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(Also abbreviated as SIF)

The Schools Interoperability Framework is an education technology industry initiative to develop a specification to provide for seamless information sharing among primary and secondary education instructional and administrative software applications. The specification is based on the W3C-endorsed XML (Extensible Markup Language) standard, thus freeing vendors from the problems of platform compatibility and proprietary formats. The resulting platform-independent, vendor-neutral guidelines and specifications provide for the easy sharing of data among disparate applications in the K-12 market.

In the absence of SIF, the many data-storing applications in a K-12 school district contain both data unique to each application and data similar to that in other applications. For example, a student's name, address, guardian, telephone number, and identification number are quite common pieces of data that are each found in several instructional and administrative applications. A student's bus route data, however, may only exist in one of the district's applications. If the student's address and phone number is changed in one of the applications in a non-SIF environment and nobody thinks to tell the administrator of the bus route application of the change, the student's bus route information on file will be incorrect and a new route will not be generated until the discrepancy is found due to a conflict or other problem.

The SIF specification is developed by members of the Schools Interoperability Framework Association (SIFA). SIFA's membership is comprised of software vendors (over 300), school districts, and various government agencies. Easy sharing of data benefits each of these sectors. Software vendors who can provide an easy way to transport data among applications have an additional selling point with SIF. School districts who use SIF to mate data applications theoretically reap immediate benefits with increased efficiency, improved data consistency, reduced support costs, and improved reporting. Government agencies benefit from improved reports from SIF-enabled districts.

Essentially, SIF-compliant applications communicate data through a Zone Integration Server (ZIS). The ZIS is a server-based middleware purchased from a SIF Zone Integration Server vendor. The ZIS acts as a central exchange for the data. When data in one application changes, that application's SIF agent (the software's module designed to handle its SIF communications) communicates that change to the ZIS. The ZIS then broadcasts the change to all other subscribed SIF-compliant applications.

Using the earlier example, when the student's phone number and address is changed in one application, in a fully SIF-enabled district, that application's SIF agent informs the ZIS server of the change. The ZIS then broadcasts that change to all the SIF-compliant applications, including the bus route application. That means that as soon as one department had the students new address, the transportation department's bus routing software also had the address and could re-plan the student's bus route. Also, the food services department got the new address and overdue lunch fee notices continue to be delivered to the correct address. And, should there be an emergency later in the day, any department would also have that student's updated phone number, thus reducing the chance of not being able to reach the guardian(s).

SIF is still a fairly young specification. Having only reached version 1.5r1 as of February 2006, SIF is not yet widely adopted, but is widely recognized as having great potential for improving data-flow in school districts.

Up to date information can be found at http://www.sifinfo.org/.

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