Since Ed-Fi technology is born from the practical needs of our community, we decided to interview Cliff Lloyd, CIO of the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE), about his state’s involvement with the development of Ed-Fi technology. Tennessee was one of the 5 original states to back the Ed-Fi Alliance in July 2011. Since then, the TNDOE has been a trailblazer in the development of Ed-Fi technology such as the Ed-Fi Operational Data Store. Now available in Beta release, the Ed-Fi ODS gives agencies a simpler, more cost-effective way of connecting and maintaining systems. We previewed Tennessee’s contribution last fall and used the community’s feedback to make it better. Here are a few of the valuable insights and experiences that Cliff shared with us about the development process, contributions to the community, and the future implications of this work.

Q: Who do you credit with helping you get involved with the Ed-Fi Alliance, and what motivated you to contribute to the community?

A: It was a “perfect storm” of events. A former colleague of mine from Microsoft, Chris Moffatt, reached out to me when I returned to the education industry and told me about the work of the Ed-Fi Alliance. I immediately saw the merits of this form of education data standardization. Tennessee also happened to be an early adopter of Ed-Fi technology so when I become CIO, Richard Charlesworth showed me the incredible work the Department was doing in this area. I found this smart use of technology to improve teaching and learning very compelling, so I’m delighted to be continuing what Richard started.

Q: What do you see as the direct benefits of sharing development among the Ed-Fi community of education leaders?

A: I think the benefits are broad. States will be able to share application development investments instead of each state constantly reinventing the wheel. Small, innovative education vendors will be freed from the barrier imposed by the high cost of implementation, creating a wider range of technology choices for schools. Districts will be able to leverage advanced analytics and machine learning to support early warning, intervention, and individualized lesson planning.

Q: How do these incremental technology improvements benefit the Tennessee Department of Education?

A: The Ed-Fi Alliance has accomplished in a few short years what other organizations have failed at for decades. The creation of real code and schemas that can be used in practical applications sets Ed-Fi apart from other standards. The Tennessee Department of Education benefited from the “bootstrapping” provided by the Alliance’s vision, which drove stakeholder buy-in and allowed us to secure grants to fund much of the cost. Without these achievements, the TN DOE would be left with just another custom development that may or not get funded.

Q: Is there anything about this experience (related to your state or contributions to the community) that you would do differently if you had to do it over again?

A: Hindsight is always 20/20, but within our agency, I would focus much more on developing internal software development expertise and relying less on external vendors. I would also base the contracts more on deliverables, as opposed to hours consumed. I would have intervened earlier on aspects of our implementation of the platform that appeared to offer scalability challenges.  Related to the community, I would have guarded against deviation from the Ed-Fi Data Standard at key inflection points throughout development. I would do this by pushing for a resolution road map from the Alliance instead of using short-term workarounds that result in our implementation of the standard being broken.

We’d like to thank Cliff for his candid responses and dedication for continuing to drive forward the vision that Richard Charlesworth and team set out to realize. You can now explore the Beta release of the Ed-Fi Operational Data Store to see some of the extraordinary contributions made by Tennessee – and how other states like Michigan are “standing on the shoulders of giants.”