The learning Platform stitch-up

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Big business appears to be closing ranks in order to force UK schools to use non-interoperable Microsoft based databases despite determined efforts from the UK Government to introduce the UK Schools Interoperability Framework (SIF).

The dominant vendors, Capita and Serco have withdrawn from Becta's SIF trials and are lobbying the Government to support their opposition to SIF.

In order to understand why this should have happened it is necessary to appreciate the upcoming developments in school management and database systems.

Databases in schools

Currently UK schools’ databases are largely confined to Management Information Systems (MIS). This sector is dominated by Capita through their long lived product Sims.net. A distant second place is taken by Serco's own MIS database and together these two companies account for over 90% of this market.

Typically monopoly markets are enjoyed and protected by the vendors that own them but are not usually equally enjoyed by clients on the receiving end. The inevitable consequence of monopolies is market abuse as the following recent memo to Surrey LA schools illustrates:

...Windows Server 2000 will not be supported by CAPITA after July 2008 and Windows 2000 workstations will not be supported after February 2008. It will therefore be necessary for all schools with these operating systems to consider upgrading them at the earliest opportunity. Four S will continue to support them for as long as possible, but it is vital that you start planning your budgets for 2008/09 with this in mind.

Microsoft’s withdrawal of support for SQL 2000 (which is the “engine” making SIMS .net work) also means that a newer version of Microsoft SQL will need to be installed later this year. The August 2007 main release of Sims.net will work on both SQL 2000 and SQL Express 2005, the newer version. However, subsequent releases of Sims will only work on the latter. Four S will issue further details on the above and instructions of what schools will need to do in order to install the new version of SQL, once they have received more information from CAPITA...

Of course extracts like the above are not news to anyone who has experienced the pain of vendor lock-in. SIF in reality will not affect the major player's market share of MIS, schools already have invested too much training and data to contemplate changing. This begs the question as why should they then be so opposed to SIF.

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