From launching new tablets to virtual-reality curriculum, Microsoft has added plenty to its educational offerings through a series of new product updates and acquisitions over the past few years. The company’s latest deal involves something a little bit more invisible and behind the scenes, but what it calls “one of the most powerful tools we have in modern education.”
That tool is data, and it marks the focus of Microsoft’s first edtech acquisition of 2019: DataSense, a data management platform developed by Brightbytes. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, although the “small team” behind DataSense, based in Atlanta, will be joining Microsoft’s education team, said Steve Liffick, Microsoft’s general manager of education strategy and platforms, via email.
In a nutshell, DataSense is a set of professional services that work with K-12 districts to collect data from different data systems, translate them into unified formats and aggregate that information into a unified dashboard for reporting purposes.
Among the tools that DataSense can pull data from are learning management systems, student information systems, web applications and individualized education plans for learners with special needs. It also offers a rostering solution that expedites how student and educator accounts for third-party edtech applications are created and managed.
DataSense traces its origins to Authentica Solutions, an education data management company founded in 2013. In June 2017, it was named as a finalist in Microsoft’s “Partner of the Year” awards for its work in building a medical-billing application for Houston Independent School District using Microsoft’s Azure tools.
A month later, BrightBytes acquired Authentica. The deal was hailed as a “major milestone in the industry” and appeared to be a complement to BrightBytes’ flagship offering, Clarity, a suite of data analytics tools that help educators understand the impact of technology spending and usage on student outcomes. In other words: DataSense would ingest and aggregate data from different systems, and Clarity would analyze and translate that information into actionable insights.
But the fact that BrightBytes is selling DataSense less than two years later suggests that whatever deep product integrations the company had in mind has taken a slightly different course. BrightBytes CEO Traci Burgess said via email that the integration was successful, and the sale “will enable BrightBytes to continue to integrate and manage data in the same manner but with the potential to reach more schools around the world.”
In a prepared statement, BrightBytes added that it “will also partner further with Microsoft, turning to the DataSense platform for integration needs.” Founded in 2012, the company has raised $51.5 million in venture capital, the latest of which came in a $33 million Series C round in 2015.
The technology behind DataSense is built on Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, making it a “perfect complement to other tools in the Microsoft365 ecosystem,” Liffick added. He said the pairing will help schools “connect their data to more education apps than ever before.”
While the DataSense team and product are now owned by Microsoft, Brightbytes will continue to develop and sell its Clarity platform, which it claims is used in more than 25,000 schools around the world. The acquisition of Authentica, Burgess added, also included more than DataSense, and “BrightBytes has retained these additional assets and will continue to expand our data analytics.”
Of the “Big Five” technology giants, Microsoft has become the most acqui-hungry as of late in the learning and training space. In recent years it purchased several consumer brand names whose services reach into education, including LinkedIn (which owns Lynda.com, now a part of the LinkedIn Learning suite), Minecraft (which has been adapted for use in the classroom) and Github (which released an education bundle).
Last year, Microsoft also acquired a couple of smaller education tools, including Flipgrid, a video-discussion platform popular among teachers, and Chalkup, whose services have been rolled into Microsoft Teams, its competitor to Slack.