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TECHNOLOGY

Here’s How AI Can Plan Your School’s Academic Calendar

How Philippine-based Edusuite is different from other edtech start-ups

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 12 Dec 2017

Here’s How AI Can Plan Your School’s Academic Calendar

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Back when he was running a college, Niel Dagondon experienced the pain of planning the academic schedule which could take weeks or even months. Dagondon and his team had to account for part-time teachers who could only be at school on specific days, transferees, and shiftees — all while advisement, pre-enlistment, and enrollment were ongoing.

When the academic term finally began, they had to account for the dissolving, petitioning, and merging of classes.

“Many schools also rely on historical data to do the planning, however, with K12 modifying the enrollment rates of all higher education institutions in the Philippines, this makes past data unreliable,” says Dagondon, who co-founded Edusuite Inc., a Philippine-based start-up that specializes in enterprise resource planning.

Dagondon says Edusuite shares many of the features found in other edtech platforms and learning management systems. What sets Edusuite apart is it automates the advising process for every student.

“We use smart algorithms and AI to enable the system to prioritize which subjects a student should take the following term especially when a student fails a subject or has any backlog. We then aggregate them into information usable by school administrators,” Dagondon says.

The output is a list of each subject that should be offered the following term, how many sections should be allocated per subject, and even the students who are expected to enroll.

Dagondon believes Edusuite’s second differentiator is the ability to automatically and intelligently generate a complete class schedule. Edusuite does this by matching faculty — both full-time and part-time — with subjects they are available and qualified to teach.

“If a faculty member is qualified to teach advanced accounting and is only available every Tuesday from 1 pm to 9 pm, the system considers that in the schedule. It will also consider all the classrooms and facilities that your school has, its capacity, and the availability of all the rooms,” Dagondon says, noting that once everything is in the system, Edusuite will generate a complete class schedule for every student.

Even if Edusuite helps schools shave off weeks in their enterprise resource planning, they still have long sales cycles that Dagondon has to prepare for. “This means we have to start the marketing and relationship building a year before we expect an actual sale. It also means we need to have a runway long enough to support these famously long cycles,” he shares.

It helps that this is not Dagondon’s first go-around. He is one of the few founders in Southeast Asia to have exited via acquisition, selling his Philippine game studio Anino Games to Thailand-based Pocket Playlab in 2014. Dagondon feels that the advantage of being a veteran entrepreneur is that you have a track record, reputation, and a network of people who can help.

As an example, Edusuite needed a technical partner to accelerate the software development side of the business, given the breadth of the challenges they faced. Schools, for one, had disorganized data and relied heavily on spreadsheets. This resulted in errors, such as differently spelled names and subjects as well as incorrect grades.

While Edusuite can call on project managers to help school administrators clean up the data, they would still like to automate these processes by adding additional AI to the data integration.

Unlike most first-time founders, Dagondon did not have a hard time finding a technical partner. He reached out to Calen Legaspi, the CEO of Orange and Bronze Software Labs, one of the most prominent development companies in the country.

With Dagondon’s experience, he feels he is also able to avoid the mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs make, such as being overly optimistic to the point of being unrealistic.

“More importantly, the leadership, communication of the vision, empowerment and transparency with the team is something that I do much better now than when I started being an entrepreneur two decades ago,” he says.

The proof is in Edusuite’s traction. Their pilot roll-out has resulted in a 15% increase in the number of subjects enrolled by students, while reducing the drop rate to almost zero.

“This is a huge deal for schools because it also means a corresponding increase in revenue per student, and the students are happier because the subjects they need are being offered and they graduate faster,” Dagondon says.

Edusuite has also snagged a unique arrangement with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The agency will inject capital into Edusuite to accelerate development on the prototype and scale customer support. In turn, Edusuite will help the DOST automate a few state colleges and universities.

Though Dagondon feels that enterprise resource planning is a universal problem, Edusuite is for now focusing on the Philippines.

“I believe that if you want to set yourself apart, be a master in your own backyard. You should focus on solutions that take into account the unique nuances present in local education,” he says, noting that change management in the education industry is much harder than in others. “So be prepared for a long grind.”

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