SIF Association UK and the DfE to work closely together on interoperability!

The Department for Education (DfE) has released a joint statement with the SIF Association UK stating that they “have agreed to work closely together to take forward work on the interoperability of data in the UK education system.

This is great news that should see interoperability in the UK education space energized.

It is clear that SIF Association UK members need to demonstrate “stories” that show real life implementation benefits. Stories about how SIF has reduced burdens upon schools that can be directly translated into cash to spend. How SIF has made transactions across the system easier? Where efficiency gains have been made?  And with transparency high on the current government’s agenda, how SIF is an enabler for the publicising of data? For example to parents about how well a school is performing? It is also really important and increasingly so with the advent and propagation of Free Schools and Academies, that SIF as a facilitator of local choice and control is examined.

Finally, those with an interest in interoperability should really start to consider how SIF could be developed to serve a purpose wider than the schools space?

To view the statement on the Information Standards Board website go to and on the SIF Association UK’s website in PDF at

SchoolsICT has videos of Tim Wright’s presentation and QA session at

SIF Association UK 2011 Annual Meeting

Day one of the SIF Association UK 2011 Annual Meeting has come to a close. Highlights were from Warwickshire County Council’s Emma Gelfs on using SIF to facilitate efficiency gains and an improved customer experience with free school meals data. And the South West Grid for Learning’s (SWGfL) Ian White on Merlin and in particular the lessons learnt so far!

I presented an overview of how SIF and Shibboleth are in place to deliver a “pluggable” infrastructure in Norfolk with key outcomes to:

  • Enable choice
  • Make switching simple
  • Improve data accuracy
  • Advance security
  • Leverage efficiency gains
  • Save £money
  • Put the learner at the centre

Some helpful insights for those starting on the SIF path are:

  • Have every Management Information System (MIS) publish all SIF data and let the Zone Integration Server(s) (ZIS) handle what services and applications have access to what data.
  • Try to stick to one Zone per school.
  • Let the application drive and not the SIF Agent.
  • Get your data agreements bottomed out and in place.

How well does SIF fit with this Coalition Government’s priorities?

  • It is tailor-made for localism and local improvements – choice!
  • SIF can reduce burdens such as the school census.
  • Parental choice and engagement are ripe for SIF facilitation.
  • There are great efficiency gains to be had.

I’m excited about day two – particularly an update from the Department of Education’s Chief Information Officer, Tim Wright, discussing SIF in the context of Government strategy…

What life is like ‘Off Net’

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Is the kind of fitting intro to a roll-up, or crawl, for this F2MKE blog. For I have moved home – from rurality to city heights – and in theory far more and better connectivity! Well you’d think!? Mental note – quick mention of how to switch on Caps Lock on the iPhone later… However, despite being in a dead centre postcode I struggle to get a full Vodafone GPRS signal, let alone 3G. So bang goes my plans to use my Vodafone dongle, or tether to my iPhone. So instead I have to wait nearly a full month for Virgin to activate my line and send me whatever kit comes with the bundle. Why??

So, my only option seems to be the iPhone for the next few weeks… That and much time spent at Starbucks, or McDonalds. The latter options could wind up expensive and defeat any plus points gained from lots more walking and on the doorstep convenient swimming?

Having never read the iPhone 4 manual – or any tech manual probably – And with even more use and necessity of said device, I stumbled across activating Caps Lock yesterday. A simple double-tap of the Shift key turns it blue and voila, your in capitals! How did I cope before?

SIF Association UK Video

A great video release that clearly explains what the Systems Interoperability Framework is, how it works and what benefits can be achieved.

Caught on camera!

We’re up and running now in Norfolk with our Virtual Data Centre which is hosting our Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF), Identity Management and Shibboleth Single Sign-on infrastructure… It’s all good 🙂 I’ve been in three or more minds as to whether I should share this link, but one of the minds clearly won

Virtualising SIF

Well… It’s been a mad few weeks hence being a quiety on the blog!

We’re migrating our SIF, Identity Management and Shibboleth Single Sign-on infrastructure to a ‘virtual data centre’ – a kind of private cloud.  This will give us loads of confidence in terms of scalability, high availability, sustainability and total cost of ownership, as well as alleviating the strain of managing the hardware, OS and networky side of things.

