While AI and Tech will need to be adopted, “ED before TECH” is the mantra. “jugaad” tech will disappear in post covid era unless the students find it fit for purpose.

Experts pointed out that adaption of tech and AI is critical for survivability in future, Such experts tend to be “tech led” themselves. I feel “ed before tech” and not “tech before ed” will be the mantra for success in post covid period for “education industry”. I do also feel that the tech will need to suit the changing requirements of the time and of the customer. This is where several tech companies are missing the mark in the Covid impacted world. The so called tech led aggregators need to notice the reasons why Uber and Airbnb have not been benefitted from Covid even though tech companies are believed to be doing well. Aggregators were not really positioned to suit the changed needs of the customer.

On the last day of the AAERI Convention, Mr Surendra Tipparaju, Principal AI Architect Lead at Microsoft India made a very interesting presentation on why it is critical that all companies that may not have adapted AI and tech in their operations, to do so quickly. One particular graph that he shared stuck to me… 

5 minute into the presentation you will find that he shares a report from McKinsey that predicts that any enterprises that is tuning into the changing trends, if they are frontrunner in adoption of technology in the business processes, then in the next 5-7 years their profitability and survivability could grow by 122%. But if an enterprise is only marginally adapting or working with technology, their growth will be about 10% in the same period. However that modelling also shows that if an enterprise does not adapt to the technology, the survivability will be in question.  Of all the presentations during the AAERI Convention, this presentation really caught my attention as it would have caused sleepless nights for many of my colleagues. Technology is not easy to implement and at the same time it is not cheap. It is also not meant to be a “jugaad” but should be part of strategic vision.

Now that you have heard the “tech” expert, hear me too… I am not a “techie” but would consider my expertise in “ed”.

Myth #1: All ed-tech companies will do well and they have nailed it

I doubt it very much … Only those that use technology as an enabler will excel. Our trade is “high value transaction” with low scope for error or repeat and so don’t expect tech to replace the ‘human counselling”. Also counsellors can use tech actively including to assess students and also to reach the customers. Even when we look at the way tech has entered developed service areas, we see that wherever the transaction is “high value”, tech can’t be an alternative. However it will need to be a definite enabler for the agencies to deliver their services.

Myth #2: B2B edtech that increases reach of “master agents” are just in the right time at right place. 

How? B2B and sub-agents have been around for a long time and are part of the pre-Covid way of doing things. While the earlier set of “master agents” were still “ed-agents”, the new set of “master agents” are “tech-agents”. The end goal is still the same. They will rely on the same old style agent and the way to rope them into a b2b referral agreement is by sharing higher and higher commissions. To sign up Universities, the tech B2B agents pitched tech jargons and introduced themselves as “aggregators”. In fact, some even promoted themselves as “Uber” of our sector. That is fine but then will the same tech-agents with no idea on the real student and dependent on the sub-agents only, will not remain impacted under Covid exactly in the same way as any other agent is.

Major losers from the pandemic include the ride hailing apps: Uber, Grab (in South East Asia), Ola (India) and Didi Chuxing (China). Quite simply, people are not taking taxis. Office sharing businesses such as WeWork (which was, of course, already struggling) are also in trouble with virtually no occupancy. A similar situation is occurring in the accommodation sector with Airbnb and hotel bookings start-up Oyo. As a result, investment in tech businesses is crumbling. 

Source: https://theconversation.com/uber-wework-airbnb-how-coronavirus-is-bursting-the-tech-bubble-141252

Layoffs have slammed tech companies both large and small since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March. The industry has cut more than 40,000 jobs so far, but this month was the cruelest yet. In a single week in early May, Uber Technologies Inc. announced it would slash 3,700 positions, Airbnb Inc. said it would cut 1,900 and Lyft Inc. fired or furloughed more than 1,000.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-coronavirus-technology-layoffs/

In our sector, the situation is the same, the tech driven “aggregators” will be able to operate only if the customers(students) buy the product in the same old way. So to put it simply, they will only be able to operate if the students are visiting the office of a sub agent who is relying on the master agent to route their business. Since that is not happening, the tech aggregators (master agents) will continue to be impacted in the very same way as other agents.

