By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
Elementary, secondary, and university education in the United States is rapidly evolving to address the needs of changing times and those of a competitive and more flat world. Until now, publishers have generally been responsible for providing learning material, a lot of which takes the form of paper textbooks. But the proliferation of gadgets that bring the power of information to the fingertips of students and academics through devices such as the iPad, and the growing popularity of e-books, are changing the face of the market. The U.S. education technology market is estimated at $500 billion with three broad sectors – instructional materials and assessments, data management and analysis, and supporting services. Among entrepreneurs and educators, there is a spurt of interest in creating innovative products for the education sector that is driven by several factors, such as the Web technology evolution; the emergence of flexible, scalable, and cost-effective options such as cloud computing; advances in Internet connectivity; the spread of home broadband; wider adoption of state learning standards; and, to some extent, the Obama administration’s emphasis on education. The K-12 segment is ripe for change since the market is fragmented, there is no clear leader, and K-12 is technologically lagging behind higher education.
Recently, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for the first time since 2002, announced multi-million dollar educational grants geared toward K-12 work. Acquisitions in education technology, such as Rupert Murdoch’s $360 million purchase of Wireless Generation, are indicators of how education technology is now a focus areas for business strategists. A PricewaterhouseCoopers report titled Crossing the K-12 digital divide: understanding and playing in a complex market suggests that market dynamics will spur major educational publishers to acquire leading technologies, while mid-sized technology-driven companies (e.g., Blackboard, Plato, SchoolNet, and Angel Learning) may turn to acquisitions or joint ventures with other software or content providers to broaden distribution or become more competitive across the digital solutions spectrum. In addition to core content, there are several other associated processes in the K-12 and higher education segments that are benefiting from technology in general and cloud computing specifically, such as the high school to college transition, college selection and enrollment based on a student’s preference, and career options for students based on their performance and aptitude.
How is cloud computing driving change and efficiency in the K-12 and higher education markets? Earlier, we published an interview with Dr. Reed Sheard, CIO of Westmont College. In the following interview, Sramana and Rick Blaisdell, CTO of ConnectEDU, share insights on K-12 education sector. They discuss several how cloud computing is helping students to make the transition from high school to college and what gaps entrepreneurs could fill through innovative solutions.
Rick Blaisdell brings over 20 years of product, business development, and high-tech experience to ConnectEDU. Prior to joining ConnectEDU, Rick was co-founder and chief technology officer of mailmethods, an industry leader in transactional e-mail marketing, where he managed the company’s technology and development organizations. Blaisdell was co-founder of SilverCloud Software, a division of Retrieve Technologies, where he ran technology and business development, leading the company to become the fastest-growing knowledge management company in the financial industry. Rick has spent many years working with Fortune 500 companies developing innovative businesses such as a shopping cart recommendation system (as CTO of eFavorites, an ecompanies.com company), point of presence advertising, and real estate/rental software (as a technologist for BareFoot Technologies).
ConnectEDU is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Founded in 2002, ConnectEDU offers Web-based tools that use real-time academic performance data and offer access to a network of guidance counselors, career advisors, student loan officers, admissions officers, and potential employers to guide students through a personalized set of college and career options. Today, ConnectEDU helps 2.5 million high school and college students manage their education and career paths.
SM: Welcome to the Thought Leaders in Cloud Computing series, where we feature CIOs from across the industry who are thought leaders and leading cloud adopters in terms of deploying cloud-based solutions within their organizations. Rick, it would be great if you could give our readers a bit of context about your company, ConnectEDU. Would you tell us how big it is, what is the core business, and what kind of IT infrastructure you run?
RB: Sure. ConnectEDU is in the education world, it operates in the education space, and our products are used by organizations ranging from kindergartens to high schools, colleges and universities, and employers. With our tools and applications, we have a national platform for high school students, and this platform allows them to search for colleges that best fit their profiles, GPAs [grade point averages], or interests. Each of our high schools has what they call a School Information System (SIS). We work with more than 90 SIS systems throughout the country, and we are able to take the information out of those SIS systems, match a student to a college or university, and then fill out applications automatically with the data that we have on the student. The system fills out the information in the applications to those specific matching colleges and transfers the information to the colleges electronically, if the student approves this.
We also have solutions in the college and university space that allow a college’s enrollment marketing tools to reach out to high schools and look for students who fit the profiles they are looking for anonymously. Once the student chooses to accept, the student and the college can communicate back and forth. So, it makes the entire process extremely efficient. We are taking the same set of tools and moving on from college into the career space, where an employer can reach back to colleges and find students who are graduating and are interested in possibly working for that employer.
Let me give a bit of background about ConnectEDU – the company has been in business for about eight years in the SMB marketplace, around the $100 million mark. We have just over 100 employees and are growing. In 2010, we deployed three state portal contracts: one with the State of Texas, another with the State of Michigan, and the third with the State of Massachusetts. In addition, we have a new national platform, which is our Connect product for high schools.