UK Government seeks a common infrastructure built on open standards

The UK Government’s Cabinet Office has announced a strategy to deliver real financial savings and efficiency gains through the agile implementation of an ICT infrastructure that will enable the reuse and sharing of our ICT assets.

In a move that is believed to reduce the high level of risk associated with large scale ICT projects, the infrastrtucture will build upon the successes of smaller projects that have transformed services through the use of common and open standards.  By encouraging and in some cases mandating the use of open standards, joining-up all of these pockets of smaller projects to form a supportive, comfortable and long lasting king size infrastructure mattress will be simpler.

Some key points to note:

The Government will push ahead with its agenda for data centre, network, software and asset consolidation and the shift towards cloud computing.

The standardised cloud platform will also allow developers, especially SMEs, to generate innovative solutions.

A common infrastructure based on open standards will allow for greater flexibility of policies and services delivered at lower cost and within a shorter timeframe.

The use of common standards can make ICT solutions fully interoperable to allow for reuse, sharing and scalability across organisational boundaries into local delivery chains.

The adoption of compulsory open standards will help government to avoid lengthy vendor lock-in, allowing the transfer of services or suppliers without excessive transition costs, loss of data or significant functionality.

Modern, knowledge-based service delivery underpinned by effective information architecture and open standards will support government to build more transparent, trusted and efficient information exchange processes.


Influence UK Government technology standards now!

UK Government Open Standards Survey

I’m not sure how well publicised this Cabinet Office survey has been..? I stumbled across it whilst searching for something quite different.  The closing date is 20th May 2011 – so complete it today!

The results from this survey will be reviewed by the Chief Technology Officers Council and their conclusions will be published on the Cabinet Office website in the Autumn.

Here’s the background…

Government must be better connected to the people it serves and the partners who can work with it – especially small businesses, voluntary and community organisations.  Government ICT must play a fundamental role in making life easier.

One of our first goals is to organise Government data and systems using an agreed set of standards that make our ICT more open, cheaper and better connected.  To do this, we need to know which standards are most important to you.

The survey ends on 20 May 2011.  We’ve included free-text fields in the survey, so you can tell us what we have missed or which alternative standards you believe may be better.  The results from this survey will be reviewed by the Chief Technology Officers Council and their conclusions will be published on the Cabinet Office website in the Autumn.  Bear with us whilst we work through your suggestions and please understand that we’ll have to prioritise our responses.


Interoperability across the UK

A picture speaks a thousand words… And this one, a map showing the official spread of Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) implementations across England and Wales, says it all!  I’m sure that in time there will be a map to reflect the wider UK, including Northern Ireland and Scotland where there are already implementations.

UK Interoperability Map (Jan 2011)You can click on the map image to go to the UK SIF Association’s fully annotated PDF version, or visit

Do you have a SIF implementation in your area that you want to talk about and add to the blue on the map?  Get in touch now with the UK SIF Association at

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…

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.

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 To Judge Your Vendor’s Support for a Standard

An interesting blog from Michael Feldstein about “How To Judge Your Vendor’s Support for a Standard” @

Education, Skills and Children’s Services: Interoperability Review

F2MKE Logo

I have read and digested this, re-read and re-digested… My initial thoughts are that, while the overall premise is absolutely correct in terms of the potential savings that an open interoperability standard can deliver across the sector, it doesn’t seem to present any logic in the suggested dismissal of SIF as a strong contender for development to meet the requirements.

I agree that SIF does have some shortcomings at present, but these are clearly recognised by the community and the will and swell of collaborative activity between schools, LAs, RBCs, Government departments and very importantly, suppliers, is without doubt there! The community approach, of which I have been a part since mid 2007, is an extremely refreshing and productive one. Indeed, it is the only approach that I can see being plausible in the development of a truly open standard. Just look at the make-up of the W3C and that clearly works!

The work of the is critical and there is no reason why the SIF standard cannot mature to deliver on the business and data standards set out.

The report provides examples of the current weaknesses in the SIF standard, but does not mention any of the positive aspects – aspects that I can clearly evidence as already delivering tangible and intangible benefits in terms of efficiencies and education. 14 to 19 is not excluded here either!

Finally, for now, the report fails to mention any alternative standard with which to ether compare or build upon.

Have a look at the following link for the full story and in the meantime, I will digest some more 😉

SIF Case Studies and Presentations

If you are interested in increasing efficiency, saving time, improving data security and of course a better ICT experience for all, then check out the case studies and presentations below…

Solving data issues with SIF.  Examples of SIF in Norfolk, Warwickshire and South West Grid for Learning.  (Double sided A4)

Norfolk County Council – 20 January 2010.  Norfolk’s Proof of Concept (PoC). (Double sided A4)  Presentations from the SIF Association UK’s quarterly conferences.

Okay, so I’m interested in SIF… What should I do next?

You should seriously consider becoming a SIF Association UK member. The following highlights just some of the benefits of joining: SIF Association UK sees continued growth.