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Getting (Streamline) Started with the e-framework

Posted by johnheap on March 27, 2008

On the JISC e-framework site, you will now find a new heading … Getting Started. This offers a range of resources designed to explain the concepts and practises of the e-framework … something badly needed (explanation) as anyone who read my earlier criticism of the documentation will know.

So, does the “Getting Started” material help?

Well, there is an animated video (well-produced) which does quite a good job of explaining the basic concept … and why such a framework might help in improved sharing and re-use of data and in managing the expanding number of applications and systems in large organisations.

The other documents that sit alongside this video offer more detail about the various issues that relate to the development of a common framework across an entire industry (global education) and to the technical issues involved.

Though there does seem sometimes an element of this documentation having been ‘simplified’ from earlier documentation (rather than having been designed from scratch for a non-technical audience), the new set of documentation does a much better job of introducing the e-framework.

Those who have read some of the – at times impenetrable – earlier versions will be pleased to find simple summaries of main topics such as:

Service oriented approach
A service oriented approach describes a way of building systems using discrete service components. This highly flexible approach reduces the costs of system development and maintenance through reuse of components. Reusing services in this way also improves interoperation between systems and simplifies the extension of system capability.

Services
Services perform specific tasks. These can be made available over the web – a well-known example of a service is Google Search. Others may be less well-known but could be just as useful – an example could be an authentication service (checking that you are who you say you are). Services can be implemented using various technologies. The most common technology used today is referred to as “web services”.

Standards
In order for a range of services to be able to work together they must conform to a set of technical standards. Standards enable services and systems to ‘talk to each other’ and exchange data. At a simplistic level this is analogous to agreeing to country codes that enable international telephone communications.

Service Usage Models (SUMs)
SUMs are developed by communities to address their particular learning, teaching or research requirements. SUMs provide an analysis of the tasks involved, identify the sets of services that will be called upon, how they will work together, and provide information that developers will require to create the interoperability points for particular applications.

Implications for Streamline

If we take just this ‘executive summary’ of key terms within the overall concept (and remember, I have seen the video!), then it is clear that the Streamline project must:

  • Be aware of the evolving e-framework and the benefits it can bring in the longer term
  • Recognise where outputs of the streamline project might be ‘services’ more widely applicable – and ensure they are made available in a form that helps this wider use
  • Be aware of – and work to – the sets of standards that govern software and service development – especially in the world of, education
  • Construct our own Service Usage model for the workflows we are trying to model within the project – and make these models available in a format which aids their dissemination and understanding.

Using the e-framework gets simpler as you start to understand it better.

The JISC is to be congratulated for listening to earlier criticism of the documentation and responding positively. I am sure the new materials will help others – like the Streamline team – to understand and work within the e-framework.

John Heap
March 2008

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