Creating Amazing Learning Solutions that are Changing the Education Market

Aref Matin, CTO, Ascend Learning
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Aref Matin, CTO, Ascend Learning

Challenges in you’re the industry:

As decision makers in this industry, we understand the challenges in our own industry and usually have an architectural and tactical roadmap that we follow closely. This industry has many hard­ware, security and software challenges, but the biggest challenge facing everyone is that the digital trend means the applications, systems, and all surrounding capabilities are fast becoming very data driven, and require intense focus and vision in data and ana­lytics to help business like ours to continue our digital journey.

“Technology is now ingrained in all aspects of doing business and more than ever before in this role”

The biggest challenges in our industry are recruiting, training and retaining qualified professionals that can lead us through our digital transformation. The digital transformation is not achiev­able without a trained and supportive team. It is very important to create an environment where each and every individual thrive to grow a career. At Ascend we are blessed that we have a great team and a creative and entrepreneurial environment that encourages the right behaviors necessary to support our digital transforma­tion.

Integrating data across the enterprise to have a 360-degree view of the customer:

This is a major issue across businesses with diverse products serving many industries, which is what we do at Ascend Learn­ing. Many of the established businesses have serious demand for data and analytics capabilities. However many leading products are not built for these capabilities. The industry needs more so­phisticated tools to address data format and data modeling con­sistency issues in a very simple form, and verify the degree of the data accuracy instantly. In addition as data and analytics be­comes more prevalent in businesses, near real-time access to data quickly becomes the requirement. This adds more complexity to the architecture but is needed to support use cases like adaptive learning, fraud detection, online cheating prevention, dashboards and more.

The competitive edge:

Like many industries, business leaders in our industry need an easy way to gain access to data and analytics impacting the bot­tom line. In the online education and training arena, we need to assure ourselves that content is effective in the learning process leading to students’ career objectives. We need to provide educa­tors with tools that help them analyze the progress of each of their students. Of course efficacy of our products for our students and educators, means that our business is healthy, and growing and in turn we can provide data and reporting capabilities that will make the decision making process for our leaders much easier.

Successful technology teams:

In our business two items are critical: First, given that technology now touches every aspect of our busi­ness, technology failure of any kind can bring our business down to its knees. Everyone is trying hard to modernize. The complex­ity level is high, and the dependencies between current and new generation products always add more complexity during transi­t i o n period. Everyone in this industry strives to have resiliency in applications and infrastructure that allows smooth recovery from failures in an organized fashion. Customers truly appreciate modernization but also demand that digital transformation should not degrade how they conduct business.

Many businesses that go through large-scale digital transformation need to improve their over­all focus on software development best prac­tices and systems scalability, perfor­mance, availability and security. This is a journey over time, and everyone can improve through extensive ret­rospective and root cause analysis and timely mitigation.

Unfortunately, what most organizations lack is that beyond software and sys­tems performance, avail­ability and security, there is a requirement and a sense of urgency for data integrity and drive to assure that any data loss associ­ated with outages of security threats is controlled well. Everyone in this industry needs much more practice and improvement in this do­main.

Technology trends:

Social media, mobile and cloud are table stakes in the education industry today. In our case it is the “little data” that matters. How do we sort through all our learning data to ensure that we can cre­ate a digital personalized experience for each of our learners, and assure that our content, and tools provide the necessary learning efficacy for all levels of mastery? Reaching an adaptive learn­ing capability tying our content directly to a career outcome for our learners is mission critical and we strive to achieve this goal everyday.

Our technology challenge is the digital transformation of our learning experiences, which requires digital business workflow as well. Our certification training programs cover many health­care, wellness and fitness training career domains. Our business needs to support student and educators through many steps from learning to reaching mastery level leading to certification and re­certification process. It involves many complex forms of digital content, learning tools, enriched by psychometrics driven assess­ment content and certification, leading to careers and personal achievement. All this is supported by web presence, e-commerce, CRM and appropriate back office business systems.

Changing role of IT:

No longer just focusing on pure IT issues and no longer separated from business with independent pure IT goals and objectives. Technology is now ingrained in all aspects of doing business and more than ever before in this role I spend more time in support of our business leaders investigating capabilities and present­ing guiding principles to support the many business challenges and opportunities. Perhaps the best part of my role is to assist in achieving very ambitious business goals. It is a lot of fun!

We have consolidated and transformed our technology and operations team into our CTO organization. We have revised and tuned the team from just a pure IT team to full life cycle software development and SaaS delivery and support organization with great efficiency gains.

Second, on a go forward basis, our business has an increas­ing demand for better understanding the available data inside the business, and how our data can help transform our business.

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