When we first set out to build ManageBac six years ago, we were approached by the English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong to participate in a tender for the Teacher's Gateway, which was a system widely used from 2008 onwards by all ESF teachers, students and parents.
The ESF Teacher's Gateway provided us with great insight into the common features that every IB school required, and while we lost the tender to a local competitor eClass, over the following five years, we built-out many of those functions into ManageBac in a sustainable way based on the collective feedback of hundreds of IB coordinators & teachers.
The key difference in our approach was that we standardized functions, so that they could be used globally across all IB schools, rather than blindly customizing for individual schools and saying "Yes" to every request, which would have rendered many of the same functions useless.
The ESF tender was our first exposure to the hodgepodge of information systems, integration challenges, and a complex committee-based decision-making process.
What were some of these core systems common across many IB schools?
In the ideal world, there would be one account for every student, parent and teacher with a centralized identity (e.g. if the home address was changed in one system, it would be reflected across all systems), but the issues were much deeper than just having information synchronized.
These were our observations:
- Every new system was an additional silo requiring teachers & students to learn a new user interface.
- New systems necessitated professional development, particularly for less tech-savvy teachers, who had just become comfortable with the old system and saw no reason to switch.
- Additional systems required IT maintenance & support, requiring the IT department to familiarize themselves within each new system and to provide training & account provisioning support to students, parents and teachers.
- Fragmentation resulted in greater inconsistency of information across each school's systems without respecting the single-source-of-truth principle.
- Many systems were locally-hosted resulting in higher maintenance costs, increased a need for continuous monitoring and day-to-day management in applying patches or upgrades.
- Schools were left with little alternative, but to try to patchwork together and integrate the systems in whichever way they could amongst providers, which frequently did not step back and cooperate in a rational way.
The result of this is that even after six years of working towards this goal, schools have no single integrated school management system that works seamlessly out-of-the-box.