CIO100 2018 #31-100: Lyndal Stewart, Find My Study
Our innovations are unique as no-one has ever tried to combine data from so many sources via the Internet of Things around Tertiary Education before, says Lyndal Stewart, founder and chief executive of www.findmystudy.com.
“We are now able to offer insights and market research to both government and the sector through the data,” she says, of the company.
“Our organisation has the competitive advantage as no one else has the analytic capability on Tertiary Education Data in the world to this level. This also gives one of our largest Industries (Tertiary Education) a competitive advantage on the world stage,” says Stewart.
The site integrates Government data with their own for the benefit of domestic and international students and analytics for the Tertiary Sector and Government Agencies.
www.findmystudy.com has allowed us to create an Intern Incubator model where we take students still studying and give them real world experience in the software development industry, including immersion into Agile processes as well as upskilling with the latest technologies and techniques.
“The value added has been huge, we have cut costs by utilising Interns and given them valuable industry experience and upskilling them by working with more experienced staff. It has given our staff the chance to practice their leadership skills with teams of Interns. This model is core to our value system,” says Stewart. For the students, the internship lets them experience working in group projects with a diverse team.
“It was tricky to have so many Interns in our environment at once at differing knowledge levels and communication levels, some speaking very little English,” says Stewart.
“We had multi-cultural barriers where we had Indian and Maori team leaders, leading Chinese students who spoke little English, they had to break down cultural barriers, language barriers and still achieve a result.
“We were able to use these scenarios to teach the team about always working with the weakest link in a team and pulling them up rather than throwing them under the bus. I love that we promote diversity and togetherness through www.findmystudy.com."
The Internet of Things has gone beyond pilot deployments in the company.
“We have introduced over seven major Integrations around IoT to produce results and innovations with Find My Study. We have been able to produce these results by working very closely with data providers, plus innovatively looking at the combined data produced from the IoT,” says Stewart.
With this approach, they have integrated data from Auckland Transport and combined this with tertiary education data. This informs students of the location of all the bus stops near the schools.
They have also combined the New Zealand Qualifications Authority Data - Web Service Integration to receive nightly changes on any and all NZ Tertiary Qualifications. This instantly updates our the course listings in the site.
“We have combined the NZQA and TEC Web Services to produce information about Student Outcomes and Past Enrolments so students can have a better view on 'the results of people using the product (course) and how many people in the past have purchased it,” she says.
Microsoft Translation Services converts the entire site, including the nightly updates from NZQA, TEC and Auckland Transport, into 52 languages.
“We are the only site in the world to do this for New Zealand qualifications and are now listed on the Ministry of Education website because of this feature, so parents speaking a different language can still read about the tertiary course listings,” she says.
By collecting device information from their users and location information, they were able to use big data analytics to forecast things like who and from which country are viewing their courses.
“This is the first of this kind of data in New Zealand to ever be produced.” says Stewart. “We have produced these innovations by working directly with local institute’s students and government agencies.”
She says working on these data-focused projects was the biggest challenge for her and the team.
“It was very tough,” she says. “We were pioneering in a field not previously tried.
“Because we were using information in such a unique way by combining so many sources, we were immediately able to spot issues.
“Sometimes we had gaps in provider data, others in our own and even in some cases it was with government data and we could not progress until the data was fixed.”
She says they have good partnerships with the government agencies so they became a ‘pseudo-QA team’ for some of these agencies, providing valuable feedback on datasets needing correction, which in turn strengthened their services also.
“We overcame these challenges by having the team think innovatively about how we approached challenges.
“We used 'huddles' to come up with solutions when we hit walls with technology,” she says.
“We pushed the Microsoft Translation Service hard with our data conversion. This was a nightmare for us as the volume of data being translated was so high that we could not get the queries to run efficiently and had to try over and over again to get it right.
“We have translated 1.2 billion characters in this process and continue to process overnight, every night. We also had to have three goes on our translation service model,”says Stewart.
She says software engineering students helped them come up with a better architecture. Three of the students were award finalists at their Tertiaries for the work done at Find My Study.
Equality through opportunity
“Collaboration is core to our model, every person - intern, leaders and other team members are all treated the same,” she says on the environment she builds at Find My Study.
She says all team members are expected to join the twice daily standup meetings.
More than a year ago, she introduced a 10 in 10 programme. This was a process that happened once a week where a name was pulled out of a hat on a technology topic the team wanted to know more about.
The person would have to provide 10 facts about it in 10 minutes at 10am. My team are also actively encouraged to read about new technologies as they work and are also put on training programmes as they come up with organisations like Microsoft.
“I believe in equality through opportunity. I recognise that not everyone has had the same opportunity, and I encourage everyone to overcome their struggle.”
Stewart talks about her personal health struggles, and being a caregiver for a 18-year-old autistic boy whom she took in at the same time she launched Find My Study.
“I have one on one sessions with all interns at the end of their time and give them a SWOT analysis which they also do on themselves.”
“We also have incentive schemes where at every scrum, points are awarded for completions and communication and at the end of the month 'points' can be spent on treats and rewards.”
She gives out a ‘star performer’ award every month and this person is voted by the teammates.
The prize is a BMW convertible which can be driven for a month and parked in the car-park at work.
If there is one thing she would have done better, it was letting go of people with poor attitudes sooner.
“The lesson I learnt is to get rid of them as quickly as possible to stop dragging the team down. I apply these learnings by not hesitating to remove staff with poor attitudes as quickly as possible.”
“We can teach technical skills but it is very difficult to change attitudes.
“A high performing team should be filled with positivity and encouragement which creates momentum,” she says.
Stewart loves supporting students in their quest for a bright and hopeful future working alongside herself and her team. She encourages other businesses to open their doors and minds to having interns as part of an ongoing strategy for a successful workplace.