Bringing Cloud ODS to life and transforming data into actionable insights enhances Ed-Fi’s power to improve outcomes in K-12 education
Ed-Fi Alliance – Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
Cloud Services, Application Development, Business Intelligence
- Educators needed a robust and accessible ODS system to connect data from disparate sources
- System wasn’t viable for all organizations and prohibited the Ed-Fi Data Standard from becoming the de facto standard
- High cost and technical challenges placed a large implementation burden on educators
- Reporting limitations prohibited educators from getting the full story from their data
- Product adoption required an effective demo to prove out system capabilities
- Deployed a cloud-based solution on Microsoft Azure
- Reduced implementation time from 1 month to 1 hour
- Decreased annual operating costs to less than $1 per student tracked by the system
- Equipped educators with comprehensive and real-time insights in Power BI
- Accelerated product adoption and tapped into a broader education audience
- Equipped with a sample data generator utility to demonstrate system value and capabilities
Ed-Fi is a nonprofit organization, established by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, whose mission is to improve outcomes for K-12 education. They believe meaningful data plays a critical role in empowering educators to make better decisions about how to operate their schools, districts, and customize instruction for the benefit of each student. Their system seamlessly and securely connects school systems, tools, and software to provide a comprehensive data view for educators. The Ed-Fi Alliance community of educators, technologists, and thought leaders establish the Ed-Fi Data Standard and support the adoption and usability of the suite of tools within the education community.
New approach to the Enterprise ODS
Ed-Fi’s commitment to accomplish their mission hinged on the ability to provide a system that brought data together from disparate sources in a seamless manner in accordance with the Ed-Fi Data Standard. Institutions have data flowing in from a variety of areas, and without a way to connect data silos and have systems “talk” to each other reliable data for decision making was more of a vision than a reality. They were challenged with improving the core Enterprise ODS system to find a better way to support the community of educators with a robust and accessible platform.
Expand product adoption
Ed-Fi wanted to capture a larger audience to help educators embrace technology and ultimately make the Ed-Fi Data Standard the de facto standard. They knew that data was key to student achievement and teacher satisfaction, and having a more widespread standard would enable teachers to get ready access to the data they needed. As it stood, the only organizations able to deploy the ODS were state education agencies and school districts within the largest cities in the US. Ed-Fi needed to drive product adoption and have a system that was viable for organizations of all sizes and levels.
Turn data into a story
Informed decisions aren’t possible without connecting the dots, and educators needed the ability to easily analyze and visualize insights. The suite of ODS tools included an accessory application for out-of-the-box report dashboards, but it had constraints – it was a challenge to setup and maintain and required significant development efforts for customization. These limitations hindered adoption of reporting tools and ultimately kept educators from getting the full story from their data.
Prove out system capabilities
The ability to test, demo, and provide sandbox environments was critical to effectively introducing new tools into an organization. Ed-Fi tried anonymizing existing data and developing test data but concerns around data privacy and real world accuracy halted the initiative. The challenge was to randomly generate large sets of data that adhered to the Ed-Fi Standard format, looked logically consistent, and reflected the volume and nature of real data.
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Headspring is a Microsoft Gold Cloud Platform Competency holder, with a track record of delivering best-in-class capabilities built on Microsoft Azure. Ed-Fi looked to Headspring for their development expertise to move to the cloud and bring their ODS vision to life to fully exploit the power of Azure’s speed, scalability, and flexibility.
Proven track record
Delivering analytics and actionable insights was integral to Edi-Fi’s mission, and they needed a partner to implement a robust business intelligence solution. Headspring’s extensive experience as a Certified Power BI partner fit the business need and ensured they had the expertise to develop and implement the transformative reporting solution that Ed-Fi envisioned.
Headspring worked hand-in-hand with Ed-Fi decision makers and project teams to identify, recommend, and implement the tools that not only fulfilled project requirements but made the most sense for the long term vision. They kept Ed-Fi’s mission at the forefront of the engagement to focus on the tools that would make a meaningful impact for educators. Their delivery style uniquely positioned them to implement based on the needs of the ecosystem, collect feedback, and iterate to arrive at the optimal solution.
