By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: I see. Let me switch the discussion a bit. You are deeply entrenched in the education information technology world between high schools, colleges, and the state education departments. You almost sit at the cusp of all of these educational bodies. From your vantage point, what do you see in terms of open opportunities for entrepreneurship?
The program under which I am interviewing you is part of the One Million by One Million global initiative, where we are trying to help a million entrepreneurs reach a million dollars in annual revenues. We have a lot of entrepreneurs following the program. They are looking for open opportunities in various aspects of cloud computing. Education is one of the reasons we invited you to the series. On several counts, the education sector shows up as an area in which there has been relatively little penetration of technology. My question to you in this regard is, Where do you see open opportunities, blue-sky opportunities that we could steer our entrepreneurs toward?
RB: Of all of those SISs that I mentioned to you, I don’t know of any more than four or five that have a fast solution. Let me elaborate – say the school has to set up a computer, they manage the computer, software, and hardware for this computer. Budgets, especially in the case of public high schools, are tight. They need IT and a cost-effective way to manage and operate this IT. So, I think there are tremendous opportunities to build or even help those organizations have cloud-based or even SaaS-based SIS models. Also, I look at opportunities in the high school area. When I walk into a high school, I see a tremendous amount of opportunity for learning management systems. This is a good area for entrepreneurs. Another area is upgrades. Some IT people, those who deal with IT for school districts, manage multiple districts, and often their issue is that they want to upgrade to IE6, but they just don’t have the resources to do it. I have asked them how many computers they are talking about, and they say probably 60,000. When I listen to such discussions, I start dreaming about the benefits of virtualized desktops in dealing with upgrades in such a scenario. That is as far as virtualization is concerned, and we are back into that system probably in a cloud environment as well. Those systems could be updated easily if they were in a cloud environment, and whatever configuration the students have on one computer, they could have it on another one. But the software is old, and they don’t have the resource to even update those 60,000 machines.
SM: Are these computers being used by students, or are they part of the schools’ information systems? Aren’t we at a point where students bring their own computers to school?
RB: Not all high schools. A lot of high schools still have computer labs. I haven’t seen many students bringing in their own computers yet. Maybe that is true for private schools. But in most public schools, those students use computers in labs or in the school library.
SM: I see. Are there any other areas where you feel there are opportunities? I’m looking for good use cases. You gave a couple of use cases already, but let’s probe the LMS use case. Where do you see the learning management use case going? What kind of applications are we talking about?
RB: Basically, when you look at the similar styles and a lot of state organizations and what they are interested in, they are interested in finding out if and making sure that students are doing well. They want to know which ones are in big trouble. Most of them are interested in finding answers to such questions, and it comes down to the data. We do a lot of those things with the data we receive from the SISs. We analyze that data, but eventually it gets down to the student and the teacher. I am being asked about learning management systems with an iPad. I have an iPad, so I can envision the scenarios involving an iPad for every student in the classroom. You are able, in real time, to watch students in the classroom and find out who is ahead and who is behind as you go through assignments together or give tests and quizzes. That is a tool I believe teachers and school districts need, and I have not seen anything like it which exists today. But it will definitely be developed soon.
SM: This is an area I have done a fair amount of work in. Are you talking about skills gap technology?
RB: Yes, and the idea is to have it the fingertips of students and teachers.