Getting Started with Unity...

What makes Unity so compelling for additional technical development?

Last clocked at 375 million records per hour the SIF Infrastructure Specification 3.x is over 24,000 times more scalable than 2.x when moving events end-to-end.  This performance isn’t just nice to have, it is the difference between doing some time critical use cases well vs. not at all!  Whether you are looking to benefit from timely  data or just consume all your incoming messages before the next morning the Global SIF Infrastructure of today has got even the biggest education ecosystem covered.

Unity not only brings together the best aspects of all our North American data model efforts for the last two and a half decades with the global Infrastructure, but continues to receive the A4L Communities attention and further development efforts. Below you will find example use cases that benefit from one or more of these three aspects.  Only through our continued work can we keep the Unity data model up to date and working for all our members.

How can you best leverage the backwards compatible data model?

For those of you coming to Unity from SIF 2.x the more you learn about the Infrastructure the more you’ll ask the question, “How do I get there: quickly, with the least amount of effort possible, and without sacrificing quality.”  For many there are paths that balance these three criteria and it all starts with the backwards compatible data model.

For those building software the goal is to replace the Infrastructure components while maintaining your data model code.  While this generally equates to half the work, for many it is even better news.  For those working from the old Java and .NET frameworks.  Nearly direct replacements are available.  Stemming from the common use of xjc and xsd.exe the SIF 3 Frameworks are ready to provide the SIF 3 Infrastructure layer based on these same tools.  The Unity Adoption Guide includes chapters dedicated to getting started with both of these open source resources.

For those of you partnered with other organizations for your SIF capabilities, keep in mind that fundamentally you’re looking to replace the Infrastructure half of the software.  Additionally the data model is still published the same way, so any tool that was used to help create the data layer should still work.  If your provider does more custom things there is still good news, REST is much more common than SIF 2.x ever was so experts are available.  To help determine if it will be worth the investment, check out the next section.

What is YOUR Use Case?

The first step in “what do I want to hook together?” is just that – what is the use case or “pain point” you are trying to address?  It could be simple rostering applications to the more complicated interactions between dozens and dozens of applications.  Some example use cases using the SIF Specification like “Unity” include:

'How To' steps

Application Inventory

Ideally you have a list of applications that you would like your application to interoperate with.  The following score sheet can be used to help judge how ready any application is to run Unity natively.
          Unity: Marketplace Providers Readiness Score Sheet

Find out what data then needs to be shared between them.  (BTW, if you are an A4L Member you can use the SDPC Resource Registry which allows you to streamline app contracting, management and communications!).  Also make sure you visit the SIF Certification Registry – your application may already be certified and presenting all of this information!

Option A: Choose Integrator

There are great partners out there who can help you – it is the business they are in!  Check out the Vendors on our Members/Partners page and use this set of questions as part of your “interview” process!

          Integrator Questions

Option B: Do It Yourself

So you are interested in “DIY Projects”? Great we have lots to help you with your task.  Here is what you can do to start exploring if this is the right decision for you!

Decision Steps

No matter if you are looking for an application to be a provider or consumer of educational data, the process is similar no matter what technology is used.  The “decision tree” will help make your challenge even easier! 

With Unity, combining an established and proven scalable REST infrastructure with familiar data model components to build a SIF adaptor has never been easier or more affordable. Follow the decision tree to help determine the right path for you! However, keep in mind that the REST based infrastructure empowers consumers to do much more than before; only concern yourself with building a provider if your system will be the ‘source of truth’ for at least one object.

(This decision tree assumes you are seeking to create your own SIF Adaptor.  Those looking for a partner to SIF enable their software should check out our integrator members here.)

SIF Standards: Technical Handbook

If you are new to the SIF standard, this is a very good place to start. The SIF Standards: Technical Handbook lays out all the pieces you need to get started, and also talks through some practical examples where meaningful data exchanges happen without much effort addressing Authentication, Infrastructure and Data.

Work Together…


Need more empowering?  You and your peers should ALWAYS promote marketplace providers using standards – no matter where they come from!  It lets you leverage your current and future investments, give you true “choice” in products” and creates common expectations between you and your vendor partner.

Providing ‘In Use’ examples of SIF RFP and Legislative Language, this document will help you craft the right questions for your prospective vendors.  This document highlights SIF 3x Specifications, but can easily be tailored for any SIF Specification.

If the goal of your project is to identify new IEP Reporting tools that support the latest standardized IEP portion of the SIF Specification then this document will help you.  Usage of SIF Specifications allow for the integration of current data from multiple source systems into a single structure.

Certification Registry

The objective of the Access 4 Learning (A4L) Community is to enable disparate vendor applications to exchange data, without the end-user re-entering data multiple times, to provide secure and consistent information to all applications ensuring privacy with access.  The A4L Community established the SIF Certification Program to help ensure that data is successfully transferred between applications and that the transferred data successfully resides in all sharing applications, by using an open, community developed data standard – the SIF Specification.

The SIF Certification Program is a voluntary program, and is open to any member of the A4L Community, benefiting both customers and vendors by:

  • Providing end users an assurance of a high level of conformance and interoperability between SIF-certified products.
  • Reducing the vendor’s costs and risks involved with getting a product certified.

More information: Please review the SIF Certification Registry.