Cluster Reply have worked with one of England’s leading research universities to provide a cloud based integration platform. This platform will support their evolving business as they build upon their heritage to provide an excellent student experience, embracing the future by focusing on digital transformation.
One of the strategic objectives for the university is to consolidate excellent teaching and continue to improve the student experience, responding to students’ growing expectations of enhanced academic quality, support services, facilities, accommodation and pathways to employment. A key aspect in meeting this objective is to have a modern integration solution providing interfaces between the core university systems providing services for both students and staff.
In late 2019, Cluster Reply undertook an integration design workshop, from which an integration strategy and architecture was recommended. This led to Cluster Reply being engaged to architect and deliver an Azure integration solution using the Cluster Reply QuickConnect Framework working closely with the University’s in house development team.
The Cluster Reply and University teams worked collaboratively throughout 2020, with the core integration solution and first interfaces going live in the summer. The teams have continued to work together through to Spring 2021 when the last element of the legacy integration platform had been migrated. The in house development team continue to extend the integration solution, with Cluster Reply providing an ongoing support service.
While the University had a legacy integration solution based on Oracle SOA Suite, it had evolved in an ad-hoc manner, with an inconsistent approach. With growing license costs, coupled with a desire for a ‘cloud first’ digital transformation strategy, the university were looking for a partner to recommend and lead the deployment of a modern cloud based integration platform to meet changing business requirements that applied best practice.
The shift to remote student engagement and an increase in remote learning was accelerated with the emergence of COVID, and it was imperative for the university to have an integration platform that was flexible and extensible to quickly react to ongoing change.
As well as delivering the integration solution, there was a requirement for the existing in house development team to be engaged with the project, utilising their extensive knowledge of the business and the current implementation, and at the end of the project for them to be self-reliant, able to support and extend the platform in the future.
The integration solution needed to be able to respond to changes in university priorities, offering flexibility and adaptability to offer a continued level of service for the staff and students, minimising educational impact. Ensuring that the core student and staff information held in SITS as the Master Data repository is automatically and reliably reflected in other university systems such as the virtual learning system which is instrumental in delivering a quality service.
Cluster Reply implemented an Azure hosted Enterprise Integration Platform as a Service solution for the university. Based upon an Enterprise Service Bus architecture, the solution delivers efficient integration providing resilience and flexibility; a foundation upon which future integration requirements can be delivered. Using Cluster Reply’s QuickConnect accelerator kickstarted the solution development, and took advantage of the core components that are pre-tested and ready to use. A number of projects were undertaken to both migrate from the existing Oracle integration solution and the solution is easily extensible to support exciting new initiatives within the university.
The engagement was delivered in line with Cluster Reply’s proven capability enhancement model, with the initial development undertaken by Cluster Reply developers, then moving to a hybrid development team which included team members from the university, and finally transitioning to a point where the university in house team could lead the delivery with just support and guidance from Cluster Reply.
The project was delivered using an Agile Scrum methodology. The university development team had no previous experience of Agile practices, but adopting the sprint based technique ensured regular review and validation throughout the delivery and contributed to the success of the project. The new approach was quickly understood by all involved; it enabled flexibility within the delivery plan and ensured buy-in from stakeholders throughout the delivery.
The teams from the university and Cluster Reply had to adapt to remote working early in the project, but with the flexibility of a cloud based solution the transition was seamless with no impact to delivery or collaboration. The programme was delivered successfully, and as well as deployment of the integration solution, the in house developers had built up their knowledge and skills with both the Azure platform and the Agile approach to a level where they were confident to both provide day to day support, and build upon the integration platform going forward. The admin portal provided by Cluster Reply as part of QuickConnect gives the university support team an end to end view of the integrations running, assisting them with the day to day support of the solution.
Cluster Reply continue to offer third line support through a service contract, and will be available to provide ongoing consultancy and development support for the university as their business grows and evolves.
Integrated systems include those listed below as well as a number of bespoke university applications: