Highland Council introduced its original "smart card" system in 1994 using hardware provided by a local business and a dedicated Highland Council smartcard, rolled out to most high schools.
The objective was to modernise and speed up lunch service, reduce queuing time and provide anonymity for free school meals pupils. The council recognised that since this was a dual operation that utilised both cash and cards, there was a need to improve and modernise the system to an entirely cashless process at the point of sale.
Highland Council's Corporate Plan proposed the introduction of a "single card" for use by young people, enabling access to discounts including leisure, library and school meals. The council developed a project plan to upgrade each high school on a rolling programme; the new system would be compatible with the National Entitlement Card (NEC).
Highland Council submitted a business case to the Programme Board governing ICT, which was a time-consuming part of the process. However, the council received approval. As with the Council's ICT service outsourced to Fujitsu, they decided to procure an appropriate system through them. Fujitsu recommended CRB Cunninghams as the preferred supplier.
Whilst the project was explicitly aimed at the secondary school sector, enabling works for the system to be introduced into primary schools was also included in the specification for any new primary school.
Twenty-seven secondary schools across the authority have the new system, payments made using revaluation units, utilising National Entitlement Card (NEC) and PINs. There is the provision of "cash drawers" in some schools for visitors during the school day. Pupils are required to use the cashless operation at all times.
The 17 primary schools operating our Cashless Solution utilise a variety of systems:
- Two schools with tills at point of sale
- Three schools with a "smartboard" in the classrooms using the netbook as a "server."
- The remaining primaries use a pre-order system, utilising netbooks
Enhancements to the original project included: Pre-Order Kiosks. Despite not being part of the original plan, they had Pre-Order Kiosks in many secondary schools, which proved very popular with pupils.
There were several challenges throughout the project's life, which resulted in slippage against the target date. These included issues with the following:
- Power and data installation
- ICT interface of the system with Council network
- Changes in school management
- Poor uptake of NEC/Young Scot Card
- Increase in the issue of PINs
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The Highland Council Project team undertook a focused consultation process, liaising with all relevant parties involved in the successful roll-out of the cashless system.
Presentations were made to pupils and staff in each school before the installation. As part of their transition to high school, all P7s are introduced to the cashless operation in senior schools during induction days.
CRB was involved with the project from the start, with regular meetings between service management, CRB representatives and ICT, enhancing the working relationships between service management and supplier.
"It was imperative that CRB was involved pre and post-installation and were available to provide advice and guidance at all stages of the project. There was an excellent relationship between service management and CRB throughout the project. CRB provided specialists to "thrash" out the detail of complex operational issues" - Service Manager.
- Standardisation of catering operation across the authority
- Opportunity to pre-order meals
- Reduced queuing
- A single card for multiple applications, i.e. leisure, school meals use
- Incentives for pupils who use National Entitlement Card (NEC), i.e. discounts and reward points
- Setting up of a Central Server allowing interrogation of data
- Centralised menu management and performance management reporting
Highland Council continues to develop and improve on the initial installation and plan to do this in the following areas:
- Extend online payment opportunities to all cashless schools providing them with the capability to accept online payments.
- Evaluate pre-order kiosks to increase the number of access points in secondary schools.
- Extend smartboards in line with the Council plan to all primary schools.
- Install external catering units "snack shack" linked to the impact system.
The project is due for completion spring of 2013, with a review and evaluation criteria built into the Project Plan. Highland Council is happy with the outcome to date. Although there were challenges at various stages throughout the project, they are delighted that the project achieved and met the council's objectives.
"CRBC provided excellent technical support, delivering training to staff and pupils. Post-installation CRBC also provided a responsive and supportive "Help Desk" resource. This resource is available to all catering staff, offering a dial-in facility to council systems to resolve problems remotely.
Given the distances involved across the Highland Council area, site visits are not the quickest way to remedy unit problems, making this an excellent service. However, site visits are always available if the remote access option does not achieve a resolution" - Service Manager, Highland Council.
Highland Council will continue to work closely with CRB Cunninghams to explore the vital future developments and deliver a complete cashless operation to all schools across the council area.