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Business Forward

CEWA deploys Dynamics 365, applies fresh lens to school data, transforming fragmentation into focus

Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) is digitally transforming itself in a bid to allow everyone in its community to accomplish more. That includes students, teachers, parents and guardians, as well as school administrators.

CEWA’s holistic digital transformation began in the classroom during 2017 with the deployment of Office 365.

That Azure based platform is the foundation for the Leading Lights solution being rolled out to 162 schools, 80,000 students and 15,000 staff. It supports collaboration, communication and the development of a virtual school to ensure equity of access to education regardless of a student’s location. It is already proving deeply impactful.

The latest phase of transformation addresses what Aidan McCarthy, CEWA’s head of digital transformation describes as “the other side of learning”, the administration of schools,” ensuring administrators, teachers and communities have access to the information they need to run schools efficiently, to streamline interactions and help optimise learning outcomes.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 will be rolled out to primary schools initially, followed by secondary and composite schools, while and a .Net portal is going live providing personalised experiences with accessibility features as the new digital front door (hub) to CEWA teachers and students. Microsoft Social Engagement with the Dynamics together with Azure eDiscovery and Cognitive services also provide CEWA opportunities to support student wellbeing insights.

Core to the latest transformation initiatives are Dynamics’ customer engagement, finance and operations functions, marketing and Talent (HR), Social Engagement which are being deployed in tandem with Power BI for Insights.

CEWA is integrating this latest deployment with Office 365 including being one of the early beneficiaries of the Telstra-Microsoft collaboration to make voice telephony available directly from within Microsoft applications including Teams. This adds the nuance of voice to collaboration and fosters deeper relationships between team members.

Deploying the entire Azure stack including cloud, storage, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 also opens CEWA to the opportunity to use the Cortana intelligence suite and cognitive services which McCarthy says will drive continuous improvement and innovation. Already 5000 Azure based teaching, learning and professional development assets have been created with 500 teams supporting collaboration across CEWA including a state wide virtual school.

McCarthy said that one of the reasons CEWA had been able to move swiftly was the integration across the Azure stack – but it also benefitted from the focus that Microsoft places on security and privacy which delivered peace of mind; “We don’t have to worry so much about that because Microsoft is doing this for us.”

Streamlined admin and insight

Schools will use Dynamics 365 to manage their marketing and enrolment programs, attendance, assessment and wellbeing initiatives. It will also support the financial management of schools, with billing and accounts receivable, cash and management, and asset registers available to administration staff.

CEWA schools will integrate Dynamics 365 with schools’ point of sales devices and leverage the power of Dynamics365 Internet of Things connected devices to allow improved oversight and control of school assets and facilities such as power, water and security.

The new portals into the CEWA platform also mean that; “We go from a parent being able to enrol, receive academic results, update latest medical records to paying their school fees and levies, using cashless canteen top ups right through to administrators being able to meet state and federal reporting requirements,” says McCarthy.

Critically the integrated Azure based solution will also deliver schools with a rich analytics capability including the use of Bot technology, predictive analytics and recommendation engines such as digital resources that best support a child’s learning.

Dr Cathy Cavanaugh, head of digital transformation for leadership, learning and research said this meant that for the first time, once a school rolls over from their online server to Dynamics 365, they will have access to not only historical data but all their current student information.  “That extends to information across a student’s career – not only for students that are currently in their schools or those that have been in their schools, but also if they’re a primary school they’ll be able to see where students are going as they move into secondary. They’ve never had that before.”

The intelligence and insight that the system delivers will allow schools to uncover sophisticated correlations and also to make predictions about how to achieve optimised learning outcomes for individual students.

Because we have both historic and current data across the entire system, that gives us a lot of power to do some interesting predictions and recommendations.

– Cathy Cavanaugh. 

“We’ve done some small projects on it already.  We predicted Year 3 literacy based on early learning assessments.  We will be doing some financial forecasting.  We’ll also look at some more granular sorts of predictions and recommendations around what a student could be doing in terms of lessons and resources.  That’s down the road-  but we’ve taken the early steps and done some initial work just to help people visualise what the possibilities are.”

According to McCarthy, the rich insights gleaned from the data will also make a profound difference to school management. “We can now see from enrolment demographic data locations of new school that may be need new classrooms, services and new schools including cultural background.

“We can ask ‘do we have the right teachers to be able to provide our families and students the necessary language or cultural support?’  And how do we then leverage that in terms of finding the right teachers to be able to support students?  So, you can start to see how the whole platform starts to come together.  They’re the core functions that sometimes people may not have thought that you need in education or couldn’t accomplish because theyhave not had the data required for effective decision making and insights.”  CEWA’s data, communications, and school administration were fragmented before LEADing Lights.

The data rich insight also supports CEWA’s determination to champion equity in education – ensuring all students get access to equivalent educational opportunity whether it’s a small school, a remote school or a metropolitan school. The opportunity to measure, to monitor and to manage backed by a strong evidence base is expected to be entirely transformational. The entire CEWA community will soon have the end to end platform to focus and flourish.