REVIEWER: Stuart Colvin, eScholar Fellow.
BACKGROUND: Established in 1997, eScholar provides software, services and consulting in the area of education data management. eScholar technology is a leader in student identifier solutions and is used in seven state education agencies and 10 education agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Migrant Education and the Department of Defense Education Activity. Across our product suite, eScholar supports more than 12 million students in over 3,600 school districts nationwide.
PLATFORMS: Windows Server.
PROBLEM SOLVED: eScholar data warehousing systems are indispensable in integrating and cleansing the vast quantity of student information collected daily by school districts across the U.S. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has initiated widespread reform of education policy, and there has been an increase in reporting requirements, accountability measures and requests for information. More and more, these requests require the full context of data in order to be actionable. Prior to implementing Pitney Bowes Business Insight Data Flow, a general-purpose data processing engine for data integration and analysis, eScholar used other tools with their data warehousing systems but found them to be deficient. eScholar sought an alternate solution that would provide greater database independence and ease of maintainability. We build a packaged solution for our clients, but the system needs to be user friendly, easy to configure and maintain. Data Flow is extremely flexible and has enabled us to deliver a packaged solution that is easily configurable for the various end user business needs essential to meet the stringent reporting requirements of NCLB.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: By integrating Data Flow in each implementation of the eScholar Complete Data Warehouse solution, we can better configure our data warehousing systems to meet the individual needs of each school agency or district.For example, in a state agency implementation, the eScholar data warehouse collects school and student data from various operational systems in each school district. Data Flow is then used to transform and validate this data before it is stored to the data warehouse. Data loaded into an eScholar system can be integrated from 38 separate categories. Examples include student demographics and attributes, attendance, standardized test results, course grades, discipline infractions, staff demographics and attributes, professional development, finance, special education and surveys. Previously labor intensive processes such as determining student placement and exploring performance trends, which used to take hours, now can be done effortlessly through the data warehouse, resulting in significantly improved administrative efficiency. Without the warehouse, users would need to obtain student information (grades, assessments, attendance records, etc.) from multiple databases and manually merge them before doing any analysis. The use of Data Flow enables the organization of data such that it can be manipulated by grade level, school and student subgroup (e.g., race/ethnicity) for further analysis. Implementation of Data Flow has also significantly decreased our system maintenance costs, which allows us to pass these savings onto our clients. We are able to simplify even the most complex IT environments, so we can devote more time to product enhancements and new development.
STRENGTHS: Data Flow can connect to any source of structured data, merge from multiple sources and is highly scalable. This makes it easy for us to configure data warehousing systems for a wide range of student populations - from school districts with less than 1,000 students to state agencies serving more than 4 million students. The robust functionality of Data Flow allows rapid adaptation to our clients changing requirements.
WEAKNESSES: Although we have found Data Flow to be scalable and very powerful for our development needs, the complexity of the data quality processing we do has been more resource intensive than we expected. Some of our clients have operational environments and processing loads that have also challenged our implementation of Data Flow, but with assistance from Pitney Bowes Business Insights Data Flow support group, we have been able to overcome these situations.
SELECTION CRITERIA: Of the six solutions that we evaluated, Data Flow provided the greatest flexibility for system configuration, database platform support and maintenance.
DELIVERABLES: Using Data Flow, the eScholar Complete Data Warehouse solution enables state and local education agencies to meet stringent NCLB reporting requirements by classifying data elements into 38 different categories. The system implementation allows the agencies to use their BI applications to generate customized reports and analyze district, school, student and teacher performance within minutes.
VENDOR SUPPORT: The implementation features of Data Flow have enabled the installation process of the solution to be straightforward. Pitney Bowes Business Insight has continued to evolve and improve upon their solutions, working with us to determine future needs so that eScholar can continue to provide the best-of-breed data warehousing system for the education industry.
DOCUMENTATION: The online documentation has been a valuable aid as our developers have implemented our data quality, cleansing and load processing rules with Data Flow.
Pitney Bowes Business Insight Data Flow
Pitney Bowes Group 1 Software
4200 Parliament Place, Ste 600
Lanham, MD 20706-1844
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