Launching Into Orbit: An Interview with Annie Robins

Posted by Tom Hoyes on 28/03/2024 9:23:06 AM

New products, a new team, and a galaxy of possibilities! In case you missed it, over the last 18 months, TASS has been very busy expanding our suite of products to include a range of mobile apps as a natural extension of our Parent and Staff Portals.

At the end of 2022, we announced a new initiative that would entail a new suite of mobile apps leveraging the TASS portal products. This initiative aimed to improve communication and connectivity within school communities and enhance the overall efficiency of school operations.

The TASS Orbit initiative is led by a familiar face to many in the TASS community, Annie Robins. Previously the Services Manager at TASS, she moved into her new role as Head of Product for mobile apps to lead the initiative.

With the recent launch of our second app, Staff Orbit, we sat down with Annie to get the low down on all things TASS Orbit, what the last 18 months have looked like for her and the newly formed Orbit team and what exciting things are still to come.


What inspired the need to develop mobile apps that were extensions of the TASS products?

"In the lead-up to announcing TASS Orbit, a common request that we were seeing with our customers was around mobile apps to access information on the go. The TASS portal products were already mobile responsive, which at the time accommodated our customers' needs; however, as time went on, this was no longer sufficient.

A common occurrence schools were having with their parent communities had to do with engagement with the school. To improve this and the user experience, developing native mobile apps was the best solution as it would offer a more familiar, friendly, and consistent user experience."


What was the thought process for the name 'TASS Orbit'?

"Experimenting and getting creative was a large part of this initiative, and I wanted something that represented what we were doing with the product line.

The space theme first came about because it felt that we, as a company, were embarking on a new journey and heading into a whole new space. The name also came about because the mobile apps 'orbit' the core TASS products and make for a cohesive ecosystem."


What were the main challenges during the development process, and how were they overcome?

"There were so many challenges as this was uncharted territory for TASS. This initiative was so much more than just the development process, we were essentially creating a new brand within the TASS umbrella. With this came business decisions, branding, new technologies, talent required, uptake considerations, market analysis, and so much more. We were starting from scratch in every aspect.

Some of the main challenges we faced were what frameworks we should use, what we needed to make this happen, our timeline to launch, forming the Special Interest Group and getting buy-in. These foundational decisions that we made early on in the process were vital for the success of the initiative."


Can you explain the importance of having a dedicated Orbit team? 

"We decided as a company that we wanted a new offering for our customers, we knew this would be difficult to do in the time frame if we tried to build this into our existing TASS development roadmap.

We wanted to ensure TASS Orbit had the attention and dedication it deserved to build an excellent solution for schools.

Creating a brand-new product line wouldn't have been possible without the support from Volaris. Throughout the whole process, they have supported our growth trajectory, business plan and initiative success.

Having access to Volaris's network significantly amplified Orbit's success. Not only did we learn about other initiatives and why they succeeded or the lessons from their failures, but I could also reach out to other teams who had built their own apps. This removed a lot of trial and error from the process, enhancing the viability of our business plan and product, and helping us to enter the market much more quickly. The market was ready for this then, so the faster we could develop our app, the better."


Why was it important to have a Special Interest Group (SIG) during the development process? 

"A SIG was formed for the development of both apps as we needed to validate the pain points we were hearing from schools through support requests, onsite visits and other conversations with customers.

It was also important to us that the development of the apps was a user-driven approach. Our SIG schools worked with us in design workshops to assist with prioritising features, the app's look and feel and overall app functionality."


What were some important considerations that were essential for Orbit?

"Just like TASS, security was paramount for us. Orbit uses OAuth2 authentication and TLS 1.2 security measures to ensure safe access to the school's TASS instance. Our frameworks, built on best practices, allow Orbit to request any information but only transmit data the user is authorised to receive.

Also, having a native mobile app that was built by TASS allowed us to provide apps that were a one-stop-shop for users and really solidified TASS as the central point of truth.

The user experience and interface were also important considerations when developing the apps; the initial feedback we got from surveying our customers was that the mobile responsive versions of the portal products were not giving our schools the best experience. This aspect then became an area we really wanted to target.

Ensuring schools had the power to target notifications to their community was also a major consideration for us. These notifications are driven directly from TASS, which means all existing groups schools have set up are leveraged, for example extra curricular and event groups.


What exciting things have you heard from schools since the launch of the apps?

"We were recently invited to a parent information night where we gave a demo of the Parent Orbit app to their community, this was a great experience to hear first-hand feedback on the app from parents as this information is usually communicated through the school.

We are also hearing many schools refer to the apps as a one-stop-shop for all of their needs, and this has also resulted in schools engaging with more modules in TASS that were previously underutilised.

Hearing these success stories from parents and schools tells me we hit our goals."


What does the future hold for TASS Orbit?

"Orbit has been such an innovative piece for TASS, and it has been great providing opportunities internally and to the market.

This is a new era for TASS, and we're only just getting started; we have found our groove and have some really exciting things in the works."


If you would like to learn more about how the TASS Orbit apps can improve communication and connectivity within your school community, click the link below!


Launch into Orbit!


Topics: School Management, TASS News, Community Engagement

Recent Posts



Receive industry relevant information that educates and informs on everything education and school administration. 


With years of experience providing powerful School Management and Portal solutions, TASS creates meaningful connections between every part of your school’s community. The TASS solution will support your business office, teachers, parents and students.

Log in and try TASS Now!

Subscribe to TASS Blogs to receive industry relevant information that informs on all things education and school administration.