Dan: This is tech in EdTech, brought to you by Magic EdTech. I'm your host, Dan Gizi, vice president of sales for global accounts. In this podcast, we discuss technology that powers EdTech and helps improve learning for all. Today we have with us, Kris Snover, Chief Operating Officer at Bright Bytes. Welcome, Chris.
Kris: Thanks, Dan.
Dan: Thank you for taking the time to join us. So, I would love to learn a little bit about your background and the company as well and maybe understand how you got into education.
Kris: Yeah, absolutely. I really appreciate you having me. So, from my professional background, I really started working primarily with large companies in the mid-90s, to date myself a little bit, and really looking at working through those companies that had a significant footprint in technology. So, ended up by the time I was about 30, I had worked for three of the largest companies out there. So, I was excited, really to start diving into that startup community that I had heard so much about in the early 2000s. So got a job at a startup, was incredibly excited, you could keep beer in the fridge and bring your pet to work. And they got bought by the 19th largest company in the world at the end of my first week. So, that all changed quickly. But by that point, I'd really caught that startup bug. I had developed big dreams about what I could do in the technology space, was there for day one for a couple of different startup ventures that we dove into. Varying degrees of success with all those eventually kind of washing out not becoming everything that we wanted them to be, did consulting for a number of years. And then really as I started to develop a family and build out what our future was going to start to look like, really got into the idea of finding a job field that was a bit more rewarding. And education technology certainly filled that need. My mother was a second-grade teacher for about 35 years. So, certainly had grown up in a household where education was a priority, certainly understood what a teacher, on a daily basis, went through and saw and how they were so concerned with impacting their students. So, I was fortunate enough to find a spot with an education technology company working on a special education platform. And that was really the start of it. So, I've been at this point close to 15 years in education technology, worked for well established companies, been fortunate enough again, to have a successful startup that I was a part of near the beginning. And then now spending my time at BrightBytes for about four or five years at this point. So to give you a little bit of background about BrightBytes. So BrightBytes started about nine years ago in San Francisco. Really one of our key goals was providing that research backed analytical insights for educators and students. That up to that point had never been a high priority within the education technology community. So really, our focus is on delivering a fully managed data and analytics platform for education. Currently, we serve approximately 10-million students across about 25,000 schools. So we deliver this functionality through a scalable data warehouse, storing the integrated data from a diverse set of educational data systems. As people who've worked in education or education technology know a lot of that data is stored in silos systems, it is not interoperable. So one of the things we really concentrate on with our team is bringing that data together in a performant warehouse. From there, what we're doing is building out data dashboards and analytics. Our dashboards primarily are powered by predictive analytics, evidence-based data strategies and analysis. So what that allows our customers to do is really take a look into their ecosystem at their school district, at their ESA, at the state level of where they're working. So even though some of those concepts sound pretty complicated when discussing the underpinnings, what we at Bright Bytes strive to do is really simplify that information presented. So we present that information through questions, insights and actions. So even that someone is that is new to our platform, or new to data analysis can quickly and easily gather the information that they need to take action. And one of the important aspects of this is really getting down to that teacher level. So, teachers have that direct insight into our students. A lot of times, Dan, when we're out there in the field, and we're talking with the educators, really what they're looking to do is just get to that action level, they don't have time for deep analysis, or necessarily the insight or the training, but what they can do is really impact those student lives. So, that's a key piece of our platform offering as well.
Dan: That's great to hear, it's very interesting to understand how quickly, from a perspective, teachers had to pivot over the last year and look just in the way that their own thought processes to the data, you know, they're very many of them were probably still so very used to classroom-based work and the handouts grading the handouts, returning the handouts and, and calling it a day and using maybe some form of a student information system to record those grades. But now, it's, you know, they're overnight, you know, last March, they had to look at different ways of teaching and moving beyond even hybrid, you know, did you see an impact on that, from a data perspective, with that change that happened to do the pandemic?
