Blackboard and SCT link up
Wilbert Kraan, CETIS staff
August 12, 2003

The VLE maker Blackboard, and information systems maker SCT announced an agreement to smooth integration between two of their main products.

The SCT - Blackboard deal provides a good illustration of the kinds of lifetime costs associated with proprietary and/or legacy systems. Where, in an ideal world, something like a student record system (SRS) and a VLE would simply be able to provide the necessary information to each other using standard data formats and protocols, a lot of people are stuck with systems that only sort of support specs, or not at all.

The integration that is announced now concerns Blackboard's Learning system and a dedicated set of system integration products that make up SCT's Luminis platform. The integration deal essentially concerns some tweaking of a Blackboard 'Building Block' extension and some coding in SCT's Luminis Software Development Kit (SDK).

To put it differently: to get your SRS to talk to your VLE, you need at a minimum a) a dedicated data integration product, b) some tweaking of that integration product c) some tweaking of the VLE. This all assumes that the SRS can talk to the integration server directly (which is fairly likely). Needless to say, all of these stages cost. Quite a bit.

What a deal like the one between SCT and Blackboard does is reduce the cost of stages b) and c)- provided you have SCT Luminis and Blackboard. If you don't, the integration will be (more) custom and therefore more expensive.

Should you have SCT Banner and WebCT Campus Edition, the integration looks slightly cheaper: no custom tweaking in the middle, just an SRS that talks to the VLE via one custom adapter. But you'd be utterly tied to both these products for a fairly long time, because the conduit between them is a one trick pony. At least with Luminis you could conceivably rip out either the SRS or the VLE, or add something else. Should those other systems have any notion of the IMS Enterprise spec, so much the better, because Luminis provides at least some support for the 1.0 version.

Which brings back the specs: clearly, the dreamed of plug and play interoperability between enterprise systems is not upon us yet. But with the fairly imminent web services spec that IMS is going to add to their existing Enterpise data model, some savings can already be made in the three stage dollar rocket of present system integration. Once you have an integration product that talks IMS Webservices for Enterprise properly, every subsequent new or replacement system will be that much easier, and therefore cheaper, to integrate. Even if only because the customisation of a new, less than standards compliant system will be to a known entity (the standard), rather than a from-scratch customisation. Insist on vendors providing their own standard adapters like those defined by the OKI, and you eliminate any degree of customisation altogether.

The announcement of the Blackboard - SCT deal can be found on the Blackboard website.

More information on the SCT Banner and Luminis products can be found on the SCT products page.

Find out more about the IMS Enterprise specification on the IMS Enterprise page, or the CETIS Enterpise SIG site.