Data Interoperability

What is Data Interoperability?

Data Interoperability is the process of sharing information between data systems, often by way of physically transferring data from one location to another, and either straight like for like transfer for systems that recognise that same data methodology, or involving one or many instances of translation of data into a format one or both sides can recognise and utilise.

How does Data Interoperability work in and benefit education data systems?

The ability to share information hardly needs any explanation; from supplying a new school about a student’s previous attainment in a previous establishment, to comparing cross authority or cross country performance, to providing real-time updates on an individual’s location, attendance or non-attendance to proactive intervene and safeguard, are just some of many positives.

But further to this, is the ability to for systems to interact in a common format and language. While nearly every database, warehouse and processing system with be built differently and to different standard, the importance for those to communicate using common standards (as simple as what does each system call a field of data, Date of Birth for example) is critical to the success of any data interoperability, and so the successes of the benefits that come from sharing of data. Complexity builds exponentially when deciding on the security, privacy and integrity of the data; who owns it, who controls it, who or what is considered the ‘master data source’. For the real successes of data interoperability come from the appropriate use of the data by the appropriate individuals, who can use the information to take appropriate actions.

Current projects and initiatives

One of the most prevalent data interoperability initiatives in the UK is SIF. SIF (Schools Interoperability Framework) provides a common data format to which information can be translated into, as well as protocols for sending, receiving, requesting and broadcasting information from one system to another, or one system to many.
SIF is a member-maintained yet recognised standard, not just in the UK but also America and Australia, and is a standard that is purely concerned with the data, and not the application(s) that use that data, although SIF can and is integrated into applications.

Where can you find out more about these?

Who can help?

There are many software providers who have incorporated SIF, either as a data standard, communication protocol or both into their software, opening up their applications (their data sets) to be accessed by other applications also using SIF. In addition, government bodies and local authorities/districts have constructed their own SIF implementation to service data interoperability with their region and communicating with their schools.

There are also providers of middleware that use SIF and elements of SIF to provide a communication link between one or several applications that have not/will not/cannot adopted SIF themselves, or more positively wish to benefit from the interactions already in place using middleware providers to expand reach, depth or breadth of data accessibility. Graham has worked for a number of such providers, including currently Groupcall.

There are hundreds of organisations from governments to Local Authorities/Districts to product vendors that utilise SIF as a data interoperability standard, and many hundreds more worldwide that in some form utilise bespoke or market standard data interoperability methods (of course, SIF is mentioned heavily here as it is dedicated to the schools/education data market).

The list of these that are members of SIF can be sound on the SIF website.

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