Big Data

Building a big data solution? Here's why it's important to consult users first.

This example, from a data analytics solution meant for K-12 educators, illustrates the importance of keeping users top of mind while creating tech products.

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Image: iStock/Rawpixel

K-12 education in the U.S. ranks in the middle of the pack worldwide, but one startup, AltSchool, is trying to change that using big data.

The company's aim is to develop big data and analytics methods that can provide teachers with new insights into how different students in their classes learn—and how to facilitate an optimum learning situation for every child.

As part of this strategy, the company uses cameras to document students' actions like facial expressions, fidgeting, and social interactions. The goal is to aggregate data from video and audio streams into a central repository that can help teachers better assess their students' learning needs and develop more effective teaching techniques.

SEE: Ebook—How to build a successful data scientist career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Right now, AltSchool's technology is only in place at six private school campuses operated by the company in Silicon Valley and New York. However, according to an Education Week article, they could be more widely available by the 2018-19 school year. When it comes to implementing analytics solutions in the larger education community, companies like AltSchool could hit roadblocks.

Why?

Because business cases work only when everyone sees value.

To create value, tech companies need to demonstrate benefits to potential users, which means teachers in AltSchool's case.

To start, educators are not necessarily technologists. They're likely to be "people" people who are dedicated to teaching. Through the years, they have developed intuitive methods for how to reach students and facilitate learning. Some may even have an aversion to technology.

Second, teachers have to work with large, diverse groups of students. One solution won't work for everyone in the classroom. "Half of my time is spent controlling the room for disruptive behavior," acknowledged one K-12 teacher who is a personal friend. "The other half is spent trying to develop curriculum that is flexible enough to be adapted to the needs of every student at the same time that you are trying to teach 36 students at once."

SEE: Big data in 2017: AI, machine learning, cloud, IoT, and more (TechRepublic)

As other companies begin to think about offering big data and analytics solutions to industries where they're not traditionally used, similar issues may be encountered. Here are some things to consider before approaching users:

Don't assume that everyone is on the same page.

Just because you think a certain technology is great, doesn't mean that the people you want to engage with it think so. Companies developing new tech should spend significant time understanding the needs of their targeted users first. Once these needs are understood, technology can be purposed so it meets the needs of the target user group.

Second, realize that you have to provide purpose for the technology, not just provide it.

IT annals are full of stories of projects that were deployed but that failed because the projects were never endorsed by users. To obtain buy-in, IT and commercial companies must be willing to work firsthand with users, fully grasping their pain points and defining business uses for new tech that will return tangible value in the eyes of users. This should happen before a new product is implemented.

Don't try to do too much too fast.

In the K-12 example, if you develop some initial toeholds for success that address and help solve specific teacher pain points, like equipping teachers with tools that can help them better manage in-class situations and the facilitization of individualized learning, they will be more receptive to seeing what else the tools can provide them.

Always plan each technology deployment with the goal of building user confidence

You can help to facilitate confidence by including time for training new users in your technology deployment project. This training should not only be group training, but also individual training to assure that individual users get the hang of the technology. Users should also have a help line contact they can call with questions, or for assistance. Once users develop an inner sense of confidence that they can control the technology, they will be coming to you with new ideas about how to use it.

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About Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...

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