Move to the cloud
A cloud-based solution deployed on Microsoft Azure was designed to create a new, self-contained distribution of the Enterprise ODS. This solution was simpler to deploy and manage while providing the same quality with sophisticated features. The goal was to design a system with minimal infrastructure costs that was viable for educational institutions of all sizes and IT budgets, and Azure was the perfect fit to support this initiative.
Satisfy a wide range of users
Headspring explored Azure Marketplace and Azure Resource Manager for services and products to integrate with the cloud solution. They took a unique approach to the project and developed and delivered code on behalf of both Ed-Fi and the end uses, so it was vital to find a solution that satisfied both parties. They ultimately recommended Azure Resource Manager as it was the perfect balance between satisfying Ed-Fi’s requirements and long term vision, least burdensome in terms of ongoing support, and provided the flexibility the end users wanted.
Build for consistency, scalability, and flexibility
- Headspring wrote templates to deploy and provision all resources needed to run the ODS using Azure’s platform services including Web Apps, Azure Storage, and Azure SQL. The pre-built templates included a recommended environment of the Cloud ODS deployment, required minimal inputs from each end user, and provided flexibility for end users to make modifications.
- Microsoft PowerShell scripts orchestrated the whole process by consuming the templates and sending them to Azure to build the cloud ODS.
- Headspring created a system that built the assets in TeamCity, which was used for continuous integration and build automation. Octopus Deploy served as the deployment automation tool utilized to publish artifacts to end-users.
- A companion AdminApp acted as the UI interface for end users to easily setup their ODS and complete management tasks, a process that previously required a system administrator to complete.
Empower educators with data visualization
Power BI and Azure SQL Analysis Services were utilized to create a robust reporting model that was easily setup, deployed, and customized without the need for developers. This gave educators the autonomy to create tailor-made dashboards for reports unique to their school, students, and staff.
Deliver an effective system demo
Headspring took a comprehensive approach to create a sample data generator utility that produces data in volume and nature comparable to real world scenarios. The solution accounted for all use cases and complex scenarios and included probability distributions to generate realistic looking data.
Accelerated product adoption
It didn’t take long for Ed-Fi and educators to realize the value of the new system. The obstacles that inhibited educators from adopting the system were now obsolete and Ed-Fi gained traction with vendors to help tap into more school districts and a broader education audience. The vision of equipping all educators with data to develop customized and adaptive learning was quickly coming to life.
Streamlined implementation process
The new Cloud ODS transformed an intensive month-long implementation process down to less than one hour. The process of bringing a production system online no longer required a dedicated IT team, and could be provisioned with just a few keystrokes. Utilizing Azure PaaS offerings in the templates eliminated administrative time for end users, and setup tasks were completed for them.
Removed the burden on schools
With Microsoft managing the infrastructure in Azure, maintenance costs dropped and large overhead costs associated with server hardware, server maintenance, and IT requirements were mitigated. Schools no longer had to worry about or manage the infrastructure. Development teams were freed up to work on powerful features that create value for teachers and students, and tailor the system to their needs. Instead of trying to format, combine, and interpret the data, educators focused on teaching and leveraging data for student development.
Achieved cost savings
Annual operating costs dropped to less than $1 per student tracked by the system. Cost was a critical KPI for Ed-Fi because they absorb all cost in order to offer free services to educators. The cost savings also enabled Ed-Fi to invest in additional initiatives to further their impact on the community.
Equipped educators with ready access to robust insights
Power BI enabled the distribution of a standardized reporting model that end users could easily attach to their own ODS. Once attached, data analysts (not just developers) could leverage the Power BI platform to quickly create their own custom reporting in addition to getting the out-of-the-box reports. Educators were equipped with comprehensive and real-time insights into their school operations, classroom curriculum, and student achievement.
The sample data generator utility served as a key component to delivering impactful system demos that addressed educators’ needs, showed them how to use data to answer key questions, and allowed them to be hands-on with the system. Sample data populated dashboards to showcase the analytical and visualization capabilities of the system, transforming a complex matrix of data into readily available insights. It also served as a way for the Ed-Fi Alliance to validate, test, and iterate on the Ed-Fi Standard.