Establish an xAPI Infrastructure: Guide to Gain Sponsorship & IT Support

Written By

Steve Foreman

Peter Berking

December 08, 2014

We all know that selling a technology-based training project to sponsors requires more than charismatic sales skills. Your sponsor will require solid WIIFM (what’s in it for me) answers. You may need to justify your project with facts and figures, concrete project plans, and endorsements from stakeholders.

If the technology-based training project you are pitching happens to be your first venture into the xAPI, the process may be a bit more complicated than usual. You will need to establish an xAPI infrastructure that includes added overhead costs. You’ll also need support from your IT department.

To acquire the necessary sponsorship and funding, you will need to convey a compelling case for introducing the xAPI to your sponsor. You will also need to enlist the IT department's help in establishing the xAPI infrastructure and making your project happen from a technology standpoint. This article provides information to help you acquire and sustain sponsorship, and elicit help from IT to make your ground-breaking project happen.

Sponsors and stakeholders

It is important to clarify what we mean by sponsor and stakeholder. A sponsor funds the project, agrees to the time frame, and provides access to the resources you will need. A stakeholder is someone your project directly impacts. While stakeholders do not provide funding, you must bring them on board as well because your solution is likely to affect them and the people who work for them.

You will need to identify and engage your sponsor and stakeholders early in order to get their buy-in and then you must take steps to sustain their support throughout the project. The process begins with your sponsor, who must see enough potential value in your project to get behind it. You can then involve stakeholders by asking them to provide input, expertise, and content, and by getting their reactions to demonstrations or prototypes to keep them interested and ensure that your solution is meeting their needs.

Educate your sponsor

For this article, we will assume that you already have buy-in from your sponsor(s) for your proposed learning solution. However, your sponsor has concerns about the investment in infrastructure the xAPI component of your solution requires. Your organization may already have a learning management system (LMS) and other technologies in its infrastructure. Why is more needed?

Your solution requires some enhancements to the learning-technology infrastructure to support the xAPI. These may include a learning record store (LRS), analytics software, and custom programming to link LMS user profile data to the LRS. This investment in infrastructure may come under a different budget category or may need apportionment across multiple xAPI projects, which means that you may need to convince more than one sponsor.

You must be ready to articulate the benefits of investing in xAPI infrastructure. Some of these are:

  1. You can track and report on more meaningful data than the enrollments, completions, and test scores your organization may be currently tracking with its LMS. Be prepared to discuss the existing business metrics you plan to impact, and what type of tracking you can incorporate in your solution to impact those metrics.
  2. Your solution can be more direct than a traditional course. Be prepared to discuss how you can build support directly into the workflow and workplace systems. Use a straw man or prototype to illustrate your solution. For example, your solution might provide just-in-time performance support for a work task or procedure.
  3. You can leverage xAPI results data to uncover problems and opportunities that emerge, even after your solution has been implemented. Be prepared to discuss any plans you have for continually improving your solution by refocusing it on the obstacles and bottlenecks that emerge as workers use the solution and as the work itself evolves.
  4. You can reuse the new xAPI infrastructure in future projects, positioning it as a new tool in your learning solutions toolkit that enables you to design additional high-impact learning solutions.
  5. You should talk about the specifics of your proposed learning solution, listing potential opportunities that may be lost by not using xAPI.

Know what to ask for

Don’t expect your sponsor to know what you will need to be successful, so be prepared to ask for what you need. If you can't articulate what you need in order to be successful, your sponsor may lose confidence in you and you may lose your opportunity.

Prepare by estimating your solution analysis, design, development, implementation, and analytics costs as well as the cost of the added infrastructure. Define your deliverables, milestones, and timeframes. Identify the resources you will need from the learning function, IT, and subject matter experts, as well as from key stakeholders and end users. Estimate how much of their time you will need and approximately when it will be needed during the course of the project.

If your primary sponsor is willing to fund the learning solution, but has reservations about funding the xAPI infrastructure, you may need to involve multiple sponsors. If you have other xAPI solutions in the pipeline, you may be able to split the infrastructure costs across projects. There may be other potential funding sources as well, so work with your primary sponsor to identify other potential funding sources.

Engage your IT department

Whenever technology infrastructure is involved, you will probably need to work with IT. You will need their buy-in and support to get your xAPI infrastructure purchased, installed, and maintained.

IT is likely to be concerned with four basic questions: (a) does it meet security requirements, (b) can the network handle the added traffic, (c) is it reliable, and (d) can we support it? You will need to work closely with IT and follow the processes they have in place to arrive at satisfactory answers to these questions.

For example, you may find that a cloud-based LRS solution is less costly and faster to implement than one hosted on the premises by your IT department. In this case, IT may need to understand what data is being collected in the cloud system, how the cloud system interfaces with on premise systems, and whether the entire architecture is in conformance with security policies. You can put your LRS vendor in direct contact with your IT department to work through some of these issues. However, it is your responsibility to ensure that your IT department's data-security requirements are addressed.

In addition to pursuing the answers to these basic IT questions, you should provide some additional information to IT about the xAPI and its potential benefits to the organization that go beyond learning.

Interoperability and platform neutrality

The xAPI is a generic method for tracking actions that take place in a system, or a collection of systems; it can track user actions and actions performed automatically by the system. Your IT department may be interested in the xAPI, not just as it relates to learning programs and technologies, but for other non-learning applications as well. The xAPI is platform neutral. It can be used within the context of any operating system (e.g., UNIX, LINUX, WINDOWS, OSX), any application framework (e.g., Java, .NET), and any device (mobile, desktop, enterprise server.) You can collect data from one or multiple systems and store it in an LRS. You can also mine data from one system and use it in another. These capabilities help make systems more interoperable.

Leveraging data warehouses and analytics

The xAPI results are readily accessible in an LRS; they make data much easier to access than most proprietary learning management systems do. IT departments will recognize the benefit in being easily able to mash-up LRS-stored data with other kinds of data, perhaps stored in data warehouses. Some examples of dashboards that mash-up data from multiple systems can be found at ADL’s xAPI Dashboard Live Demos Index.

On-ramp to semantic data solutions

One of the most important features of the xAPI is the fact that the activity statements are easily read and understood by non-programmers because they are semantically based. (Figure 1) This provides a potential on-ramp to integration with semantic web and other technologies, where events and status are described in human-readable form. Ask IT if semantic web solutions are on their roadmap.

Figure 1: Semantically based statements read like English sentences

Potential to accommodate a variety of needs, beyond learning

While the xAPI specification has emerged from the learning industry it is based on activity streams, which are rooted in social-media applications like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. It can and has been used in many contexts outside of learning. IT departments might want to explore using it as a method for tracking system or user activities in a variety of contexts. Its simplicity and flexibility make it suitable for many purposes.

Conclusion

The xAPI has the power to transform the enterprise and ultimately impact many aspects beyond training. You should not see first-time xAPI projects as self-contained eLearning development projects. They involve adding IT infrastructure, so it is therefore key that you enlist support from sponsors who understand the value of adding this infrastructure and can help get IT (and possibly other corporate sectors, such as HR) on board with your solution.

In order to get committed sponsorship, you need to be prepared to educate your sponsor and address any misgivings they might have. We hope this article will help you gain sponsorship and support for establishing your xAPI infrastructure and pave the way for your current and future xAPI projects.

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