Software is eating the (education) world. #100convos

Software s eating the world, says a16z’s Ben Horowitz, yet you can’t get the innovation you need for your business from tier one software vendors. The reason, he explains, is that the VC/startup environment has fragmented the industry creating problems of proliferation, scale, viability and incompleteness.

I see the same thing in education. We’re searching for a new student information system and so far we’ve found no fewer than 17 offerings. Yet, despite the proliferation, they lack localization. Generally, education software from big vendors is too generic and the companies that make them assume all schools work the same, or at least they’re having to pitch to the widest possible market. This creates two problems:

  1. Schools have to make administrative work arounds and these have knock on effects that create inefficiencies. Our SIS for example, doesn’t handle our complex bell schedule so teachers sometimes have to take attendance manually.
  2. More importantly, when schools buy an off-the-shelf program they are also buying into a pedagogy, one that may not align with their actual practice

On the other hand, software from smaller vendors, which tend to be more flexible, aren’t scaling. The education market is huge. Canadian school boards spend $53-billion and the US–get this–spends a staggering $1.3-trillion. Yet, there is no focussed allocation for the development of software that might improve business. Instead, education seems to wait to be handed software developed by someone else. If Horowitz is right and software is eating the world, this is a significant problem. It’s a bit head-n-the-sand.

Horowitz’s solution is to create a business that curates solutions for you. I wonder if a group of similar-thinking schools, which incidentally could be geographically widely distributed, couldn’t form a curator/brokerage of sorts–the International Baccalaureate schools come to mind as they are a large body of like minded schools with common pedagogy and curricula. Alas, budgets are held to high and need to be pushed down closer to the users–schools–before this can happen.

I don’t know how we get the money out of existing budgets to do this. I do know that the big change in education won’t come from the classroom use of technology. It will come from the administrative use of technology.


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