>>Impact Solutions Case Study
Impact Solutions is the inspired result of one teacher's quest to improve education through technology. The teacher, Jesse Olsen, realized that educators at his public high school in New York City and at other schools spend far too much time tracking and analyzing metrics such as student attendance, behavior, grades, and test scores. Preoccupied by this recordkeeping and review, teachers have less time to spend planning meaningful learning experiences and working directly with their students.
Olsen founded Impact Solutions to slash the time teachers and administrators spend collecting and analyzing student data. The company's flagship product, Impact, is an online application that puts accurate and current information about student performance, attendance and character at teachers' fingertips. Designed entirely around the user experience as a teacher in a busy school, Impact is a simple, reliable, fast and effective way to alleviate teachers' recordkeeping duties, freeing them to do what they do best: create, inspire and teach their students.
Prior to founding Impact Solutions, Olsen and others at his school tracked and analyzed attendance, grades, and other student statistics using standard, desktop spreadsheet software. The spreadsheets were then emailed to school administrators who would create a master spreadsheet by copying-and-pasting data from each individual teacher's spreadsheet.
Says Jesse Olsen, "We were using Microsoft Excel before and we never had the data current. We had to copy and paste constantly to get things grouped. And we couldn't do things like join tables very easily at all, which complicated our efforts to match out columns and aggregate data."
As Olsen began work on Impact, the first iteration of the system was built on Salesforce.com, which had previously been purchased for a network of New York City schools. While Salesforce moved Olsen toward his vision of automated, real-time collection and analysis of student data, Salesforce introduced its own set of limitations.
"The Salesforce API was frustratingly slow", said Olsen, "and it doesn't let you do even simple things like count the number of records. Synchronizing data was very tricky because it was offline synchronization, so we had to download everything and synchronize to a local SQL database. In terms of performance, when we got to a few thousand rows, computers got bogged down."
In search of a better reporting and business intelligence engine for Impact, Olsen turned to Zoho and Zoho Reports. Using Zoho Reports as a foundation, Impact is a web application comprising a user interface written in Adobe Flex. Back-end technologies include Google App Engine, which serves as an application and caching layer, and Zoho Reports for reporting and storing data.
A key highlight of the Zoho-powered Impact is Zoho CloudSQL, which uses the familiar SQL (Structured Query Language) commands to connect data stored in Zoho Reports with traditional, on-premises applications as well as other SaaS offerings. For Olsen, Zoho CloudSQL greatly simplifies writing server applications and using data. In turn, Impact meets the needs of teachers who aren't technical as well as teachers who know how to use a database to generate custom reports.
"Most teachers just use the reports that I've created", said Olsen. "They either don't have the time or inclination to play around with the data and create their own reports. So they login and submit the attendance and grade book, and then look at the reports I've created to see how their students are doing in terms of grades, progress to graduation, and the like."
Other Impact highlights based on Zoho Reports include the ability to import CVS files, export reports as PDF files, and share private URLs. The private URL feature lets teachers email a secure link which the recipient can click and view without logging into the system.
Impact is currently being used by eight schools and Olsen expects that number to reach 30 by next year. Each school uses one Zoho account, typically with one or two users - e.g., the principal or task specialist - but the interface lets all teachers access Impact. Today, 240 teachers login to Impact and check attendance details and grades. On average, each school takes attendance seven times a day for approximately 500 students. In addition to attendance and grades, Impact lets teachers track student behavior, transcripts, tests and exams.
With Zoho Reports underpinning Impact, Olsen is experiencing dramatic benefits - both as a user in his high school classroom as well as an online application provider to other schools.
"Data in schools is a huge new thing," said Olsen. "We want teachers to have good information on students because it helps them better engage the students and make better teaching choices. With Impact riding on top of Zoho Reports, teachers can interact with data even if they aren't tech savvy. And because it's an online application, Impact gives everybody at the school - teachers, administrators and staff - real-time access to reliable student data."
Pointing to the cost efficiency of running Impact on Zoho Reports, Olsen notes that Zoho Reports is $60 per month per school for one million rows, an "incredibly reasonable" price. In contrast, when Impact ran on Salesforce, Olsen paid over $2,000 per school. And Zoho is a boon for smaller schools such as one using Impact to track just 80 students. Given Zoho Reports pricing structure and the school's data requirements, it has not been charged this year.
"In some ways, the schools wouldn't be doing this tracking and analysis if not for Zoho Reports", said Olsen. "Without Impact, it takes probably 20 hours a week to copy-and-paste data into a spreadsheet and keep it current. So, we save a lot of time and effort by consolidating all that data. And we improve accuracy, too. Having Zoho Reports on the back-end makes it possible to deliver a system that's powerful yet simple and cost effective."