Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Recent Open Source SIS News

Andy McKay outlines a situation in British Columbia where they are considering replacing their multi-million dollar (mostly) province-wide SIS. Gartner advises buying something proprietary off the shelf. Some more grassroots folks I've been corresponding with want to bake their own open source. I'm dubious about a barn raising in this case -- tracking 500,000 students province-wide is nothing to sneeze at -- and I'm afraid they'll just learn that there are reasons enterprise software sucks to use that can't be overcome with agile development and spunk. Especially if you don't keep an absolutely laser focus on your own requirements. And if you DO keep that focus, you aren't going to be spending any time making sure you're creating a more generally useful open source project.

In general, I'd like to see government paying experienced and reputable vendors to write and use open source software, but this will be significantly more expensive up front, since the vendors are giving up their opportunity for future income from licensing the software. So the initiatives ultimately will have to be coordinated at a higher level, like the national government sponsoring software to be shared by all the provinces. Or perhaps just a partnership between the provinces, but isn't that what the national government is? Either way, this is still tough because you're moving much of the control even further from the end users and adding more bureaucracy. If it was easy it would have already happened.

Another scenario is the path DART is following (via Stephen). It is a locally grown standards-based SIS used in the Bering Strait School District:

DART is now a well-developed Student Information System (SIS) with many feature groups or "modules" to solve the major needs of a typical school district. Although DART is not right for every school district, it is rapidly gaining features and controls to make it more easily generalizable and customized for a typical district's needs.

The first "generalized" version of DART has been created with assistance from Carnegie Mellon University's Technology Consulting in a Global Community program (TCinGC) during the summer of 2011. Thanks to the CMU team, DART is now easy for a typical school district to customize, install and maintain. Two brilliant and energetic consultants from CMU - Bolek Kurowski and Cristina Melo - lived in Unalakleet for the summer, and helped us start to make DART generalizable for other organizations. They have done an outstanding job analyzing DART's current status, mapping the system, identifying weaknesses and mapping out alternatives for DART as a sustainable Open Source project.

So after developing a successful local tool, they're getting some outside volunteer help to make the project more generally useful. This is a promising approach, but still a big long-term project. It is one area where philanthropy could invest in "taking innovation to scale," but for the most part, it is still uncharted territory.

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