Face-to-Face for a Better Experience

Edtech industry veteran Scott Glinski shares three decades worth of hard-won wisdom.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Since the launch of its first product back in 1981, Skyward has remained committed to a better experience for every user; today the company serves more than 2,000 customers reaching 7 million students in 21 states with their administrative software for education.

The company recently announced the appointments of a new CEO and president effective January 1, 2019. The company’s board of directors selected Scott Glinski, current president, as Skyward’s next CEO. Ray Ackerlund, current chief marketing officer, succeeds Glinski as Skyward’s next president. Cliff King, current Skyward CEO, will retire at the end of 2018 and transition into a part-time role on the Skyward Board of Directors

With his appointment as the new CEO in January, Glinski brings 31 years of experience working at Skyward, including serving as president since 2008. His vision for product development, support, and internal culture have been at the center of many significant contributions to the company.

In his role as president, Glinski oversaw the day-to-day operations of every department and guided the growth of an empowered workplace culture. During his tenure, Glinski led Skyward through substantial growth, guiding the achievement of several company milestones, including:

– Expanding job growth by 70%.

– Securing a contract with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), making Skyward the preferred student information system (SIS) provider in the state of Texas.

– Developing Qmlativ, the next evolution of Skyward’s school management software.

– Becoming a top-ten place to work in Wisconsin for millennials.

“It is an honor to lead Skyward and our growing number of employees,” says Scott. “I have seen firsthand how the work we do contributes to education and I look forward to finding new ways to bring a better experience to our customers,” he says. “I am ready to set our sights on the future. This is an exciting time, and the best is yet to come for our Skyward family.”

Congrats, you’re now CEO—you’ve been with the company for over 30 years. Rewind to your first year there: where did you envision the company going and where do you see it going today?

Scott: Thank you. I’m excited about stepping into this new role.

Back in 1987, I envisioned the company would experience growth throughout the Midwest, but I never thought we would be doing business in 22 states and 10 countries—all while working with some of the 10 largest school districts in the United States.

Moving forward, Skyward will continue expanding both our customer base and the number of people we employ, which is now more than 600 employees. I also expect us to maintain steady growth in the states we’re currently serving. We still have a lot of untapped territory, so expanding our market share in those states offers a great opportunity for us. Just as important, we need to stay focused on our current customers and continue to find new ways to bring a better experience to them.

Similarly, where do you see the edtech field evolving in the coming years?

Scott: I expect to see an increase in the availability of digital tools for students. Beyond the classroom, I think sophisticated surveillance tools will become more common, especially the use of facial recognition at a much lower entry point. Finally, I don’t think we can downplay the emphasis on school safety, as that continues to be a growing concern.

Your company has experienced a lot of growth since it first began. What has been key to that success?

Scott: We’re proud to serve over 2,000 district customers and 7 million students, yet we have always practiced controlled growth. We make sure all state and federal reporting requirements are met before we enter a new state. It’s easy to cherry pick a few customers in each state and claim you are a nationwide provider, but that’s not necessarily what’s best for the customer.

I think another key to success has been our executive team’s willingness to meet face-to-face with as many of our customers as possible and simply listen. We wouldn’t be where we are without putting our customers first and understanding their needs. Great software is one thing, but outstanding support is every bit as important—maybe even more.

Any surprising lesson learned? And how will you use that moving forward?

Scott: The importance of developing long-lasting partnerships with other companies when it makes sense. We want to focus on what we do best, which is developing software, and we have formed partnerships for items like cloud hosting and 3rd party peripheral device integration to give our customers the best experience possible. Through it all, I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is flexibility. I am always prepared to make a new decisioned based on new information.

A few years ago, your company unveiled Qmlativ, the latest generation of student management and finance software for districts. What are the most important qualities of edtech?

Scott: When we built Qmlativ, we developed a state-of-the-art framework to support the latest technology and the countless devices being used. We put a great deal of emphasis on user experience in addition to features and functionality. I think Qmlativ leaves a memorable impression with districts for two reasons:

First, it’s a feature-rich product.

But second, and maybe even more important, it’s easy to configure for the specific needs of the school district and easy to navigate by the end user.

I also believe when it comes to education technology like Skyward, state reporting is overlooked too often. With Qmlativ, we made it a priority to have state reports built into the product which saves districts a lot of time and money.

Let’s face it, accurate state reporting is what drives school funding.

The edtech field continues to saturate with products and companies. What differentiates what you do?

Scott: Skyward is different than other administrative software because we focus on creating a better experience for all users. The second a person logs in, they are met with experiences and processes that are intuitive. They have access to tools that were built from the ground up based on the feedback of their peers and colleagues at other districts. That goes for parents, students, administrators—everyone.

In a more technical sense, we are all about helping people use data more effectively, and I think we’ve really left a lasting impact on districts in that regard. Each day we expect to give our customers excellence. We are using the latest technology and continue to expand our product offering even more.

School districts are demanding solutions that work well with others when it comes to data and interoperability. The ability for us to work seamlessly with other systems will allow us to stand out from others when it comes to evaluating student information systems and school business software partners.

What is technology’s role in education?

Scott: At Skyward, we want to provide a solution that streamlines administrative tasks, so teachers have more time to do what they do best—teach. We want to empower district personnel to use data to make more informed decisions in the classroom and business office. We also want to deliver a seamless portal for teachers, students, and parents to collaborate using meaningful data.

So, to me, technology should make tasks easier for every user to ensure that the ultimate goal is achieved, which is helping students succeed.

What are some edtech trends you’ve been watching with fascination, interest, or concern—and why?

Scott: I’m hearing more and more from district leaders who want to move beyond simply tracking data to giving people in the classroom and business office more direct access to the data they need to make faster and more informed decisions.

I’ve also noticed when it comes to new technology adoptions, there is a trend toward putting the overall user experience above features and functionality.

I’m excited to see more vendors forming user panels so the people using the products have more of a voice in the development of those products.

Your thoughts about the future of education?

Scott: I feel we are seeing a trend toward more of a social learning environment where students take a more active role in the learning process. Students expect to have learning tools and services available from anywhere at any time and want to be able to access them easily.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com


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