“Help teachers support students.” Many software providers in the ed-tech space have impactful statements like this at the forefront of their mission. But staying true to a mission-driven value proposition is not always easy. The truth is ed-tech is an industry like any other. Meaning, differentiating your product and service offerings to gain a competitive edge and profitability is crucial to stay in business.

Luckily for ed-tech providers, adopting interoperability means that living your mission and operating a successful business do not have to be at odds with one another. Finding ways to be competitive will only improve ed-tech products — to the benefit of students, teachers, and of course, the providers themselves.

Why Disparate Datasets Hurt Everyone, Especially Students

Even before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, there was a growing reliance on technology and digital tools within the education space. COVID-19 merely exacerbated existing issues, such as fragmented ed-tech software, and transformed data standards and interoperability from “nice to have” to “must have” overnight. In CoSN’s most recent annual survey, 97% of respondents said their concerns over students’ home access to devices and the internet for remote learning have increased since the pandemic.

The need for seamless and secure transmission of data across systems is (and remains) enormous and urgent. Every key player across the education ecosystem — from districts and teachers to students and parents — is relying on integrated software to help them navigate these waters.

To that end, ed-tech software providers must make interoperability a top priority to remain competitive, profitable, and mission-driven.

#1: Interoperability Makes You a Stronger Technology Partner

As an ed-tech software provider, it might be helpful to think of yourself as a technology partner versus a technology vendor. While the latter provides solutions that enable districts to gather data, a technology partner is committed to helping customers achieve their data vision: how districts plan to leverage their data across various systems to make improvements in serving every learner and supporting every educator.

Technology providers like PowerSchool offer their customers the ability to unify data through standards-based interoperability. As a result, they’re also more likely to help a customer attain their data vision and thus be seen as a true partner supporting a district’s mission — not just a vendor looking to further its business.

Ultimately, the path to achieving data vision is paved with interoperability. Partners must be able to offer school districts affordable, scalable, and easily deployable solutions that can “talk” to and integrate with other solutions. How do we get to interoperability? Through data standardization.

For example, consider the following data vision: Aggregate K-12 student attendance, socioeconomic, and after-school program data to better identify patterns in which learners are at increased risk of dropout, and implement early intervention methods to help support students, reduce dropout rates, and close the achievement gap.

This is a goal on a grand scale that requires interoperability — multiple systems and datasets working in harmony with one another.

Set Partner Expectations
Partnering with a district that lacks clear goals or partner expectations can lead to ambiguity and a breakdown in communication that may hurt both parties. Set expectations and make data interoperability a priority from the start to ensure districts are getting what they need. Doing so will not only help them succeed, but also sets the tone for a collaborative and transparent partnership and encourages customers to continue collaborating with you.

#2: Interoperability Helps You Successfully Navigate an Evolving Education Landscape (i.e., Reduce Risk)

When schools shifted to distance learning, many vendors were scrambling to quickly adapt, and in the process, losing money and precious development time. Had already achieved interoperability beforehand, they could have pivoted faster and with more efficiency.

While achieving interoperability isn’t necessarily the at the top of every ed-tech provider’s “to-do” list, the pandemic, and the resulting impact it has had across education and other industries, underscored the urgency in prioritizing it to stay competitive and keep business afloat.

As the school year ends and we prepare for uncertainty over another summer, it’s unlikely that education as a whole will ever return to its pre-pandemic ways. Learning models will continue to be a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction, meaning the volume of data being collected through software will only increase. In short, ensuring that districts can easily and efficiently integrate multiple systems to support their education strategy/plan is paramount, particularly as student assessment results and state reporting continue to roll in, pile up, and present data-tracking pain points for districts.

This concept of integration is what has enabled students to continue their education with flexibility throughout the pandemic’s ups and downs, and it’s what will continue to serve the larger community, including and especially technology providers committed to remaining competitive and innovative.

#3: Interoperability is a Strategic, Forward-Thinking Business Strategy

Most of us in the industry will readily admit that gaps in the education system existed long before the pandemic hit. As ed-tech continues to find ways to close those gaps, more and more vendors are considering consolidation as a strategic way to unify the fragmented world of ed-tech while priming their business for future success.

In the years since COVID-19 first became part of our lives, there has been a flurry of corporate activity in the ed-tech sector. Software providers are combining their powers for good by merging and expanding upon their ed-tech services. Similarly, conglomerates are acquiring more companies and consolidating in order to offer a one-stop-shop suite of services.

In both scenarios, interoperability is essential for success. Merging products means enabling data to integrate across systems in a smooth and efficient way. And for conglomerates, creating a fully compatible ecosystem for an easy user experience is a top priority. If multiple tools are eventually going to live under the same roof, interoperability effectively increases the sale price of an ed-tech software provider, as it’s already primed for integration and ready to get to work.

That said, technology providers that adopt a data standard and achieve interoperability, like Infinite Campus and Aeries — who both provide student information systems to the education space — become a more lucrative partner/investment option compared to competitors that don’t.

Bottom line: If we continue to see increased consolidation and profitability in the ed-tech industry, adopting a standard should be at the forefront of a provider’s long-term business strategy.

Final Thoughts: Interoperability is the Rule, Not the Exception — and It’s Here to Stay

At this stage, every business across every industry has realized that affording customers the ability to share data seamlessly must be the rule, not the exception.

If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us that integration is an inevitable necessity to move forward, and that to be successful in the future, we must change how we think about interoperability.

For ed-tech software providers specifically, interoperability is a way to help school districts measure what they want — not what they’re already measuring. It’s a way to deepen the role ed-tech plays in the larger education ecosystem, build ongoing and positive customer partnerships, and increase competitive equality. It’s a way to prime your business for success without ever losing sight of the mission: Help teachers. Help students. Improve education.

To learn more about how the Ed-Fi data standard helps ed-tech providers achieve interoperability, click here.

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