AWS Public Sector Blog

A Texas regional education service center’s cloud journey starts with Amazon QuickSight

Many K12 organizations are on a digital transformation journey to better understand their data effectively and make data-driven decisions impacting their students, faculty, and district. K12 IT departments are responsible for finding the necessary methodologies and tools that will allow them to ingest, store, catalog, process, and consume existing data.

Data consumption is a key component of successfully supporting K12 students, educators, and education leaders because it can provide a unified and democratized view of their data, regardless of their technical background, with the help of business intelligence (BI) tools. IT departments have options when it comes to BI tools. Organizations can choose to self-manage their BI software, leverage software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based offerings, or turn to cloud-native BI services that allow for integration, whether their data lives on premises or in the cloud. For Texas Region 4 Education Service Center (ESC), their choice of BI solution was imperative to getting started on a productive cloud journey with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Educational system transitions from data center model to the cloud

Texas Region 4 ESC (TX-Region 4) is a regional education service center that offers a range of services that help K12 education organizations improve student performance, enable faculty success, and implement state initiatives. One of their service offerings is escWorks, a digital platform that allows K12 organizations to manage professional development workshops and conferences, as well as provide analytical data to identify product offering trends and meet industry standards and compliance needs.

For over 25 years, TX-Region 4 hosted their escWorks platform at an on-premises data center where all aspects of its performance, including infrastructure provisioning, application development, and end-user support, were the responsibility of their IT staff. Managing this data center took significant time and effort; TX-Region 4 had to prioritize data center maintenance and troubleshooting over enhancements to the escWorks platform that would better serve educators and education leaders.

Understanding that the data center model was no longer a sustainable model, TX-Region 4 turned to AWS to help with their escWorks platform and guide them in getting their first production workload to the cloud. However, with limited IT staff, TX-Region 4 needed to identify a small but important workload that could help them enhance their platform, allow staff to gain knowledge and confidence around working with AWS services, and, most importantly, bring immediate value to their end users.

One of the service offerings through the escWorks platform is the Analytics Dashboards feature, which was supported by an on-premises BI solution and provides data reporting and visualization for professional development modules and event activity taking place on the platform. Educators and education leaders depend on this feature as part of everyday decision-making processes, and it is vital that improvements, such as near-real time data updates and an assortment of visualization offerings for greater data insights, are continuously made for a seamless experience. However, because the TX-Region 4 team spent so much time managing infrastructure, there was little time left to bring new and improved features to fruition. To better manage their time and increase opportunities for innovation, TX-Region 4 decided to replace their existing BI solution with a cloud-based offering.

In order to better understand where improvements could be made with a new cloud-based solution, TX-Region 4 identified customer pain points that needed to be addressed. These pain points included up to four-hour delays when users refreshed dashboards backed by five million database records; only 85 percent of reports were successfully delivered via email; and intermittent unreachability during busy times, like the end of month, quarter, or school year.

From an administrative perspective, IT staff, too, had their struggles with the old solution. Challenges included scaling and supporting hardware infrastructure and onboarding customer data to the Data Analytics feature, which historically took 3–6 months. Understanding these constraints, TX-Region 4 worked with AWS to find a solution that could smooth out the friction of these user pain points. That’s when TX-Region 4 chose Amazon QuickSight.

Easing user pain points with Amazon QuickSight

QuickSight is a cloud-powered business analytics service that makes it simple for all employees within an organization to build visualizations, perform ad-hoc analysis, and quickly get business insights from their data anytime, on any device. Users can upload CSV and Excel files; connect to SaaS applications like Salesforce; access on-premises databases like SQL Server, MySQL, and PostgreSQL; and seamlessly discover AWS data sources such as Amazon Redshift, Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Aurora, Amazon Athena, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). QuickSight enables organizations to scale their business analytics capabilities to hundreds of thousands of users and delivers fast and responsive query performance by using a robust in-memory engine called SPICE (Super-fast, Parallel, In-memory Calculation Engine).

Through continuous and collaborative discussions with AWS, TX-Region 4 saw the value that QuickSight could offer their end users. After working with their AWS solutions architect on a proof-of-concept, in which they were able to connect their on-premises databases supporting the escWorks platform to QuickSight, they were able to immediately derive meaningful data insights—for which their end users, educators and education leaders, had long been asking.

From the success of the proof-of-concept, TX-Region 4 went live with QuickSight as the supporting BI solution for their escWorks platform, which was their first production workload in AWS.

Finding success with Amazon QuickSight

Since moving to QuickSight, TX-Region 4’s educators and education leaders have reported quicker response times to dashboard refreshes—from four hours to less than 25 minutes—as well as successful receipt of all emailed reports on a scheduled basis, and being able to interact with their dashboards without performance or connectivity issues. In addition, education leaders have been able to gather better insights into the professional development modules that accumulate the most attendance by educators so they can allocate more resources in improving these modules for future use.

TX-Region 4’s IT staff have also found significant benefits from their move to QuickSight. With infrastructure offloaded to AWS, TX-Region 4 can now focus their efforts on bringing impactful features and improvements to the escWorks platform instead of supporting issues stemming from hardware failures. In addition, with QuickSight’s pay-per-use model, TX-Region 4 are also gaining financial benefits by saving 580% on annual infrastructure costs compared to their previous on-premises BI offering.

What’s next for TX-Region 4 in the cloud

Now that staff at TX-Region 4 have undertaken their first endeavor in the cloud, they are looking ahead to the possibilities that exist for escWorks on AWS. These include adding mobile app functionality for QuickSight dashboards, a migration of the entire escWorks platform by 2023, and a follow-up modernization effort to have escWorks supported on a microservices architecture on AWS.

As shown through TX-Region 4’s use case with QuickSight, finding opportunities for improvement, with even a small workload, has the ability to impact and transform a K12 organization’s digital platform into a data-driven solution where educators can derive a strong relationship with their data and make informed decisions that can influence their student’s learning experience.

Learn more about how K12 organizations use AWS to support their learners, educators, and more at the AWS Cloud for Primary and Secondary Education hub. Curious about how you can use AWS to support your educators, schools, and district? Reach out to the AWS Public Sector team today.

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Sam Telles

Sam Telles

Sam Telles is a solutions architect based in San Antonio, Texas, where he supports the Texas area’s state and local government entities, as well as K12 organizations. As solutions architect, Sam serves as a trusted advisor by providing best-practice and technical recommendations during a customer’s cloud adoption journey. Leveraging his more than 12 years of experience in storage, networking, and security, Sam designs bespoke solutions that enable his customers to succeed. When he is not serving his customers, Sam enjoys exploring the Texas Hill Country with his wife and son.