It has meant that there is much interest in what we are doing resulting in case studies, media coverage and a spell for me in front of the camera, lights and action – oh and having make-up applied in front of the team :-S

Still, I’ve learnt a few things…  It doesn’t matter how well you know your subject, asked about it in front of the camera and even a thoroughbred Bable Fish will struggle to translate your ramblings.  And, should I ever acknowledge that the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean look does have its advantages, then I now have some make-up application training 😉

If the film team are magicians and able to cut and slice the vid into something that is not too career limiting – and if I am able to post it – it will be here at some point.

SIF Association’s official response to the Education, Skills and Children’s Services Interoperability Review is published

The SIF Association’s official response to the Education, Skills and Children’s Services Interoperability Review is published. Read it here!

How much ICT infrastructure does a school really need to manage?

Let’s just start with servers…

A quick tally of the number and types of servers a typical secondary school might have sitting in a dedicated, no doubt air-conditioned, room resulted in this visual…

School Server Infrastructure Today

School Server Infrastructure Today

And a few of the disadvantages of this approach might be:

  • Some poor soul has to keep all of these running and somehow manage stay an up to date expert across a wide-ranging set of server services.
  • Each server is most likely running 24/7/365 at an average of around 200 watts – roughly £2.5k per annum in electricity bills alone and that’s quite a smelly carbon footprint to boot.

Provider: Scottish Power (Tariff: Premier Plus online, London)
Rate: 11.252 pence per kilowatt/hour
Rate last checked: 10th Sept 2009

And that’s without going down the whole maintenance and replacement, licensing and support costs. Nor factoring in stuff like resilience and security…

What if today looked something like this..?

School Infrastructure Today?

School Infrastructure Today?

A few of the advantages might be:

  • High availability resulting in high teacher confidence in the ‘invisible’ ICT.
  • Much lower total cost of ownership – subscription based access to services that you need and when you need them.
  • Flexible – add new and remove unwanted services with ease.
  • More space – no more dedicated server room.
  • Sweeter smelling carbon footprint.
  • Access from anywhere and at any time 🙂

Yeah right… But how do people login to the network?

They don’t. Ideally they single sign-on (online) into the services that they have privileges to access. Look at how you can link-up your accounts on many of the popular web based apps like Google, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and so on and on and on… In education terms this would most likely look like using the UK Access Management Federation and Shibboleth for single sign-on.

But the web isn’t advanced enough yet to support all of the teaching, learning and management tools, apps and services that we need!

Sure it is! Just check out my Delicious bookmarks for a sample… Also check out Johannes Ahrenfelt’s blog for even more ideas!

Okay… But how on earth do I keep all of these disparate apps updated with the relevant info about students and staff?

How do you right now? A combination of many different and often bespoke or proprietary methods methinks? The Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) is a promising option for education services. Get involved!

Yeah but what if our connection to the internet goes down?

Get some resilience. A fail-over connection maybe? Let’s face it, with all of those servers a potential weak point, the chances are that your internet connection is far more reliable than you might think!

What do you really think? Some good debate around this is very welcome 🙂

PS Would we still need a proxy server if, as is likely, most of the web traffic is encrypted across Secure Socket Layer (SSL) (port 443 / https)?

SIF in Norfolk

Here is a quick update on SIF in Norfolk… We are currently rolling out SIF Agents for all schools MIS’.  We are provisioning Google Apps accounts for about 130,000 users using a SIF Agent developed in-house using Edustructures ADK. The agent supports events.

We’re also keeping accounts synchronised throughout ‘the system’ via another in-house developed SIF Agent which supports the Identity Object.

The following diagram summarises:

SIF in Norfolk

Click the image to see SIF in Norfolk full size

Novell Identity Management and SIF

Doing some research on industry Identity Management (IdM) solutions and stumbled upon Novell’s Identity Manager (3.5.1) which has a SIF Agent plug-in.  The following case study may be of interest…

Alvarado Independent School District used Novell Identity Manager to automate user provisioning, and reduced administration time by 45 percent using Novell ZENworks @