Education

Verso International School

Case Study - VERSO International School & AWS

VERSO International School is a brand new, innovative school for international students which opened in Bangkok in August 2020.

The school aims to offer a cutting-edge approach to learning, combined with state-of-the-art facilities that will nurture and develop their students.

Working with innovation company IDEO in San Francisco, VERSO wanted to create a digital framework that would integrate the multitude of 3rd party digital online systems that are vital for the school to function on a day-to-day basis, such as student and school information systems, transport systems, security gates and a parent dashboard.

For this, they sought help from digital solutions experts Fluxus, who have previously completed successful projects for high-profile clients in South East Asia, including True Corporation and BMW.

Fluxus were tasked with designing, building, and implementing a versatile integration platform that would allow each of these systems to seamlessly work together in tandem.

Fluxus’ flexible solution design allowed for a high degree of interoperability where each individual part of the platform could work together and create new capabilities that none could offer in isolation. An example of this is smart card-operated gates and other digital touchpoints from one supplier throughout the school activating automatic email alerts and instantly updating student management systems from another supplier. This modular and flexible API-centred solution architecture enabled automation of most actions within the school, such as sending emails to parents once their student had arrived and checked in. This approach enabled vital administrative and security functions as well as allowing the school to operate with maximum efficiency.

After designing and architecting a viable solution in late 2019, Fluxus set out to resolve VERSO’s problem and started to build in January 2020.

Solely utilising the vast selection of components available through the cloud-based Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform, Fluxus succeeded in creating a systems integration solution that was ready for testing within three months before being approved to go live by VERSO in June 2020.

A Complex Assignment

The variety of systems involved in VERSO’s desired digital architecture meant it required multi-layered capability. The framework needed to accommodate academic portals that could be accessed by students, parents and teachers as well as coordinate all of the school’s administrative procedures.

Although individual systems – such as HR systems, learning management systems and student information systems – were already in place, Fluxus had to design a digital architecture that would synchronise each of them and connect all the information they contained together. This integration hub was known internally as ‘VERSO Gateway’.

Given the scope of the school’s client base – namely children and their families – a big emphasis was placed on cyber safety and security, with data protection of paramount importance in the project. Therefore, a crucial component of the system’s functionality was the use of digital key cards – built using the existing and established Rabbit Card framework in Thailand (similar to Hong Kong’s Octopus and London’s Oyster card systems).

Once activated, these smart cards would be used for a variety of purposes in addition to their use on public transport, including logging a student’s arrival and departure from school, clocking their attendance in lessons, and providing a source of payment within the school, such as in the cafeteria. These touchpoints throughout the school would create a digital log for each student.

Alongside this, various key touchpoints – such as security gates at main entrances – would also generate automated emails to be sent to parents to allow them to know when their child had safely arrived and left the school each day. This was a bespoke feature created by Fluxus for VERSO, having not previously been part of the Rabbit Card system’s functionality.

Getting to Faster, Better, and Cheaper With AWS

Fluxus’ goal was to develop a high-quality, low-code and low-maintenance solution to fulfil the needs of the Gateway component. As multiple other systems had to function off the back of it, the design had to be robust throughout.

Fluxus decided to adopt a serverless cloud-based approach to VERSO’s proposal and settled on utilising the varied and advanced solution-level functionality available within AWS for their solution with a focus on combining AWS service-based offerings over working at the server and database virtualisation level. As well as reducing build time, maintenance, and virtually eliminating the need for capacity planning, this allowed unit-cost pricing that scales with the number of system users and therefore stays in step with income over time as usage and capacity grow. 

Owing to the complexities involved in a systems integration, a project of this nature prior to the advent of these high level AWS components would have required a 12+-month timeframe undertaken by a larger team and a budget potentially running into millions, including a significant initial financial outlay on both hardware and software.

However, by working with AWS managed services such as API Gateway and Cognito for authentication, Fluxus’ approach meant the project became much more cost and time effective immediately from the outset. No budget was required for infrastructure or technical components – such as servers, networks or operating systems – and the entire proposal was estimated to be completed within a small fraction of the budget such a project would traditionally cost and in under a quarter of the time. 

By deliberately constraining the solution to AWS components, Fluxus could design, build and deploy their software using as little code as possible. This made the project much more reliable owing to the high level of maturity within the AWS platform as well as both easier and cheaper to maintain and more flexible should changes be required in the future.

With security and data protection of paramount significance within the project due to the importance of safeguarding children and their background information, Fluxus also recognised they could utilise AWS’ proven security components to provide a stringent safety net to the school’s data systems.

Using AWS, it was possible to create a solution that was faster, better, and cheaper.

Building the Framework

The design of the Gateway solution applied a microservices approach, using a simple combination of DynamoDB, Lambda, and API Gateway.

By using lightweight microservices, the team at Fluxus ensured they could make quick and effective code changes at any point in time. This helped manage the changing deadlines (due to a combination of multi-vendor coordination and COVID-19) and requirements that a new school project posed throughout the build phase.

In order to increase the deployment speed and robustness of the service, Fluxus applied a consistent ‘infrastructure as code’ approach to the build of the VERSO project.

Utilising AWS’ Serverless Application Model, Fluxus ensured immutable services were deployed whenever a developer made any code change.

To deliver this, Fluxus built out a mature and well-designed CICD (Continuous Integration and Continuous Development) workflow. The team included within the workflow a mature approach to testing, utilising well-known frameworks such as JEST and Cypress to provide automated integration test suites that would validate any new code change the team made.

In order to achieve the most with AWS on this project, Fluxus used AWS services for the framework and integration pipelines, including services like CodeCommit and CodePipeline. 

Expertise and Competence

Because of the technical maturity of the AWS platform, Fluxus was able to advance the project at a rapid rate without major difficulties.

The high level of skill displayed by the Fluxus team throughout the process also saw them take on a key role within the project’s overall development. VERSO recognised Fluxus’ competency and allowed the team to proceed almost autonomously as the technical authority for the overall solution.

As well as directly liaising with all key stakeholders both within the customer and the other vendors, Fluxus took on a prominent role in the project’s co-ordination and organisation, and as technical authority led integration, testing, technical decisions, and data architecture across the solution.

Due to the project being undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, understandable issues arose as key stakeholders became less accessible and face-to-face meetings were not possible. However, due to the agile working methods of the Fluxus team and their expertise in the advanced capabilities offered within AWS, these problems did not significantly hinder the rate of progress as Fluxus demonstrated their ability to accomplish a complex specialised project working completely remotely.

By the use of automated testing (including BDD), the Fluxus team were quickly able to identify regressions, and re-designs and amendments were easily made. Fluxus’ approach to thorough and rigorous testing ensured they consistently presented incremental value to the client.

Results and the Future

Beginning in January 2020, Fluxus completed the build in just three months before releasing a final tested version to the customers internal UAT team – and delivered a successful systems integration for VERSO in plenty of time for their school year.

VERSO have engaged Fluxus for ongoing support, with the system remaining open to additional developments and enhancements.

Fluxus’ process and guidance has also had an effect on other software providers, with the Rabbit Card system team responding by adopting improvements into their own offering so it can be implemented by their other customers.

And with a view to the education sector, although Fluxus’ design was customised to VERSO’s requests and specifications, the approach is easily transferable and can be adopted by other organisations should they be looking to employ a similar solution within their digital systems.