An Interview with Co-founder Susanna Lawson, Queen’s Award Winner for Innovation 

In October 2015, Susanna Lawson, One File Ltd Co- founder and Sales Director and Queen’s Award Winner for Innovation presented OneFile to the US market at the Transatlantic Apprenticeship Exchange Forum. OneFile is a UK company, established in 2002, which works on building and managing software applications for the training and education sectors.

We interviewed Susanna to learn more about OneFile, how it’s resonating with apprenticeship providers, and its big plans for expansion in the US.

First of all, how would you describe OneFile as a company?

We are not an apprenticeship company directly – we supply cloud based software to apprenticeship training companies. OneFile’s portfolio can be accessed 24/7 from any device with internet access, which means that our current customers can access apprentice portfolios remotely even if in different countries. The company’s motto is “Turn paperwork into technology”.

Why did you decide to focus on this, and how are you working to achieve this goal? 

Having been an assessor, IQA and centre manager in the apprenticeship sector, I know first-hand how bureaucratic and time consuming the paperwork is. We wanted to build technology to take that frustration away.

We look at the processes within the sector that are often manual and labour intensive, we speak to our customers as to how they perceive it and where their pain points are. Then we build the software to solve the problem or issues they are facing. This means that a huge amount of time is saved; quality improves as there is more time to concentrate on planning and feedback and as a result apprentices are more engaged.

OneFile is having a huge impact – Exeter College is reporting returns of investment of over 1000%, and also another training provider has reported saving 84% on their printing and paper costs. It is estimated that OneFile has saved assessors over 25 million driving miles – which is the equivalent to driving over 1000 times around the world.

When and why did you first think about expanding your business to the US?

Our customers reported that they weren’t able to extend their own geographical reach and train apprentices located further distances from their base. We already had international customers in the US and UAE and we wanted to explore the possibilities of targeting those countries.

The opportunity arose to travel to the States with the Transatlantic Apprenticeship Exchange Forum so we jumped at the chance to be part of that trip. It was a great opportunity to find out more about the apprenticeship model in the States, what their growth plans were and the challenges they were facing. The OneFile platform resonated with the apprenticeship providers out there as they faced the same challenges as providers in the UK. We were able to speak to many providers and learn from each other.

On the back of the initial visit I was asked to speak at the annual workforce development conference for the American Association of Colleges in New Orleans on the International Perspectives of Apprentices. This again provided the opportunity to speak to many community colleges and understand their challenges.

Do you have any advice for companies thinking of expanding their business in the USA? 

Make sure you understand how the federal and state legislation works. It is completely different to how the UK works. Each state can run in a completely different way and you will need to understand each separately. Also, understand the sales process for each sector you are trying to get into. Be clear on your strategy – are you planning on starting in one city, one state, or country wide? The distances to travel are huge, expensive and time consuming.

Finally, what does OneFile have in store for 2017?

 OneFile are committed to supporting our customers with the apprenticeship reforms which are happening. This includes the new Apprenticeship Standards which are being implemented and the new Apprenticeship Levy. We have new standards workshops coming up and over 500 customers have signed up to attend.

We are launching our new Learning Management System which includes a virtual learning environment. We are also launching a cloud based CPD product where individuals can log CPD activity and share it with relevant parties.