Now that we are into the second quarter of 2016, we wanted to look back at our conversations with edtech vendors since the start of the year. Because it can be difficult to categorize the innovative products or services that some companies offer, this week we are highlighting solutions that did not fit in our coverage of the LMS, mobile app, and data integration markets.
Think of Akamai as the Amazon Prime of the internet. Just like Amazon uses local warehouses to position your 12-pack of toothpaste so it’s ready to ship the day you reorder, Akamai caches the videos, software downloads and other content people use every day on the servers that are closest to them. Kaltura uses Akamai for video streaming, and Pearson uses it for content distribution. Both include seamless content caching in their offerings. This month, our team took a tour of Akamai’s network operations center with John MacKinnon, Senior Public Sector Channel Manager, to learn more about its solutions for higher education.
While well known in education and other industries for its ability to “speed up the internet,” Akamai is making itself known for a newer solution that aims to eliminate the denial of service attacks on institutions. The incidents at Rutgers University show that anyone can launch an attack against an institutional website, particularly the LMS or assessment providers, during critical times like finals week. Some criminals launch attacks on institutions in order to harm their brand reputation. Akamai’s services route internet traffic around congestion and even stop attacks at the source by using its network of servers around the globe.
As brand reputation and the availability of learning tools become more important to CIOs, vendors like Akamai should be in their toolkit of security measures. Our concern is that the vast majority of institutional CTOs and network security professionals may not believe that DDOS attacks are a real problem. If they are aware of the risk, they may feel that they can handle mitigation and response on their own. Getting security professionals comfortable with outsourcing protection against these attacks will be a difficult challenge for Akamai to overcome. For its part, Akamai is trying to make it easier for technology leaders to buy its services by listing its products through Internet2’s NET+ initiative, where standard terms and pricing are prenegotiated for Internet2 members.
In January, Eduventures met with the senior leadership team of rSmart, including Ed McDermott, Regional Sales Director, and Tony Potts, CEO. Launched as part of a project out of Indiana University to unify all student services into a single, virtual location, rSmart’s OneCampus solution is the latest entrant into the one-stop shop service center market. While still in the early stages after going live in January 2015, it has acquired 15 institutional clients and completed its Internet2 NET+ service validation. The goal of any one-stop shop service center is to let users search for resources and deep link out to the app or website to get the information they need. OneCampus usually becomes the de facto student portal experience, but it also works well embedded under another portal product, like Ellucian. Most schools that license the product from rSmart do eventually replace their portal experience with OneCampus, however.
rSmart’s goal is to get institutions to look beyond the traditional portal by focusing on search and the speed of access to resources, rather than displaying all information in the portal itself. Students can rate and review features and resources within the portal, generating great paradata on the most commonly used and liked applications and resources. This approach is not unlike an app store marketplace for institutional resources. This product ratings system can help institutions prioritize R&D into tools and resources with the greatest student need.
Institutions that fully embrace the concept of virtual student services also typically want to combine administrative units, reduce staff, and outsource the role of support generalist. rSmart does not offer the same outsourced bench of support professionals as other vendors like Blackboard. While it’s a great system for self-service by students, rSmart’s technology is best used in conjunction with a separate, centralized help desk and ticketing system or as the technology used by outsourced call centers.
In 2016, many changes to the traditional college application experience were brought to market. They all share the goal of getting to know the student as more than just a transcript or set of test scores. While some college app vendors look to layer portfolios over the traditional application form, companies like Kira are thinking outside the box with their take on the college interview and essay process.
While there are many similar products in the corporate HR market, very few have use cases targeted specifically at college admissions. This product is a great fit for highly selective schools with significant brand reputation that need a truer understanding of their many applicants’ potential and mastery of competencies, not just their grades. Kira can also record written essay responses in video, keystroke by keystroke and with copy and paste disabled to reduce the likelihood of cheating. For applicants that require additional plagiarism tools to review, these monitored essays provide much greater confidence than separate written essays.
In March, we met with David Singh, Vice President of Strategy and Operations, to hear firsthand about Kira’s recent growth in the higher education market. Institutions use Kira to build customized assessments to evaluate applicants’ competencies. Applicants respond in recorded videos and timed written responses to question prompts. The slick user experience for applicants includes integrated content and welcome videos recorded by the institution, which embed a virtual viewbook of sorts in the application experience. Once the assessment is created, applicants can be invited to participate through invitations that are integrated with the school’s existing CRM admissions workflows.
After the interviews are complete, response links are written back to the CRM so that application reviewers can click and view responses from within the CRM, eliminating the need for a two-screen review process. Scores and rubrics of timed and graded portions of the interview also can be written back to objects within the CRM. Kira’s integration partners include Hobsons, Salesforce, Slate, Ellucian, TargetX and Azorus.
Kira Talent seems to have based its market strategy on standardizing an area of college admissions that typically exhibits secrecy and ambiguity. Selective institutions share very little information publicly about what they value in the interview and essay processes. To succeed, Kira must first convince application review committees to get their evaluation criteria out of their heads and standardized in a technology platform that is based on mastery and demonstration of skills and competencies.
We are looking forward to our conversations with more vendors in the coming months. If you know of service providers that our analyst team should profile, please let us know about them in the comments.