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Best practices

What makes a great sync?

November 29, 2016 Jenna James

On our Student Information System (SIS) Partnerships team, we often think about what makes a great sync—is it quick and easy setup? Is it a sync that sends all student contact data? Does it matter if it syncs once or twice a day? These are important questions that we think about and want to be able to prioritize when helping new partners build syncs, so we polled our internal team and a sample of our districts on this question: what makes a good sync? We gathered the answers and put together some information on our findings.

We came to the conclusion that the best sync has two main parts: 1) quick and simple setup, and 2) robust data quality.

What do these two parts look like? Breaking the two components apart – here are all the questions we considered for the setup process:

  • Can the district can setup the sync start to finish on their own? Will they need to contact the SIS support line for help during the process?
  • Can the sync be setup and working within 24 hours? Are there too many steps for a user to configure within a day? Will back and forth between the SIS rep and the district draw out the process?
  • Does the setup require technical prowess? Can users with no technical background follow the steps and configure the sync? Are there steps that require niche knowledge of the system?
  • Is there good documentation available? Are there troubleshooting steps if the district gets stuck?

These are questions we ask so we can understand the district experience—there is no perfect answer to the questions. Maybe the district calls their support line and the sync is installed within a couple of hours. Maybe the district follows a setup wizard and enters their own SFTP credentials into a graphical user interface. Maybe the district is able to download pre-made scripts and follow a few steps within the system to automate the data feed. The best setup is the one that allows districts to quickly enable the sync without encountering insurmountable technical barriers.

For data quality, we thought more about capacity—not all districts want to send all data, but having the option to send things like co-teachers, student contacts, admins, and other fields is important as districts connect to increasingly diverse learning applications.

We asked questions around what is supported:

  • Can the sync can include co-teachers?
  • Can the sync can include student contacts?
  • Do districts have a say in what optional fields are sent and not sent? Can they exclude fields like iep_status and ell_status from the feed?
  • Can the sync send the sixth Admins file?
  • Is the sync frequent? Can the district choose the time/frequency of the sync?
  • Can the sync include usernames and passwords?
  • Can sync can be customized (by the district or with the help of support)?

Not all syncs will support all these features, or they’ll support them on a district by district basis, and this is fine. The bottom line is: are we enabling our districts to connect effectively and send the right data to their applications? That’s the ultimate goal.

These are great questions for you to ask about your own integration—is there room for growth and improvement? Are there new features for you to support? If you’re a SIS looking to improve your sync, contact and we’re happy to help! Are you a district looking to make your sync better? Contact and we’ll get you connected with the right people.

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