VIP Tone enables outsourcing of all of a school’s technology issues

VIP Tone enables outsourcing of all of a school’s technology issues

VIP Tone (Half Moon Bay, CA, www.viptone.com) is not another dot.com, says Robert Iskander, founder, chairman and ceo of the new company. The company’s vision for outsourcing an organization’s technology needs goes beyond an ASP offering and browser-based access to resources. While that is a component of the comprehensive “e-integrator” offering, services also include consulting assessments of technology needs along the lines of EDS (Plano, TX, www.eds.com) or Accenture (previously known as Andersen Consulting, www.accenture.com). And they lease the hardware, arrange for broadband access and provide training and customer support.

Most importantly however, VIP Tone provides the middleware that makes the system function smoothly. VIP Tone’s middleware operates from a single database that allows information to be shared between applications. The middleware also customizes the system for individual users, authenticating each user and creating unique access to the portal. Compatible data also offers schools the assurance that they can easily switch from one software vendor to another.

VIP is an acronym for vertically integrated portal. While the company plans to pursue numerous markets, it is beginning with K-12 education and Iskander does not expect to even consider other markets until their education offering is fully refined. That will probably require at least a year. Iskander, previously director of global K-12 education market for Sun Microsystems, was the founder of the SchoolTone Alliance. That nonprofit organization was established to align the industry behind the vision of portal computing for schools. Iskander says that customers liked the vision, but they needed one source that could implement it. Furthermore, says Iskander, vendors needed a common conduit to the customer.

Partnerships Key to Success

Sun is a strategic technology partner for the new venture, along with Oracle and Cisco. Content partners will also be key to the success of the venture because schools must be able to get the curricular and administrative software they want. Iskander anticipates being able to add any vendor that a school requests. His intention is to provide schools with the broadest possible choices of competitors in every area. He does, for example, expect to integrate e-procurement solutions, and several of those players will be available to districts to choose from.

But agreements must first be defined. VIP Tone, for example, is creating a unified subscription model for all software vendors that will likely be based on a per-student/per-year model, and vendors must be able to work with that licensing mode. VIP tone must also negotiate its share of the subscription fee.

The company has announced agreements with Edmin.com (San Diego, CA, www.edmin.com), Schepp Turner Productions, LLP (Muncie, IN, www.classroomplanner.com), iMind Education Systems (Corte Madera, CA, www.imind.com), PowerSchool (Folsom, CA, www.powerschool.com) and Youthline USA (Howell, NJ, www.youthuine-usa). Iskander expects to announce three to four times that number by mid March.

Benefits for Content Partners

VIP Tone’s business model also outsources many needs of software publishers. Beyond providing a distribution channel, VIP Tone markets software and provides professional development training and customer support. It also collects the money.

Marketing efforts will focus on three-and-half-day seminars targeted at decision makers such as superintendents and assistant superintendents. Iskander plans to bring in best of breed presenters to define what e-business and e-learning mean for K-12 issues such as assessment and accountability. The fee-based classes are likely to be co-branded with states or other entities. These seminars are also likely to go global. VIP Tone has recently acquired an Australian company that reaches Australian and Asian markets (the name can not yet be announced). Iskander is also looking at Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

VIP Tone’s training efforts will go beyond technical issues to educators’ needs of integrating content and administrative tools with the classroom. Iskander intends to bring the concept of business process re-engineering to education. “Education process reengineering” will focus on defining new habits in the classroom, such as redefining how attendance is taken or how homework is assigned and graded. The company will be working with freelance teachers and third-party professional development providers for this component.

Partnership also provides customers with a single point of customer assistance through VIP Tone’s call center. VIP Tone will address middleware issues directly, dispatch a repair person for a hardware problem, or dispatch a call to a software vendor for a problem such as a programming bug.

Content partners must have content accessible via, a web browser. Iskander also expects Internet appliances to become increasingly important in the school market, and compatibility for such devices will be important for software on the offering. VIP Tone is not strictly a thin-client solution, but Iskander certainly advocates fat pipes and thin clients.

A Quick Migration from California to the Globe

VIP Tone’s services have access to three pools of money in schools-technology, instructional media and professional development. The company is initially concentrating exclusively on California as a market. The customer base is small, “less than a handful of districts right now,” says Iskander, “between three and five depending on whether the ink has dried or not.” The company is also in discussions with some county offices of education for county-wide portals, and there are some discussions for state portals. Another acquisition that cannot yet be announced will bring the company to the East coast market. As mentioned, it is already expanding to global markets.

The company has closed two rounds of funding, a seed fund and a B round. Iskander did not disclose the amount of funding, but he says it is enough to keep them in business and allow them to pursue mergers and acquisitions. VIP Tone will purchase companies with some of the middle-ware technologies they need, companies that have consultants in process reengineering, and companies that position them in new markets.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Nelson B. Heller & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group