Integration technologies are now more important than ever, as Higher Education customers look at adopting SaaS applications and interact with a wider variety of data consumers. This includes old technology, new technology, leading edge technology, and industry-specific solutions. With these ever-expanding technology footprints, how do we find the right integration technology fit?
No One-Size-Fits-All
Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Integration solutions will be driven largely by the type of data being transmitted and the need for security governance; the variety of end-point consumption frameworks; and the frequency/interactive capability required for application integration.
The Data
Starting with the data, there are several considerations to keep in mind. First, the number of consumers for a particular set of data is important to understand. For example, if you have many applications that use HCM data to deliver content to consumers, having control of that data distribution is going to be important. In situations like this, a ‘bus’ solution may be a better fit than point-to-point. This type of solution data is published to a single location then consumed by multiple application sources (in the cloud or locally).  If there are few connection points for the data, a standard point-to-point solution may be a better fit…or even a solution using SFTP and traditional flat files.
End-Point Consumption Frameworks
The type of consumption method (not the data) is also important to understand. Most SaaS-based solutions today use technology such as XML and Web Services to present and consume data.  However, those models and inputs could vary greatly, so a translator of sorts is needed. The translator (or ETL) is something that will be native to many of the middleware integration solutions on the market. The ETL is usually a component of BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) or built into a Bus delivery mechanism. Still, not all solutions on the market that perform this translation are created equal. Before looking at which solution is the best fit for the campus, I recommend that you first define the requirements for each group of data consumers. These requirements will comprise a roadmap – something we can all use these days.
Interactive Capability and Frequency of Transmission
Interactive capability and frequency of transmission are also important to define before finalizing a solution. There are some types of interfaces, such as those going to the bank once per week, which can use a full-featured integration tool but do not need to. Instead, SFTP works great and is relatively cheap to maintain. However, with so many systems now delivered over the Internet, the level of interaction becomes more important. End users demand sub-second response and system updates, or they will not use the system. Therefore, other ways to handle communication many need to be considered. Sometimes, using middleware and integration tools is the only way to resolve these issues.
Solve One Problem…
Like all things, integration tools, solve one problem and create another. Integration tools require vastly different skillsets – skills usually not native to a higher education organization. Additionally, these tools require their own architecture and come with associated complexity. So, while my intention here is not to dig deep into those challenges for an organization, I do want to recognize that there is a barrier to entry. With that said, integration products are evolving, and more competitive business models are starting to develop.
Find the Right Fit
Define your business requirements first – based on data/security, consumption and interactive needs. Then, find the product and solution that is right for you. The shoe will fit.