Brian Fodrey, Assistant Dean for Facilities and Information Technology, CIO, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
The value in working with EdTech startups is as powerful as ever given that technology is increasingly becoming more portable and the marketplace competitive. Similar to a successful startup, organizations are constantly striving towards finding optimization between timing, opportunity, and capacity. Today’s user environments are no longer as in need for robust or enterprise level solutions, and instead for more nimble - often cloud-based - and niche offerings that offer flexibility to meet the needs of today and tomorrow all the while knowing that the future can rapidly change, and they will need to react as close to real-time as possible. Organizations are often less likely to be looking for long-term, turn-key partnerships and instead for more targeted providers that will create a more diverse service footprint. As a result of these new-look partnerships both sides find themselves adapting to ever-changing dynamic relationships and organizational culture environments.
One reason for why we are seeing this change in the technical landscape is infrastructure moving to off-premise and as-a-service becoming more prolific. The EdTech market is better positioned and much more scalable to offer products and services from the cloud allowing organizations to instead focus on building much more diversified and distributed vendor portfolios. One benefit to this portfolio transformation is an organizations’ ability and increasing willingness to “fail fast” and/or pursue specialized providers. Organization level services are no longer anchored in less flexible partnerships or substructure. Additionally, because the EdTech market is growing at a rate that makes it extremely difficult to scan and proactively offer the latest innovation in every service area; organizations will often look to and encourage their users to bring the tools that interest them to the conversation. This puts EdTech startups in an advantageous situation and better positions them to promote their solutions and strategies directly to a user population, and offer the potential to influence an entire organization’s direction or priorities.
"Organizations are often less likely to be looking for long-term, turn-key partnerships and instead for more targeted providers that will create a more diverse service footprint"
The transformational impact we are now seeing that is a result of these EdTech trends are mostly centralized around user empowerment and today’s mobile learner. Adopting technologies as tools designed to enhance or integrate a learner deeper into their subject matter using elements from the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and social learning can all influence pedagogy. Conversely, just as EdTech startups stand to have a great deal of influence on what and how technologies are managed and offered from within an organization, they must continually still be looking to find their place in an ever-evolving marketplace. The most successful startups will make concerted attempts and embrace the opportunity to work closely with organizations as to better inform their products, licensing, and desired outcomes. This further emphasizes each parties shared need for working more closely and openly with one another.
As an organization when looking to the EdTech market space for partnerships there are several areas that must readily be considered:
• Strategy: Be mindful and strategic with how you integrate new services and technologies with existing systems and partnerships. You must always keep in mind the overall user experience and goals of the organization.
• R&D: Designate the appropriate funds to try different solutions knowing that many will not be a good fit or fail all together; but empower those within the organization to experiment. Today’s landscape makes spinning up or winding down a service far less invasive and costly than it once was.
• Budget Planning: Forming a deep bench of vendor partnerships makes budget planning that much more important as you must factor in elements such as scalable pricing models and total return on investment (ROI) for the aggregate of service offerings.
• Data security and portability: Organizations must consider data security and portability as EdTech startups eventually grow more successful, potentially merge with another vendor, or fail outright.
• Market evolution: The market is always changing! Organizations must understand the business need(s)that are being met by a particular EdTech partnership first and foremost. This offers an organization the opportunity to consistently and objectively assess and educate themselves on the best path forward with each service and partnership.
• Level-Set Expectations: In many cases, EdTech startups are not built to be or offer robust enterprise-level or -like experiences to an organization. Level-setting your expectations and understanding the market will help inform and better prepare each side for what to expect from one another.
EdTech startups offer organizations a tremendous opportunity to create dynamic and agile environments for users to try new things and lean forward into areas that an organization alone may be unable to. However, it is the organizations responsibility to always keep in mind its user population and overall service footprint. While many EdTech startups are making it easier for organizations to create more diverse and multi-faceted service portfolios, ensuring that systems are efficiently integrated (i.e. single sign-on), data can flow between systems (if needed), and vendor management must remain a priority. All parties stand to benefit from today’s technological landscape and take advantage of the dynamicity in an EdTech startup culture, as well as the power and continuity that often comes from with an organization. Knowing this, we must embrace the symbiotic relation between them given our shared need for successful integration and student learning.