Touchpoint Industries: Touchless time tracking for school systems
Educators and school staff dedicate their careers to helping future generations fulfill their potential. Their work is not easy, and is often constrained by tight budgets, limited resources, and competing demands for their time and attention. As we move into a new era in education, connected technology is taking on a larger role, reducing administrative burdens and freeing teachers, schools, and school systems to focus on their core mission.
Pennsylvania-based Touchpoint Industries stands at the forefront of this new wave in educational technology. Touchpoint offers a range of hardware and software solutions designed to simplify and automate staff management, particularly when it comes to the crucial task of tracking. Working with school districts in 40 states across the U.S., Touchpoint helps teachers and school staff get paid and ensures that administrators and school systems remain in compliance with state-level accreditation requirements.
We sat down with Seth Hartman, Touchpoint’s Director of Operations and Facilities, to learn more about Touchpoint’s solutions, and his own experience as an IoT product manager.
What is the history of Touchpoint as a company? How did it come into existence?
Our founder and CEO used to work for one of our current partner companies, Frontline Education, which sells software into school districts, including software that tracks time and attendance. He worked on time management software that allowed kitchen and janitorial staff to clock in and out.
It was a web-based solution that schools could pull up on any laptop to use with a laptop and pin pad. But these solutions were impractical when you actually put them in schools. Students would use the machines and navigate away from the software or unplug the scanner.
There was a constant issue of staff not being able to use the software as intended. That challenge led to the creation of Touchpoint.
What did the product look like in the beginning? What has it evolved?
It was a very basic model, based on Android (and then Windows) with a screen board, battery board, and USB peripherals. Basically a Raspberry PI plugged into a screen, plugged into the battery board. We soldered harnesses ourselves to put everything together. In our earliest and most experimental days, we even had wires burning out while testing ideas. Breaking stuff was part of the process.
We’ve come a long way from those days. Touchpoint now works with manufacturing partners to build the actual devices and ee are continuously looking for ways to improve upon and evolve our hardware. We now have four distinct solutions in the market:
• DIY: This is a “drop-in” kit that lets schools use their existing computers and badges with an RFID proximity scanner and barcode reader.
• Tablet: This offers a dedicated, all-in-one Touchpoint tablet with an optional kiosk and limited badge scanner.
• Timeclock: These touchless timeclocks can plug and play with existing badge systems.
• Safe-T-Screen: These kiosks use thermal scanning to collect HIPAA-compliant data from employees, volunteers, and visitors to help curb exposure to COVID-19.
How has your own career evolved with the journey of the company?
To be honest, I started off with very little IT tech experience when I was brought on. I joined the company early in the process and learned with my manager how to put them all together. There was a lot of hands-on knowledge-building in the early days.
We didn’t necessarily know how to do everything exactly right. I mean, we had to learn about electricity and learn about the voltage and wattage and things that it would take to power up the device. Learning happens for me on the job. I became an expert by trying things out and aiming for continuous self improvement.
Google is an amazing tool. That has been the biggest thing. I also surround myself with an amazing team. I embed myself into conversations with school districts and different vendors. I learn as I go. As new things come up, I’m always spending time researching and discussing how to use this information with my team.
Eventually, this experience led me to managing the whole process. I became responsible for sourcing components to ensure that the product is always performing to its highest potential. The device needs to be working 24/7 and needs to be continuously connected to wireless data. It needs to last in schools for 7-10 years, so districts can get the most from their investments.
Can you share some challenges that you may have encountered along the way?
The biggest struggle for us at the beginning was sourcing components that could scale with our company — for instance, we would use certain tablets or screens that would stop being produced. We learned, at this stage, how important it is for our business to be very careful with our partners and vendors. We find components that will be reliable and last a long time.
What makes you proudest about your work with Touchpoint, to date?
We are truly helping schools.
Our ideas come directly from requests that schools share with us. There’s one IT specialist for every 1,000 staff members. It’s very hard for them to manage everything that the kids and teachers need. So we kind of think of ourselves as an outsourced IT department. They ask us if we’re working on things that may address problems or issues that they may be facing.
We’re always looking to offer more.
We’re working on streamlining the device to be more aesthetically pleasing, developing use cases around emergency evacuations, and creating software to assess staff exposure to COVID-19. We’re also exploring how to create devices that will support students more directly.
Check out the case study to learn how Touchpoint Industries uses Soracom connectivity to help create touchless time tracking systems designed for the specific needs of school districts across the United States.