Myth #3: edTech will not do well as the sector is impacted.

Let’s take the example of some other tech businesses which have done well in this period and then draw a parallel with our trade. 

A handful of technology companies have benefited from coronavirus. Amazon has profited handsomely, as have streaming and video conferencing platforms like Netflix and Zoom. But the pandemic has laid bare the shaky foundations of a number of other platforms that bill themselves as technology companies and have enjoyed the high valuations that come with this label.

Source: https://theconversation.com/uber-wework-airbnb-how-coronavirus-is-bursting-the-tech-bubble-141252

If tech is customised to suit the changing requirements of the students, then it will do well. The changing requirements should be around how the student may access the service even in future and even after the Covid impact is over. The first lesson of Marketing tells us that build the product based on what the customer wants than designing a fancy and techie product and push it to the customers.

Myth #4: Covid may have hastened the need for tech but if it is only because of Covid, then the need for the tech will only be during this impacted period. 

Yes, partly true.

That idea of patching something together in a very makeshift way to get a result you want is common in India. And there’s one word in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi that sums it up: jugaad.

Apparently, Oxford Dictionary has included the word…

The “jugaad” way of taking an english proficiency test from home might only be short-lived unless it can be refined further and has acceptability. However there will be a change in the student’s buying behaviour especially if they find the “jugaad” fit for purpose. Also while there will always be a need for human connect, it doesn’t have to be “always” face-to-face and can even be “partially” virtually. Some mid-way solutions may need to be found. At the same time, some “jugaad” may turn out to be superior. To give an example, AAERI had to organise its convention this year on a virtual platform. The event was a super success as more could attend from around the world and leading presenters could participate. In the earlier years, the event used to be in a fancy hotel that would cost significantly and we had limitations on the numbers who could attend. So, I have a feeling that even when the virus has disappeared, the virtual convention may stay on…

Lastly, let me share my thoughts for our sector and where tech can be initiated:

  • Students may get used to conducting most of their interaction with education counsellors electronically and virtually. This will mean that even if they must visit an education counsellor’s office, it will only be for a process that can’t be served digitally by the same counsellor. I have noticed a spike in the virtual counselling though there has been an increasing demand for this over the last few years. My company (Global Reach) launched http://www.planstudyabroad.com over a year ago solely to cater to such students. In the last 12 months, it has already served several such students and in the last few months since Covid, it has seen a spike. A well designed virtual counselling delivery is offered by a real counsellor. Some of GR’s competitors too have turned zoom options into a “jugaad” to serve such demand at this time.
http://www.planstudyabroad.com (a fully virtual platform offering end-to-end counselling).
  • Traditional exhibitions or open days are not possible at this time and we are seeing several virtual fairs being offered. While many are using the “zoom” type jugaad at this time time, there are platforms though companies such as http://www.afairs.com that have developed their virtual fair platform that can be hired by education agents wanting to hold a virtual fair. I am sure there are other alternatives too. The cost of a virtual event is much lower to traditional exhibitions and I believe they will stay on even in the post Covid period. My company has created its own customised Virtual Fair platform too and holds such an event over the next week. With 40 Australian Universities participating, it is already GR’s most subscribed event ever.
  • Technology that can be engaged to reduce fraud will be fully subscribed. I am seeing an increase in fraud with Income documents, employment evidence and also educational testimonials.
  • If the pandemic lingers or if the vaccine(when found) is not fully reliable, there will be need for innovative tech that can still enable international travel. I was enthused to see the work going on by a company called goPassport. I fully support such innovations that can enable international travel “with or without a vaccine”.

Tech will be in education now for good but we need to remain reminded that we refer to it as edTech and not techEd.

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1 Comment

  1. Quite realistic and factually correct article by you Ravi. I fully endorse with your observations and findings in our industry.

    Liked by 1 person

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