Life goes better with partners – Ayra Analytics

As Founder of Ayra Analytics Hansa Wijayasundara says, “Data analytics is not just another buzzword.”

ParentPaperwork is so aware of this fact that we’re constantly hammering home the value of data, including in our own recent article on data interoperability. We’re also putting our money where our mouths are by partnering with Hansa’s company to offer even more functionality and power to ParentPaperwork schools.

So what does Ayra Analytics specifically do? And how does this work in a school environment?

We put Hansa under the microscope to answer the questions you’re likely to ask, and to make some sense of this little thing called ‘data analytics’…

ParentPaperwork: Firstly, how did Ayra Analytics emerge as a business?

Hansa Wijayasundara: “We came about because we saw an opportunity for schools to collect, store and visualise data but it had to be in an easy-to-use format. As an example, schools can only currently analyse data in a single system. They don’t have the capability to analyse multiple sources of data such as that from student management systems, learning management systems and finance management systems with other external system data like NAPLAN, Allwell and Senses. We’re changing all that.”

“Ultimately, what Ayra Analytics does is help schools blend different data in a way that they can easily read, compare different data sets and come up with decisions.”

Can you explain the value of data analytics, and how it applies to schools, in a little more detail?

“Schools are in a great position to analyse the many, many sources of data they hold and collect but they just need the means to do it. This also includes data that schools have access to outside of their own environment, such as NAPLAN and the other external sources I’ve already mentioned.”

“Smart schools should be actively using their past and current data to come up with predictions. For example, they might predict the grades or marks a student will get in their exams based on their prior results. They can also use data analytics to improve administration tasks like budgeting and finance forecasting. In the admissions department, they might use data to find out where the students are coming from, as well as their family background, in order to understand their needs.”

“There are also trends in attendance that can be revealed through data analytics. ‘Do we see more absenteeism in a rainy day compared to a sunny day?’ or ‘Do we have more student absents on a particular day of the week.’ These are just some of the endless questions that can be answered. Schools have the power at their fingertips and we give them the tools to access that power.”

What are the pitfalls for a school when looking at data analytics? How can they be overcome?

“It’s a journey, it’s not a single project. Schools won’t be able to get all the outcomes they need on day one. If schools want to get all their data cleaned and ready before applying analytics, then it will never happen. Schools need to use analytics dashboards to visualise data first. This way, they can start to identify gaps in their data and the data cleaning process will then stem from that.”

“Data analytics is not just another buzzword, it’s the reality of both now and tomorrow. Schools need to commit a decent amount of time to get the outcomes they need but, once it’s all been put into action, they won’t look back. They really need to be data-savvy and have the staff in place that are ready to wrangle the data. So it’s about firstly creating a data analytics culture in the school and then moving forward with that in incremental and strategic steps.”

Where is the future of data analysis heading for schools?

“Predictive and prescriptive analytics. Schools should be able to predict student outcomes and intervene early, way before they get into trouble. Using both machine learning and AI, schools will be able to accurately prescribe solutions for teachers and students. Education will never be the same.”

How would you sum up Ayra Analytics service offering?

“Better data equals better insights. Better insights equal better decisions. Better decisions equal smarter education. And you can’t get better than that.”

A lack of school data interoperability leads to inoperability

Written by David Eedle, CTO, ParentPaperwork

What are we talking about when we say ‘data interoperability’? Consider this analogy:

You’ve got a kitchen and you mistakenly buy a whole lot of appliances from different countries, which means they all have varying power plugs. The toaster is still a toaster, the blender is still a blender, and a kettle is still a kettle. Individually and in the appropriate environment, they’ll work perfectly. But, in your kitchen with your power points, they can’t function.

Therein lies the problem with interoperability with technology in any situation, school or otherwise. If you’re establishing an office with a bunch of computers that can’t talk to each other, or can’t effectively connect, then what you have is data inoperability, rather than interoperability.

In the case of schools, each school has a source of truth: their student management system. It will be a central database of some sort that holds all the key and associated data about any given student (their name, contact details, information about guardians and, increasingly, their academic information).

The database may hold all that information but the database does not do everything. So schools buy all different types of software – for organising school lunch payments or selling tickets to the school play or sending online forms to parents or managing medical records, etc. – to increase the functionality of their central management system. Generally, we refer to this as a ‘stack’ of software.

But back to the kitchen analogy…

Let’s say you’ve got a core student management system (the kitchen) and you’ve bought five tools (blender, coffeemaker, toaster and so on) but you can’t plug them into your core management system. That means you’ve got six or seven ‘buckets’ of data floating around your school, all of which relate to your students and parents but which don’t talk to each other. That’s not a very viable situation but that’s exactly the kind of situation found in a lot of schools.

Mostly, this comes down to data exchange, which is the interoperability of data or data moving between all of those applications. If the school lunch system knows who the students and parents are, then it is able to help maintain a proper record for a student regarding how much lunch money they have remaining. If they know a student has left the school, then they know they shouldn’t be able to buy lunch. The core system gives the lunch system that information through interoperability.*

There are many student management systems on the market, and each one has its own eccentricities around providing access. As a rule, most abide by a closed system approach (i.e. they are bad at providing access) due to their foundations in technology from around 15 years ago. Today’s software is browser-based and cloud-based, which makes it far more interoperable. However, and, instead, were designed as standalone boxes that ‘you put stuff in’ and ‘you take stuff out’. In other words, they were never expected to ‘talk’ to other software.

As we’ve seen more software coming into schools, the stack has got taller and the older student management database companies are gradually learning to open up their data. They are realising they are never going to be able to have a set of features that deals with every single piece of functionality a school requires. Instead, they’re starting to see the inevitability that a school will have a stack of software and, therefore, those pieces of software will need to talk to each other.

So, what should a school be asking a potential software provider in order to ensure interoperability?

1. How does it integrate with other products?
2. Does that interoperability exist?
3. Is there an API** available?

Software developers need to remember that a school’s data does not belong to them; it belongs to the school. Accordingly, all schools should be able to access their own data freely and the multitude of uses and benefits that data provides.

Speak to ParentPaperwork for more information about school data interoperability.

* With ParentPaperwork, we make it our business to know the details of all students and guardians and, therefore, who’s allowed to do what and who’s allowed to see what. We do that by reading data directly out of the student management database. That’s interoperability. If the student database knows something, then we know it too.

** An API is a programmable interface for software that enables it to talk to another computer and exchange information.