Kris: We absolutely did. So, from our product offerings, we were able to make some modifications to really serve that educational community. But looking at, you know, some of the positive aspects that came out of the pandemic. One of the things that personally I feel was incredibly influential was the districts in state organizations going out and getting devices to serve that educational community. The acceleration really around the adoption of technology in education occurred during that time period, unlike anything that we've seen before. So, seemingly, within a couple of weeks, educational organizations needed learning management systems to deliver content to students, they really needed a vast array of content within those platforms. And they also needed devices to aid in connecting educators and students who most likely were no longer going to be in the same physical location for a period of time. So really, what were once aspirational goals within education became a necessity, seemingly overnight. So one of the other positive aspects that was introduced with this technology, is it really connected with students at a level that they understood. So classroom interaction is always going to be vital to student success. And teachers will always be incredibly influential throughout that process, but the devices that students now had in their hands really allowed them to consume information and learn in a way that they were more accustomed to.
Dan: Right, it's very interesting to see that from, as a parent myself, I have a second grader soon to be third grader. And he's never not known technology in his life, he navigates you know, he, they learn the systems quicker than the teachers did. And for them, it was second nature to that transition, it felt as though you know, the teachers were the ones that were in the position of having to be students, for some of it as well. And learning from their own, their students themselves and some of the technology that was very interesting to see some of that role reversal happened as well. I think that, you know, purely from when the world returns to some version of normal, I think in the classrooms in the fall, it'll be interesting to see what lessons remain in the classroom, knowing that there'll be returning to some closer traditional levels of instruction as well.
Kris: Yeah, I agree. It is very interesting to look at all the different age groups that were impacted throughout the pandemic, we happen to have a senior who just graduated from what was, you know, certainly a year that didn't work out exactly as we had planned, or envisioned throughout most of his educational career. But to talk about a system that was put into place, granted out of necessity, but was much more closely related to what a college system would be. The way that students had to be self-driven. The way that students were learning and interacting, where that was done with a lot of their peer group and not necessarily always a teacher educating at the front of the classroom. So we do feel like for continuing education for higher education, you know, we have our family in a much, much better place. So, there were a lot of different positive aspects that came out of this. And to your point, it always makes me feel old is technically capable. As I believe I am to watch him use a phone or a device and just immediately feel 20 years older than I actually am. Because I just do not think about things in the way that this generation does. They grew up with it. It wasn't an adoption; it wasn't something they learned about. It wasn't a manual they read; they grew up with those devices in their hands from day one.
Dan: Yeah, I think both of us are old enough to remember that the floppy disk isn't just the save icon on our desktop anymore.
Kris: Yeah, that is exactly right.
Dan: What would you say? It's, I mean, other notable lessons, I think it's I'd like to expand a little bit on that, you know, I think it's a very good point that you put out there that that self-reliance piece was forced into a younger generation sooner than it may have been without them necessarily having to move away from mom and dad and go to college and have that first semester of the of their oops, semester. I always like to call it Yeah, you know, it almost feels like they may get that out of the way. You know, do you feel like there may be any other positive impacts like that as well beyond just you know, that that self-reliance piece?
Kris: Oh, absolutely, I'm in one of the areas where there has really been tremendous growth. It has really been around the learning management systems and the content that's provided, I think that the development in those areas has been pretty extraordinary over the last year to year and a half. Certainly, in the analytics field, you know, what hasn't been able to then put or be put together there has been absolutely phenomenal to watch, the pivot that other organizations have made. And then finally, the biggest piece for me was really the EdTech community and their give back to educators. You know, our organization happened to be able to put together some quantitative analytics that was provided without feedback to the community to really help the educational community dive into what assets were available to their students, what did their environment now look like at home for learning or whether that was at grandma's house or, you know, another facility, but there were many organizations in education technology that they gave back to the community in that way. And I will say, personally, I thought it was incredible to watch the EdTech community come together. It is a small, close knit community. And even those of us that don't work at the same company have known each other for a long time. You seem to have people who exit the EdTech community and then come back to it. But it was amazing to watch people reaching out to each other, making sure that they were all right, making sure their families were doing all right. And really always that lens on how can we as a community serve the students? How can we serve the teacher population, and finally, what innovation can be put in place to really get over some of these current challenges that are being introduced.
Dan: No, it's so very true that digital transformation, it really has felt like it was something we've talked about for the last 20-years in the education space. And I've spent time in the traditional publishing world as well that, you know, beg, borrow, plead and steal to try to get the technology adopted. And it was always an afterthought. And, you know, now that many of us have moved on into these more smaller players, such as yourself and myself, you know, it really does feel like that momentum shift is going to stay, and for a positive as well. So, it's great to hear that you're able to find those partnerships. And I think it's it for the industry itself alone is amazing to hear that.
