(I go away for a day or two, and Mark jumps in and helpfully adds to the blog. But Mark, gave you a US telephone number to call on this. I know we’re in the world of Skype and virtual telephony, but schools have traditionally been nervous about dialling an 0870 number – let alone a US one! And so, with Mark’s permission, I’ve played with his post…Ray)

We got a note from Robert Hutchinson of Visual Software last week, offering a special deal to schools who are interested in exploring SIF – the Schools Interoperability Framework. SIF is a mechanism, originally created in the US, to allow different ICT systems in the school to talk with each other. For example, for the software that stores the attendance register to swap data with your MIS system which has your main student database. In the US, schools’ MIS data is distributed across different applications, databases and systems – unlike in the UK where most schools have a core MIS database, with only a few examples of disconnected systems (off the top of my head, it has historically been attendance and assessment data).

However, with the growth of Learning Platforms in schools, there has been a growing need for a standard way for different applications to share student data. And that’s where SIF comes in, and there are increasing numbers of organisations looking at it – Becta, for example, see it as a route to share data within the school, and also between the school and the local authority.

You may be interested in SIF. You may want to improve the flow of data between your learning platform, email system, MIS system, assessment system etc. But what do you do to get started? Traditionally it has been complex, and expensive, to implement SIF – and you’ve been in the hands of your MIS provider, as you wait for them to create a SIF client. And that’s where Robert Hutchinson comes in – a SIF product that costs £75 so that you can experiment with SIF, which can turn CSV files into SIF files (and cleverly manages the day-to-day changes of data). Here’s what Robert has to say…

FirstquotesAt Visual Software, we’ve seen how SIF can benefit a school system, the efficiency of single schools and even trickle down to improving the daily life of individual students. Through its ability to connect disparate systems that were never originally intended to work together, it introduces new levels of efficiency never experienced before, trading information instantly instead of overnight. We also understand that this is a large undertaking for many institutions and for others it may not be possible yet because a SIF agent may not be available yet for their MIS system or for the provider of other critical data. So, having a subscribing application without a provider is not very useful – like a having swimming pool with no water.

Visual Software has a product in its product line called ZIUP – it was designed for applications that only have an ability to generate CSV files. It looks at today’s CSV file, compares it against yesterday’s file and generates SIF messages corresponding to the differences. If it gets requests, it responds to them as a SIF agent normally would (actually, this is an enhancement over the US version of the ZIUP product). It’s not as robust as a real MIS agent (a real agent would generate events in real time, be able to test conditions and would be able to subscribe to events), but it is something to get things going.

This product normally retails for £1,000. During this offer, we are offering this for £75 per school as an incentive for them to “try out SIF” (this will only last until the end of 2008; then the price will go back up).

Additionally, if a Local Authority purchases other products from us and purchases these copies for the schools, we will credit back the ZIUP copies if and when the schools replace them with MIS SIF agents from the MIS vendors.

Support for this version of the software will be primarily via our web site and through user communities on the site. Configurations will be the same for all users of a given MIS, so configurations of ZIUP for these will be available for download from the ZIUP web site, making installation and setup simple.Endquotes

For more information please contact Robert Hutchison, who’s President of Visual Software, via his email address: rchutch@visualsi.com

You can find out more about Visual Software’s solutions on their website (and if you’ve heard of SIF and want to know more, take a look at the Wikipedia article)