What District CIOs Can Learn from the Salesforce.com Model

Districts grapple with a proliferation of learning applications, administrative systems and online teaching tools. Beyond the numerous database and instructional apps supported by district IT, teachers are using free online applications, free and low-cost content, and a range of tools to evaluate student mastery. All these apps require – and create, themselves – a burgeoning mass of data in separate, disconnected databases: some on-premises at the district and some hosted in the cloud by application vendors.

A decade ago, before 1-to-1 initiatives, LMS and next generation assessments were commonplace, former director of Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow and current COO at KD Learning, David Dwyer, presciently quipped in Technology & Learning: “Technology’s a lot like the rungs on a ladder. Once you reach one level, there’s another one higher up to aspire to.”

If a district CIO believes the pace of application adoption will abate, he or she should think again.

How will the K-12 sector integrate and connect all this data to support interoperability between this growing set of applications? How can a district use and benefit from its trove of data assets – to drive decision-making and positive student outcomes? And how can CIOs avoid reinventing the wheel?

The Salesforce.com Model

The commercial sector has spent thirty years working out the optimal data architecture for (i) data integration to support application interoperability; and (ii) data consolidation for business intelligence. The cloud-based hub and spoke model, with a persistent data hub at the center (often called an operational data store or ODS), surrounded by integrated transactional applications, is the ideal architecture for enabling secure, bidirectional integration and application interoperability. Data warehouse and/or data mart extensions to this architecture provide robust support for reporting, analytic and decision-support applications.

Salesforce.com has perfected this architecture and associated business model. Leading the CRM market for close to 20 years, Salesforce rocketed in popularity and has continued to innovate. Evan Tarver, writing for Investopedia in his article What Is So Hot About Salesforce?, cites three reasons for Salesforce’s success, in addition to its centralized data architecture:

1.     Cloud: Salesforce customers gain access to a complete set of cloud-based CRM applications, a cloud platform and infrastructure – making this a highly cost-effective choice.

2.     AppExchange: Salesforce provides a common destination for prebuilt business applications to integrate and offer a range of capabilities for Salesforce users.

3.     Community: Salesforce nurtures a networked community of users, solicits solutions from customers, and provides online venues for customers to make themselves heard.

The Ed-Fi Movement

If you’re thinking that a similar approach could benefit K-12, look no further. The Ed-Fi® suite of open-source data standards and technology has strikingly similar architectural and business attributes. Developed and supported by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Ed-Fi features a centralized, standards-based operational data store (ODS), an API thorough which education data systems and applications can integrate to the ODS, and a thriving community of technologists and thought leaders.

The Ed-Fi movement is taking hold in school districts. IT can establish a centralized hub to integrate data between myriad applications, with secure and bidirectional data sharing, thereby creating true application interoperability; as well as providing a foundation for reporting and analytics to support data-driven instruction.

Data Connect

Certica Solutions has taken additional steps with the Data Connect interoperability platform, to provide and manage a fully hosted implementation of the Ed-Fi ODS and API, with a unique Integration Console that serves as an ecosystem for districts and application providers. Data Connect also extends the Ed-Fi foundation via the automatic generation of a longitudinal database known as the Data Vault, which can be leveraged by a range of reporting and analytic applications, to support data-driven decision making. Designed specifically for districts, Data Connect – powered by Ed-Fi – capitalizes on the Salesforce model: cloud-based, hub and spoke architecture, and application ecosystem.

The Ed-Fi approach is ready-made for districts and Ed-Fi has clearly emulated the strengths of one of the most successful business models for data integration and interoperability. To learn how a district can get started, visit CerticaSolutions.com/Data-Connect.

Mark Rankovic

Mark Rankovic is an experienced technology business executive who took the helm at Certica in 2006, transforming Certica from a data management consultancy into an innovative edtech company. Since 2011, Mark and team have executed six strategic acquisitions, laying the foundation for the edtech market's first Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Certica Connect. Mark has built and led software companies for more than 25 years.

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