by Byron Connolly

Educators tap iPaaS to boost cloud integration

Feb 08, 2018
Cloud ComputingEducation Industry

Sydney’s University of Technology (UTS) and Study Group are turning to an integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) offering to ease the transition of their key applications to the cloud.

In 2016, UTS created its ‘Application 2020’ strategy to steadily move the university to cloud-based application platforms to simplify its infrastructure over the coming years. For many years, UTS has struggled with the deployment of a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to support its on-premise applications, according to David O’Connor, manager – IT enterprise architecture and strategic planning at UTS.

“We have a reasonably big on-premise footprint in terms of integration, but we could never quite get it to where we wanted it to be despite lots of investment,” O’Connor said. “Integration is a pain point for us; we get lots of complaints about how long new applications take to integrate – it’s been like that for years.”

To overcome this problem, the UTS rolled out the Dell Boomi iPaaS platform which is helping to drive organisational and cultural change inside the university.

Last year, the university also combined its application integration and data and analytics teams to reflect the importance it places on data, said O’Connor. These teams previously worked separately using different technology stacks.

“Now we have the opportunity to use a common underlying toolset and take a unified approach to the movement of data across our applications and warehouses,” he said.

O’Connor added that UTS will also start making the toolset available to people outside of IT.

“Universities are very complex environments; we don’t control all the technology, we don’t want to. What we want is a robust mechanism for moving data around the organisation and make it available in a controlled fashion when it’s the right thing to do.

“With this project, we have also stood up several production APIs, and integrated production applications. For example, we’ve hooked it [the Boomi platform] up to our Amazon RedShift data warehouse and have developed additional APIs outside of the original projectscope, which is unheard of in the projects that we run.It is often a struggle just to get projects in on budget and on time,”O’Connor joked. “So this is a good news story for us.”

Future projects

UTS has some significant tech projects coming down the line include replacing some ERP platforms, and deploying a new learning management system. The application integration capabilities will play a key role in opening up the university’s data to students and researchers in new ways.

“We want to get some innovation happening across the university. As an example, this week we got a request from one our faculties who want to create a repository for determining the softer requirements for classes depending on who’s in the class and the timetable etc. In the past, that was a nightmare to do – but now we have some of those APIs ready to go so we will see IT increasingly saying yes to those kind of requests,” said O’Connor.

One of the most significant constraints UTS’ tech team needs to manage when moving apps to the cloud is the organisation’s sometimes limited capacity for change, said O’Connor.

“In the high education space in particular, a lot of the software markets are quite immature. It’s not that easy to just simply [deploy] a SaaS-based platform to do our research management – there are not a lot of options out there sometimes and some of the options that are out there are only [available] on-premise. You could put them in a managed hosting environment but that’s not ideal for us either and because of that it’s going to take some time,” he said.

Connecting critical data worldwide

Meanwhile, Study Group is using the same integration platform to connect data generated within its student management systems, Salesforce and other core applications, as well as simplify its cloud migration.

“We have very long sales cycles – in many cases up to a year – so data moves between different systems as students go through different stages of their learning journey,” said Marty Grant, global head of delivery and architecture at Study Group.

“In the past, our on-premise integrations risked data getting out of sync or taking a long time to update across the board – and due to the complexity of the approach, it was difficult to amend an issue when it occurred,” said Grant.

“We are now at a point where we have visibility over data, which has made employees more productive and further boosted trust in our systems from the agents with whom we partner – that’s important when you consider 80 per cent of our business comes through that channel.”

The Boomi platform processes data accurately to-the-minute no matter where it was accessed or the system in which it was updated. This level of availability has encouraged staff and agents to engage with the organisation’s software and services more frequently.

Study Group also expects that the majority of its core systems to be in the cloud within five years.

“As we move further down our cloud roadmap, having a dedicated cloud-based integration capability will make it very easy to shift data off premises, and any new services we deploy can be connected with a few clicks,” said Grant.

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