I’m at the Desire2Learn conference this week and will have a couple of posts up soon about the astonishing progress the company is making on a number of fronts. But I’m writing this post in response to some news that’s coming out of BbWorld. I am delighted (though a little surprised) to hear that Blackboard has just committed to releasing support for the IMS Learning Information Services (LIS) standard and will be testing interoperability with SunGard. I haven’t heard any details yet, although based on their announcements about supporting two other standards (BLTI and Common Cartridge) by the end of 2010, I’m guessing that they will get their LIS integration out some time in 2011.
With Blackboard joining the crowd, all the LMSs that have major market share in the U.S. now either have LIS support available today or have publicly committed to having it in the near future:
- Sakai supports it in all distributions.
- Moodle has it for Moodlerooms customers (although I would still like to see it available for other Moodle distributions).
- Desire2Learn has committed to supporting it soon. (In fact, one of the reasons that I’m at their conference right now is to talk about our progress in testing Peoplesoft/D2L LIS integration. It’s looking like D2L is going to have the most complete and sophisticated LMS-side implementation of LIS so far.)
- eCollege has publicly committed to getting LIS integration done as well.
By the time Blackboard finishes their implementation, we’ll have the first tier of LMS applications all standards-compliant and will be hopefully filling out the ecosystem with up-and-coming LMSs and some non-LMS systems that could benefit from the same type of integration.
Since this is my personal blog, I don’t feel compelled to write about my employer here. But I have to say that I am very proud of what Oracle has accomplished in this area and, equally importantly, how we accomplished it. When my colleagues realized four years ago (before I even joined the company) that we had an integration problem that was causing colleges a lot of pain and costing them time and money, they decided from the beginning to go the standards route. The IMS Enterprise Services standard was moribund at the time, so we really had to build a constituency for change almost from scratch. We invested an enormous amount of time not just building out our own product but also working through differences with partners, customers, and competitors alike in the standards development process. For four years, we worked on LIS every single week (with my colleague Linda Feng doing particularly heroic work chairing the working group, writing documentation, getting adopters to the test floor, and generally being the dynamo that drove the whole process). We built the very first LIS implementation anywhere and we put it out as supported software well over a year ago. When LMSs and other applications have needed to test their interoperability with the standard, we set up a test floor and made staff available to work with them. We actively recruited SunGard, our biggest competitor, to join the process. I am happy note the great milestone that, because of SunGard’s coming on board, Blackboard will be the first LIS consumer that didn’t have to come to our test floor as the only game in town. And of course, a rising tide lifts all boats. If Blackboard produces an LIS-compliant integration with SunGard, it should work with Peoplesoft Campus Solutions as well. That’s the whole point of the standard. Again, I don’t know the details of how Blackboard is doing things, but what we’re seeing with other integrations is largely an end to big consulting fees just to set up what should be a standard integration. Certainly on our side, it’s a simple setup that customers can usually either do themselves or do with a relatively modest amount of help from Oracle or from partners like Unicon.
So we’re coming into some good times for LIS. The major players are on board, with hopefully many more to come. I expect the specification to be finalized relatively soon, which will mean that everybody can be assured that there will be real plug-and-play interoperability. (We’ve been updating our implementation as the spec has evolved and have committed to be fully compliant with the final draft shortly after it has been issued.) And since our implementation is mature now, we’ve had a chance to bring out some really exciting refinements (like the ability to simultaneously integrate with multiple systems and send each only the data that it needs on the schedule that it needs), with some really advanced stuff made possible by the service-oriented architecture underlying LIS on the way.
Life is good.