How Creative DevOps & Automation Brought an Education Platform to Life

9.27.16 By Pete Marra

Pete_Marra_Blog.jpgServant Interactive was founded to solve a problem in education. A group of us got together and realized that over two-thirds of the world didn’t have access to reading materials, so we set out to build a platform that could deliver any type of written content to any device.

As a business, Servant Interactive acts as a liaison between print and digital publishing. We built a Learning Management System (LMS) that enhances the learning experience by making content more interactive. We found ourselves building a solution to keep up with ever-increasing technology training initiatives here in the U.S. while bringing education to life for programs in need around the world.

Embracing the anywhere, anytime learning model.

According to a Pearson survey, 83% of U.S. students use a laptop for schoolwork and 58% use a smartphone or tablet.[i] Publishers still heavily rely on printed content to reach students.


Why we selected 4th Source

We built Servant Interactive as an LMS from the ground up. In order to populate content in the platform, our team at Servant Interactive had to engage publishers. There was no flexible deadline. The platform had to be ready by the start of the next school year in the U.S.

Things were moving along until we hit a problem with content conversion. A lot of the publishing companies we partnered with could only provide us with pdf files of the written books. We had to transform them into interactive digital content.

We looked for somebody who could give us extra capacity in the DevOps space, but was talented enough to merge with an already-existing partner development team, and our in-house developers. 4th Source was uniquely positioned to be able to do that. In less than two weeks, we were up and running.

The 4th Source team was able to take that entire portion of the project off of our hands. Because of their capacity, they shrank our timelines down so that we could hit publisher deadlines. In our market, if we are not able to deliver content to publishers, we would lose those contracts.


Taking part in the mission

One of the things that really separated 4th Source from the other vendors was their level of engagement. They took the time and energy to send people to us, to meet with us, and to really understand our project. Not just the technical implications, but really the business implications of the project. That allowed us to shorten our cycle.

4th Source became not only a partner in the technical aspect, but really became engaged in the mission we were trying to do, which was launch this education platform to the world. 



Developing a custom automation process

We had huge volumes of curriculum and content that we were adding to the system. There was no way anyone could manually complete the content conversion work.

4th Source, on their own, was creative enough to develop a process to automate a lot of that type of work, saving us both time and money. Again, because they partnered into the broader mission of what we were doing, they did this on their own as a way to serve us. It was something that we didn’t even ask for. It made a huge difference for us to be able to get that work done on time.


Platform QA

The other thing that 4th Source was able to bring to the table, that we didn’t have the depth of expertise in, was the actual QA of the platform. 4th Source, through the use of automated tools, and very rigorous processes, was able to QA the toolset for us. They were able to find problems that we weren’t able to uncover in our initial QA.

I’m happy to say that we were able to launch the platform on time, on budget, and without any major problems. It was a success for the first school year like we needed it to be.


Choosing the right development partner

The challenges that come into play when you’re trying to select a software partner include location and the ability to clearly communicate.

Communication is not simply understanding what is said. It’s about collaboration and how a partner works with you to solve problems.

In our case, we looked at using resources in India, and we did for several months. We had a difficult time trying to find a partner in India that understood our business needs. They were brilliant technically, and they could fix the problem once we gave them the problem, but being able to creatively think about what we were trying to do and add value from that standpoint was very difficult.

With 4th Source, we found just the opposite.4th Source was right next to us, which was a huge benefit. With a short plane ride in either direction, we could have the teams together when we needed. We were working in the same time zone, and they creatively added value to the project. Communication was never an issue.


Project management

A challenge for us at Servant Interactive (as a startup) was the maturity of our IT staff. We needed to be able to manage the project, and deliver on time and on budget. 4th Source added a project management discipline to our organization that we lacked.

With their ability to lead our teams, we actually became stronger.

A lot of IT vendors only manage their people, and only communicate what’s going on [from their end]. 4th Source really integrated as a partner and not only managed their resources, but managed our resources as part of an integrated project experience.


A true partner on every level

4th Source did not approach the project as just being a body shop, where there would be a pool of resources that we could use for simple development tasks. Instead, they partnered with us at every level of the organization. They integrated their teams into our teams. Their project managers managed our people, and at the executive level, they took the time to bring people to us so we could meet with them, and they would truly understand what was going on.

It gave me confidence in not only my organization’s ability to deliver, but also knowing that my partner had just as much vested interest in our success as I did.






Servant Interactive Works with Cambodian village to Deliver Educational Content

A lot of people do not have access to effective instructional design. The Servant Interactive platform automates and streamlines the teaching process, so that, when a teacher is handed a device, they get a set of curriculum, and also the teaching method, the instructional design, and everything they’d need to further the education process.

We saw tremendous success in developing countries, such as one pilot project in a remote, Cambodian mountain village. The locals did not have access to power, let alone quality reading materials. Despite the lack of infrastructure, the students had an incredible appetite to learn, and the village supported them.

We outfitted tablet devices with Servant Interactive’s platform and gave them to the school. Without a steady power source, the village acquired several car batteries as portable chargers. Each week, a member of the village would ride a bicycle down the mountain to the nearest town, charge the batteries with an alternator, and ride back up the mountain so the students could continue school the next week.

The entire year was hosted on the Servant Interactive platform.


We're on a mission to talk about IT from the perspective of those in the know. Get relevant discussions delivered right to your inbox.



Subscribe To Our Blog