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Penstripe – Bespoke Operational Software Case Study

Penstripe helps schools create unique, branded homework diaries and reading records in the design of their choice. The company invented the first personalised student and teacher planners a quarter of a century ago, and is the UK’s leading supplier of these and related products.

As years have passed, Penstripe has strived to move their business forward and take advantage of new digital technologies. Working with Helastel, Penstripe is now benefiting from bespoke software to streamline complex operational processes, improve the experience of its customers, and maximise the revenue potential of new business models and routes to market.

The Situation

Schools that use Penstripe love the customer service they receive. It was critically important not to compromise this as Penstripe grasped the opportunity to modernise its processes, grow its business and deliver high quality products faster and with greater accuracy.

  • Penstripe requires design instructions from each school before setting up production runs. There were several areas where software could improve this process:
  • All designs arrived via email before being manually converted by Penstripe staff into a format suitable for production
  • Lack of integration between incoming orders and resource planning (operating on Penstripe’s SAP platform) increased risks and added admin overheads
  • Discrepancies between the designs submitted by schools and the products produced added delay to proof and print cycles
  • Records of previous years’ designs were not readily accessible
  • With 80%+ of customers placing their designs and orders within the 4 weeks prior to the beginning of the academic year, Penstripe staff, processes and infrastructure ran close to breaking point

Penstripe first sought to convert these opportunities by deploying an ‘off-the-shelf’ artwork submission tool, but its rigid interface and other limiting attributes meant it did not have the desired effect on user experience (UX) or underlying processes.

Facing another busy period in the run up to the new academic year, the management team engaged Helastel in the spring of 2014. Penstripe had a vision for success but needed support to implement it.

The Opportunity

“We recognised the importance of letting Helastel guide the process of really understanding what they wanted and where they were coming from. It was definitely worth it!”

“By empowering our customers with our own automated, self-service artwork submission tool (AST), we knew it could transform the efficiency of a key business process; relieving pressure and reducing costs while improving the overall experience,” recalls Chris Anderson, Sales Director at Penstripe. “At the end of the day, we needed our customers to really take to the software. And even though we speak to them every day, and have relationships going back decades, we recognised the importance of letting Helastel guide the process of really understanding what they wanted and where they were coming from. It was definitely worth it!”

To safeguard positive uptake among Penstripe customers, Helastel:

  • Published an agreed, costed roadmap of subsequent releases to supplement core functionality over time
  • Delivered full training and support for Penstripe administrators
  • Provided strategic consultancy on taking the new software ‘product’ to existing and potential customers

Helastel also undertook a project scoping exercise, including (but not limited to):

  • The objectives and dependencies associated with the effected business processes
  • Extensive primary research with Penstripe customers, identifying the typical customer user groups (or ‘personas’) that would adopt the software
  • A priority list of system requirements for version 1.0 (the Minimum Viable Product), arising from evidence gathered
  • Addressed the key requirements and completed the most essential capabilities within a full software release, in time for the beginning of the pre-academic year rush.

Software features included:

  • Automated conversion of designs into PDF proof for sign-off
  • Password controlled storage of all historic designs in PDF
  • Scalability for simultaneous demand (processing power for 100 designs of 100+ pages each without impacting the user experience)
  • Integration with SAP and other systems and processes

The Outcome

By paying close attention to the common expectations, requirements and behaviours of Penstripe’s most important user personas – and prioritising functionality and UX design accordingly – Helastel and Penstripe ensured that the uptake of the AST was rapid and widespread.

“Helastel were incredibly business-minded and intelligent in their approach to the project,” added Chris. “They are far more than just a set of developers. What we’ve seen now is the result – it’s revolutionised the way in which we process artwork, take it from the customer and that entire experience.”

The Future

With the AST project delivered, and its evolution ongoing, Helastel has turned to Penstripe’s second priority: a revenue-generating product to digitise the personalised student/teacher diary planner experience. Penstripe recognises the opportunities to diversify their traditional print offerings to remain relevant in the face of new working practices and user preferences for handheld technology. By embracing a new, complementary business model, the company will be – in effect – competing against its own legacy business in a bid to capture more of the addressable market.

“It’s a change in mindset, and the lead we need to give is much more market-orientated than for business process optimisation projects,” explained Iouri Prokhorov, Managing Director at Helastel. “The persona research has been extensive, and we’ve applied various prototypes to find the stickiest features that students, teachers, parents and school management each want to see in the product. As well as the software itself, we’re also providing strategic input on pricing, product after-care/support and the staged release of features.”

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