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SIF doesn’t work… or does it? February 25, 2009

Posted by ajackl in Educational Technology, Enterprise Architecture, Leadership, Management, SIF, The Three Laws of Performance.
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I have been observing an interesting phenomonon at play around the Schools Interoperability Specification.   It has to do with the First Law of Performance from a book I am reading right now (http://www.threelawsofperformance.com/).  The First Law states that people’s actions are correlated to the way the world occurs to them.

At one level that is a no brainer.  Of course that would be true.  But we don’t act that way.  We act as if the way it occurs for us is the truth.  An example of this came up at the National Education Data Conference in Seattle last week.    Someone mentioned to me that a panel of people had spoken to all the states who had recieved longitudinal data grants from the government and had shared how SIF didn’t work.  They spoke about it like an “of course”.  Other states though were walking around talking about how SIF was revolutionizing their data quality and data collections.  How could they both be true.   I have heard these extreme positions multiple times.

What became clear to me is that people were speaking, and complaining, based on the way the world occurred to them.  It isn’t that they were “wrong”, though I was apt to leap to that conclusion,  they were just speaking their “TRUTH”.  What is so is that SIF is working in hundreds and hundreds of districts in a horizontal (which is to say local to a school or district) or “classic” deployment, and is working statewide in a few states in a vertical manner, and half a dozen other states are working on it.  So why the bad press?

I say it is because the problem that SIF is brought in to solve is complicated.    Building enterprise architectures out into deployments that scale multiple levels of organizations (school, district, regional, state),  broad breadth (all the districts, all the schools) , and heterogenous applications (Student Information Systems of multiple types, Transcript brokers, state data warehouses, data collection tools, etc.) is complicated stuff.  The data flow inside any one of these components is complicated enough.  Managing the data flow through and around them all is hideously complicated.  Thus the issue.

Most states are not approaching the problem with an appropriate respect for that complexity.  They buy a product (like an off-the-shelf “data warehouse” or similar product)  and expect that to solve the problem without really mapping out their issues, use cases, data architecture and process flows and then putting together a system that works.    Then when the system falls inward on itself or doesn’t hit its milestones it becomes “SIF doesn’t work”.  The truth is  enterprise system design is hard, and almost impossible to succeed at in a political, consensus-driven environment.    There are so many points of failure and SIF- in automating the processes- reveals those breakdowns and issues, and, as with most messengers, often loses its head.

When you want an assessment of something make sure you are asking someone who understands those types of problems and has a track record with them.   The person who has never succeeeded may just not know what it takes, and then they will cry to the world “Don’t do X”.  If we can understand the root cause of the failure suddenly the world will appear a different way and then our actions will be correlated to that new view.

Now, telling who the real experts are and who the savvy sales people who memorize the jargon du jour… that is another problem entirely!

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Comments»

1. Andrew Elmhorst - February 25, 2009

I think you’ve hit on something. SIF is an enabling technology that can be used to accomplish any type of data integration. It would not be accurate to say that SIF doesn’t work any more than it would be accurate to say that HTML doesn’t work the first time you run into a page that doesn’t work in your browser. SIF has been proven to be an enabling solution for many districts, and the list of states who are having success with it is growing every year.

When a school district or state education agency decides to hire someone to build them a great web portal, do they question whether they should be using HTML or not? Of course not. What they do question is the experience of the team that will be putting their solution together and look for examples of other sites they’ve done.

Hopefully evaluators of SIF realize that basing a solution on something based upon SIF does not guarantee its success any more than using HTML guarantees a successful website. SIF is a tool that can be wielded by experienced integrators with proven track records to great success. It is also a tool that can be wielded, unfortunately, in ways that cause less than successful outcomes.

2. Joesph - September 23, 2014

This is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere.
Brief but very accurate info… Thanks for sharing this one.
A must read post!


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