It’s now much easier to calculate the cost of linking a school district’s disparate digital systems together thanks to new tools released Wednesday by the Consortium for School Networking.
The K-12 advocacy group has made two new tools available through its Interoperability Standards initiative to eliminate confusion about how much money and effort a district’s IT office can expect to incur for a given interoperability project. One tool is an online calculator, developed with help from Double Line, an education data management company, and the other tool is a downloadable spreadsheet template that helps users calculate project costs and staffing hours.
“The goal is to really help them estimate the cost of integrating platforms and learning tools that were not built on open standards,” said Paula Maylahn, CoSN’s project director of interoperability.
She said many districts are spending a lot of time on things that perhaps they wouldn’t if they only realized what these complex upgrades were costing them, as there are frequently more cost-effective solutions. Short of upgrading to modern platforms that circumvent many interoperability issues, Maylahn said districts can often work with their vendors to improve how various systems connect with one another.
In any case, she said, using these calculators will arm administrators with data to understand the size of a project before committing to it.
Success with interoperability has seen a steady rise in K-12 school districts in recent years. CoSN’s 2019 K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report shows that the number of districts reporting either partial or completed interoperability projects rose to 69 percent compared to 62 percent the year prior.
But the report also shows large gaps in implementation across single sign-on, data dashboards, data interoperability and content interoperability. CoSN CEO Keith Krueger told EdScoop that although his organization has observed sustained progress in recent years, “many school districts have a long way to go.”
“In many districts it has proved an insurmountable challenge because they don’t have a lot of technical expertise typically,” Krueger said.
Both tools are additions to the organization’s broader initiative to support interoperability efforts in schools. A key piece of that effort is CoSN’s maturity model, a matrix of capabilities that schools can consult to determine how mature their interoperability efforts are on an objective scale — from Level 1 to Level 5. An online self-assessment tool offered by CoSN provides a multiple-choice to completing the evaluation process.
Krueger said that armed with this information and the data that districts can gather through CoSN’s new calculators, administrators will be able to make stronger business cases as they advocate for their technology needs.
“The real cost of lack of interoperability is often hidden,” Krueger said. “It’s the burden of the user, it’s the burden of the department to find the data to fit together, rather than thinking of the time or energy it takes to do that.”