message: “I can’t stand our admin system”, and he realised there was an overwhelming demand for a modern, efficient, online administration system for Australian schools. This acquisition allowed the company to fast-track Simon’s vision of bringing revolutionary change to the stagnant and fragmented school administration market and use the experience gained in PTO, SSO and SPO to develop a cloud-based school administration system called Educonnex.
While based on Quad’s data architecture, Educonnex is built from the ground up using the latest web technologies. A key part of the philosophy of Educonnex is accessibility by parents – the largest component of a school community – not through a parent “portal” but fully integrated into the system. The system’s smooth and simple user interface is undergirded by a sophisticated and secure server infrastructure hosted in our Sydney data centre. Already at version 1.5, frequently scheduled updates will see rapidly expanding functionality in Educonnex as more schools take advantage of this exciting new system.
CountryNet has seen many changes and challenges in its 20+ year operation and has responded to those challenges. Its philosophy is to provide not just great products and services but to couple these with excellence in customer service. The company positioned itself to grow steadily in serving the needs of schools in Australia and expand its international presence.