Taking an educated gamble

Management accountants usually aren’t the gambling type. But one of them made a big bet in setting up her own software development company and found success by selling to a customer she knew well.The client was the Ontario branch of the Certified Management Accountants, which twice a year administers two rigorous tests to hundreds of students trying to become CMAs.
The essay part of the exam has to be marked by hand, but there’s also a 154-question multiple choice section, a format that Mary Beth Kyer thought could take advantage of the Internet for educating and testing students.
Kyer is a Toronto CMA who teaches one of the branch’s exam courses. But four years ago she got involved in online education by setting up Euforea Inc., a Web development company to meet communication and learning needs of clients.
Euforea is a four-person company that creates customized Web sites and learning applications. One of its earliest efforts was a Flash-based site to educate 35,000 U.S. brokers on an insurance company’s new product.
Last year the company began work on a product called Thinkpass, a Web-based online testing and education platform which incorporates a SQL Server database. Euforea hosts the application and charges clients on a per user basis.
While the company can be retained for custom work, she said the application is simple enough that clients can upload new material in an Excel or Word format themselves.

Reporting included
Automated reports give administrators and students feedback on how respondents are doing, and can be broken down by content and units of time taken on answers.
It’s flexible enough to allow not only multiple choice answers but also sections for written responses, which can be e-mailed for marking.
To hone the development Kyer regularly talked to her clients, asking what kind of features they’d like to see. While it stretched development over several months, it was an important strategic decision.
Among those she spoke to was Jon Jones, CMA Ontario’s accreditation manager, whom she knew.
Online testing was “a great idea,” he said. While the association provides a lot of training material, students were asking for more.
It helped, he added, that Kyer knew exactly what the association’s course was about, he said. After several meetings with Euforea the association decided to fund a pilot project for the May exam.
“Because the exam is not online (we wondered) is this going to cause additional problems” for students, said Jones.
“If they study and practice online but take a paper test, is there going to be a disconnect since we don’t do the final exam online? But in the end we decided to go forward.”
The version developed for the association is a timed test that also lets students see the right answers to the questions.
“They can see the results by topic, how well everyone answered each question,” said Kyer, “so the student learns how am I doing and where I need help.”

Positive feedback
Some 500 of 700 eligible students took the online test, and feedback was positive enough that the Ontario branch decided to contract with Euforea for a second test, which students took last month.
In addition, seven other provinces who learned about the project also signed on.
Neither Jones nor Kyer would say how much the project has cost.
With this start Kyer hopes Thinkpass will be Euforea’s leading product.
Going to Jones without a complete product, she admitted, was a “calculated gamble.”
“It comes back to the market research. One of the biggest challenges was to create a product robust enough to appeal to prospective clients without spending all of our money on development when you don’t know if there’s demand for it.”
Jones is convinced. The association feels it’s doing everything it can to prepare students, he said.
“Personally I think it’s a great resource.”

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com
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