by Rodney Fletcher

CIO100 2017 #31-100: Lyndal Stewart, Business Mechanix

Mar 29, 2017
Big DataCareersEducation Industry

Over the past 12 months, Business Mechanix embarked on its biggest challenge to date, the spinning off and launching a startup company called Find My Study.

Launched on 14 September 2016, it has since had 1.7 million hits. Within the company, they often refer to it as becoming the ‘Trademe for Education’.

“This online marketplace was set up as a result of our background working in the tertiary sector over the past 10 years,” says CEO and director Lyndal Stewart.

“A marketplace for international students was created, partnering with government agencies and utilising consolidated data, presented in a new and fresh way for international students.

“Building a search and listing engine of this scale has been a massive undertaking, but it is now certainly starting to fly. The organisation’s performance had to be balanced with providing the delivery of a platform cloud service, alongside its individual builds for separate customers.”

In terms of measuring the project’s success, she says the criteria was set right from the start.

“Would we be able to partner with government agencies and utilise their data? Would we be able to get endorsed by major commercial providers? Could we use potential customers as people to work on the initiative (students) and would our team be able to work with them?

“Would we be able to shift students to an online rather than face to face process and would we get the views and traction online that we were targeting?

“We also believed that an important factor to prove we were innovative was to seek support and funding from Callaghan Innovation, to really have a tick in the box that the New Zealand government could see we were doing something great to promote New Zealand offshore and bring more students into the country,” she states.

“We achieved our first funding application approval in December 16. This was exciting to the team to know our innovations were backed by a wider body than just us. The team has achieved in all areas, in fact more than it expected with site hits.”

She says strategies and objectives were met by holding face to face early review sessions with the government agencies and really taking their feedback on board, and making the suggested changes.

“We also ensured we kept the team fully visible with our statistics and how we were tracking on a regular basis. We also held internal weekly ‘Showcase’ meetings where feedback was provided and progress shown.”

The largest operational and structural impact was the introduction of student teams into Business Mechanix’s environment.

“This had not only a cultural impact, but an operational impact. We had to modify our approach a few times, as we discovered that leaving student teams to their own devices around a corner was not the most productive method to achieve progress.”

“We now have student teams included as part of our primary team. We learn from them and they learn from us. We have fresh innovative ideas come through and we teach them about design, business process, workplace etiquette and more,” Stewart says.

“The introduction of student teams into the company’s environment has allowed the combined team to be a lot more innovative Stewart says. Previously, the company simply had no head room to get to the innovative process improvement projects.

“In the past 12 months, we have been able to have student teams lead innovation and bring our core team into the fold to produce outcomes as needed. We have managed to implement solutions such as a Time and Billing mobile front end to our existing web-based system, which has allowed our consultants fast and easy time and billing processing.

“In addition, this has saved us time and allowed us to not lose revenue through to late or forgotten timesheets.”

“We have only just scratched the surface with what we are trying to achieve and are excited about the coming releases, to further enhance our marketplace for international and domestic tertiary students,” she says of Find My Study.

“We have managed to utilise Microsoft Azure to support our cloud strategy and platform over the past 12 months. Microsoft have also been a great support in this area. We have implemented a large search collection analytics solution for big-data capture and this year will work on harvesting the big data we have been collecting”.

“In addition, we are also working on a Chatbot for Find My Study.”

“We have also implemented machine learning for our smart searching and have used geo-technology for our mapping services, for our consolidated data map views. We are also creating a large backend translation transformation solution to capture all page content on our site and transform it into 50 languages.

“We will be releasing this in the next 12 months, as we continue to develop and understand and innovate in this space. We continue to innovate, using Xamarin for one of our mobile apps to be released in the next 12 months.”

Stewart says many of these innovations have come about through the company’s work with student teams.

“We have been a huge fan of the Microsoft Student Accelerate Programme for a number of years and in the past 12 months have had more than six teams work with us. We also work with local universities, polytechnics and private tertiary education institutions and through them have also been able to work with innovative students.

“Find My Study is unique because no one has got what we have,” she adds. “It is unique as we have worked directly with government agency data to transform it into a social, data rich platform for a critical market to the New Zealand economy. It has taken years for us to get to this point and thousands of hours in development and RD time.”

She says ICT combined with clever business process is the source of their innovation and encourages her people to be innovative.

“In our workplace, we have been working with the Internet of Things, machine learning and artificial intelligence. We are really trying hard to incorporate as many of these technologies as we can into Find My Study.”

She reveals, as well, a personal reason why she works with student teams.

“I spent nine months looking for a job when I graduated and no one would give me an internship, part-time or full-time work,” she says.

“Now I make it my mission to give as many students as we can handle the opportunity to gain real industry experience so they can have that all important line on their CV, or perhaps we may even hire them if they shine!”

Rodney Fletcher