Open Systems Make Better Products

When I have conversations with schools, a common question I hear is, “Can Whetstone also do [FILL IN THE BLANK]?” People ask for all sorts of things, from running payroll to capturing student assessments. At Whetstone, we’re experts in teacher effectiveness technology -- how to capture valid and reliable teacher performance data and use it to help coach teachers to better outcomes. We don’t pretend to be experts in payroll or HR or student assessment, nor do we want to be! If we tried to build in all sorts of functionality to solve problems outside of our expertise, we’d end up with a slow, clunky, mediocre platform. Yet, people keep asking.

I’ve begun to realize that the frequency of these questions speaks to a bigger, industry-wide problem: most ed tech platforms don’t talk to each other. Schools have platforms to manage all sorts of needs (SIS, LMS, SAP, TEP, RtI, HR, etc.). When these platforms can’t integrate with each other, a world is created where teachers may have to log into as many as 10 platforms a day to manage their workflow. Most ed tech products purport to make their users’ lives easier, but “too many platforms that don’t talk to each other” is a side effect that we must solve if we want to succeed as an industry.

If ed tech companies want to work in a world where we get to be experts in the one problem we’re solving rather than scrambling to solve 50 problems, then we should make interoperability the standard. Schools shouldn’t have to dread the burden of populating a new system with teacher or student data; “another login to remember/forget” should not be a legitimate bullet point on a Pro / Con list during the purchasing process. Companies should realize it’s in their best interest to allow other platforms to integrate with their software, and in doing so reap the dual benefits of working on the problem we care about and truly keeping the promise of making our users’ lives easier.

We know that schools don’t want one big platform because the majority of our partners come to us after using systems that try to do it all. They switch to Whetstone because their old platform was stretched too thin to truly solve their problem. These schools don’t want one platform that does everything poorly, they want excellent platforms that solve one problem really well, and seamlessly integrate with their other excellent platforms.

I’ll end with an example that everyone can relate to: social media. People under the age of 30 are fleeing Facebook and flocking to platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat that serve one purpose, and serve that purpose really well. The fact that the most tech savvy demographic prefers to use multiple excellent platforms over one big platform that does everything moderately well should be instructive to us in ed tech. The millennials will soon be making the purchasing decisions for school districts, and they will expect open APIs and single sign on. Let’s not make them wait.

Libby Fischer is CEO of Whetstone Education.