Star Trek fans will be cringing at the re-purposing of Borg doctrine but there is no more applicable sentiment for what is about to happen to niche software vendors operating in the EdTech space.
Over the past few decades I have attended countless education exhibitions and conferences. What I inevitably saw at each event were the same faces selling the same products to the same procurement officers and buyers. The biggest change to the status quo was an occasional updated feature set or perhaps a compliance certification with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system.
Attend an EdTech event now however and one will see a raft of startup companies who have developed an app or software product which is designed to solve a specific problem being experienced by students, support staff or management. Very often the creators of these products have come directly from the sector and are bringing first hand knowledge of the issue for which they are offering a solution. These are not incremental updates to previously available products, nor are they concerned with OS compliance. The adoption of Agile development, and SaaS / PaaS models of provision are now making it possible to conceive, develop and deliver a robust and comprehensive feature set which can be delivered straight to a web browser. Critically, all this can be delivered at a fraction of the cost associated with traditional waterfall development techniques.
The volume of new faces and new products at education events is testament to the fact that digital transformation of the education sector is well and truly underway. One would therefore assume that institutions were using the newly available products. In many other sectors the companies selling these products would be heading towards the holy grail of hockey stick financial projection charts. Yet this is not what we see in the EdTech sector. So what is going wrong?
Generally, the new programmes I come across are stand alone products. What they do they do well, but they do so in isolation of the wider IT infrastructure and systems currently being used by institutions. This lack of interoperability results in institutional IT departments and management being wary of adding yet another layer of complexity to an already intricate staff facing system user interface. Or alternatively, advocating their staff use a flotilla of separate stand alone products in a piecemeal workflow.
I believe the answer to solving this problem lies in suppliers of new software products developing an understanding of the value of Application Programme Interfaces (APIs). Specifically, how APIs can be used to add value to an existing suite of well established and tested software applications without the need to open a new application to access a new feature set.
Any provider of software entering the EdTech sector who has a fundamental understanding of the need to offer API access to their feature set will have an opportunity to assimilate into the behemoth that is the current conglomeration of student registration and support platforms. Suppliers who fail to recognise the importance of APIs will be doomed to walk alone on the road less travelled (by procurement officers) and I doubt they will ever come back.
Author: Michael Humphreys (with a little inspiration from Robert Frost) – CEO – ORAC Software