Kris: Yeah, I agree. And the other thing that was really interesting to observe, throughout this time period, was the decision-making process. So, I think a lot of times these large educational entities, I mean, let's face it, some of them larger than the average city, there is so much that goes into the decision-making process, you know, the inhibitors, the budgeting, forms that need to be filled out, boards you have to represent in front of, discussions, you know, the endless meetings and everything else that that goes along with making a good decision, sometimes can bog down that decision making process. And we could see, you know, roughly a year and a half ago, these decisions being made in an incredibly rapid manner in just in the interest of serving that community. And I think that was a great way to push the industry forward in a way that we had not seen and certainly at a scale and an innovative speed, which we I don't think many of us in education ever thought we'd experience.
Dan: That's for sure. Yeah, it always felt like we were just going to keep talking and into the window most than some of these things. And definitely some of the positives, we can say have come out of this will be part of the new normal. So, as we pivot into the future of EdTech, you know, where do you feel and see, you know, having been a leader for so long in the industry, are some of the next steps that we can be taking, you know, industry wide, you know, beyond the partnerships beyond, you know, the system integration, you know, what were you seeing some of the trends that are coming across the youth are looking at and going, you know, that's the future where we'll be once we return?
Kris: Yeah, and this is always the interesting question around the crystal ball. So the one thing I do think that will come out of this, with the education path of acquiring these devices of building and buying new applications, I mean, getting those into the educational system, I think data analytics plays an incredibly important role as we move forward. We should be able to through analytics start to identify the gaps that students have found in their education during the last year and a half. One of the items that we'll also be looking at heavily is the return on the investment of those devices. How are students using those? How is their education being impacted, now that they are in this new device-heavy ecosystem? And I think those are incredibly important questions to dive into, both through quantitative and qualitative data. And that's going to be a key piece of what BrightBytes and certainly other vendors are going to be delivering back to the educational community. One of the other key parts of innovation, I think, across any technology industry, is also the power that cloud computing brings to the forefront of any offering. You know, 20-years ago, there is no way I would be able to imagine, the way that most platforms out there today would be able to work at the speed, interestingly enough at the costs, that they're able to operate at. It is truly phenomenal to see the impact that that change is making. So, as EdTech vendors get more of their product offerings into the cloud, and most of those have moved in that direction. As more educational institutions get their products into the cloud and their data into the cloud, I think that you're going to see innovation around this ecosystem that we're able to build, that moves education forward, unlike anything that we've seen in the past. Students that grow up in that environment, will be much better prepared for the professional world, whether they know it at the time or not. And the students who grew up in that environment will be able to absorb information in a rate that we've never seen in the past.
Dan: And for our last question, what advice would you have for your peers and customers as they're navigating the new normal with data and analytics?
Kris: Yeah, so from a technical perspective, my advice would be to always revisit those solutions that maybe didn't work out for you a little bit ago. I am seemingly in this process of every six months revisiting different technical solutions that are out there. Innovation is occurring at such a rapid rate, that's something that just wasn't a feasible part of your delivery, or offering six months ago, is now something that can be accomplished with relative ease. So constantly investigating those technologies that are available and routinely revisiting what is being out there and offered, I think is going to be a key piece around growth. And the other thing that I would say, especially, you know, coming out of last year, year and a half, a lot of us had to make adjustments, certainly, personally professionally. So one of the things I would recommend is really getting back to that basic vision and your product roadmap and reinvestigating and reinvesting the time that's necessary to really dig into that offering, to select out of that offering the most important aspects and really work toward delivering those. Whenever there's an emergency, whenever there's something that has to be done rapidly, one of the first items that's moved to the side is that that vision that we all started with. And I think that that is just a great item to revisit and dig into with your teams.
Dan: Kris, thank you so much for joining us on this episode of tech and Ed Tech, brought to you by magic EdTech. I hope you have a great day and a great end of the school semester year and good start next year.
Kris: Thanks a lot, Dan. I really enjoyed spending time together.
Dan: Me as well. Thank you.