Vinson Logo


Rotate Your Device

Adopting an Interoperability Standard Doesn’t Guarantee Interoperability

Michael Nutter

April 5, 2017

While interoperability standards like the SIF are designed to make sure your data streams are compatible with one another, there are plenty of things that can and do go wrong. This means that you need to be very careful about how you implement and orient your software solution.

To keep up with the latest trend in educational IT, schools are rushing out to buy brand-new software that they hope will discover new efficiencies and unlock students’ potential. By collecting and aggregating data down to the level of the individual child, educators hope that this new wave of technology will make teaching methods not only more effective, but more individualized as well.

One big hurdle in this journey to adopting big data is the challenge of ensuring that all this data communicates — in other words, the challenge of interoperability. A huge component in overcoming that hurdle will be the adoption of a certain set of industry-specific interoperability standards, specifications that aim to homogenize how data is shared between systems and people. Two programs using the same standard should be able to easily and even automatically communicate with one another.

Unfortunately, no one standard can guarantee that your big data infrastructure will work seamlessly. You need to do some serious planning before making mistakes that could potentially set your initiative back years and cost your district thousands.

How They Work

The education sector primarily relies on one of two standards: the Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF) and the IMS Global Learning Consortium. These have emerged as the standards most commonly adopted by school districts and government initiatives, with the SIF even being legislated into state-wide adoption in Oklahoma.

Interoperability standards aren’t created by specific companies as a product — in fact, they’re meant to counteract the effects of competition between vendors. They’re usually adopted across industries so that organizations aren’t forced to use one vendor for every software need. Instead, buyers can create best-of-breed solutions for their staff: a school could implement a suite of collaborative learning tools from one vendor and a student administrative system from another without siloing the data pulled by either.

This is ideal for schools that are limited in their software buying power by budget restrictions, government regulations, and existing infrastructure. Businesses can buy computers with the same operating system and use the same vendor for a suite of apps that cover everything from document creation to phone service. Schools are often much less measured in their purchasing behavior, motivated by grants and government initiatives to buy in bursts rather than as part of long-term strategies. Best-of-breed solutions are needed to bridge groups of software and devices that were purchased at different times and often for different needs.

What Could Go Wrong?

But it turns out that not even this shared standard can guarantee interoperability. Making a comprehensive system that will allow for different software from different vendors to work the same way for schools, regions, districts, and states across the country is a fairly difficult task. Interoperability is like the power in a string of lights — if the connection between any two pieces fails, the whole structure can falter.

This means that you must ensure your school takes a measured, careful approach to implementation of interoperable software. SIF and other standards can’t be treated as just another off-the-shelf solution, but as a long-term strategy that must be tested and retested for optimal results. Rather than get frustrated when errors occur and rush to abandon the system entirely, educators must be prepared to work with vendors and consultants for months at a time to make the standard work for their districts.

get in touch