Typically, when a school needs to deploy a newly purchased data-driven EdTech solution, the vendor will have a large team of data analysts who reach out to the school and request the data files. Their contacts at the school must then work with the school’s IT coordinator, whose time is often split among several schools and whose responsibilities are already overwhelming without adding EdTech to the mix. The school on-boarding process may take anywhere from two to ten weeks to complete, depending on the time of the year and the IT coordinator’s capacity.
Meanwhile, the vendor’s data analyst must make a few follow-up phone calls, be patient, and wait his or her turn. The EdTech vendor’s in-house data on-boarding process can be highly inefficient, time consuming, expensive, and prone to errors. This usually adds to the cost of doing business with schools, and most vendors factor at least 20% of their price to schools as sunk costs, or cost-of-sales as they refer to it, in their accounting terms.
In the past few years, a new set of open standards has emerged to make it easier to format the data and simplify the data extraction and upload processes for most applications. IMS Global’s OneRoster® and A4L’s xPress Roster are two such standards. Also, more extensive standards-based data models have emerged, such as Ed-Fi and SIF, that promote an improved application-to-application interoperability and can assist schools in data reporting to their government agencies, to meet required reporting compliance. These emerging standards are very promising, yet it is still an operational nightmare for most schools because most SIS systems and many of the vendors will take time to embrace and perfect their data integration tools, and there will still be the need for manual labor to setup the data integration infrastructure across these systems.
The Cost of Intermediary Data Exchange Services
There are some commercial companies who have been successful in playing the middleman with the medium to large school districts and have created easy-to-share data exchange platforms in the cloud. However, these companies still charge each of the vendors on a per-school, per-year basis, upwards of $250 a year, to solve their data on-boarding problems. This means that a vendor will pay an additional annual fee for every one of their school customers, in most cases more than 20% of the price of their product, as a cost of sale. The solution vendors in some cases are obligated by some school districts to use such an expensive data intermediary because the districts do not have sufficient resources and have no other choice.
Typically, a district has a minimum of 20 solutions using such a third-party data exchange intermediary, and at a cost of $250 a year per school, the district may be indirectly paying upwards of $5,000 annually per campus to outsource this function. Some large districts in Florida, with as many as 100 schools, have mandated that their solution vendors use such intermediary companies, costing their district at least $500,000 annually through this indirect cost model that is unwillingly absorbed by their EdTech vendors as a cost of doing business. These same districts will profess that they never have enough money to afford new innovative solutions, which is true! But what if they were to get that $500,000 back every year? Would that help them afford more innovative solutions? We think so.
Secure Data Exchange for Schools
By offering every school the possibility of providing the data exchange infrastructure in a more secure, more controlled, and more affordable environment, it creates a high-impact and very scalable gift to the EdTech community. And if each school has its own data exchange platform under its own control as a managed service, where the solution is financially subsidized by an external source of funding and is absorbed by neither the vendors nor the schools themselves, it is game-changing. If we then also give back to each school the $5,000-$500,000 annually they indirectly spend today on data exchange, so they could spend it on new innovative solutions that could solve other critical needs, it becomes transformative for the entire community.
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