Coventry University takes an educated approach to data integration with MuleSoft
Legacy systems can prevent universities from creating the digital services that undergraduates require, so Coventry is using MuleSoft to create a fresh approach to business change.
Coventry University is using MuleSoft technology to break bigger systems into data-led services that can meet the fast-changing requirements of students around the globe.
The fast-growing institution – which teaches students offline in Coventry and at other campuses, as well as providing online lessons to individuals around the world – is looking to build a digital foundation for continuing business change.
The organization is using MuleSoft’s integration platform to support Agile transformation processes. Then, when the institution wants to change direction, the business won’t be held back by legacy technology systems. Stephen Booth, the university’s CIO, says:
What we've had across all of our systems is big monoliths that are difficult to change. We have a giant student records system that connects to a finance system, and we've got lots of these bits of string gluing different systems together, such that every time you try and change something, it's a huge amount of work. Putting in something like MuleSoft lets us break up those monoliths into smaller systems that we can change a piece at a time and it simplifies the way in which we integrate data.
Booth says MuleSoft’s platform provides a degree of surety. Having a single integration point means that, when the IT team makes changes, they know how systems and services are going to work, so testing is reduced and speed is increased:
It's built on top of a cloud stack. As well as the platform, you typically get a customer success architect who will work with you to implement that platform. You get a lot of pre-formed patterns of use, so best practices that have been codified into how to achieve integration. And they have training programs, whereby you can get your own staff up to speed, so that they can operate on the platform and be certified.
Coventry has been live on MuleSoft for about 18 months. Before implementing the platform, the university undertook a full tender process and a proof-of-concept evaluation, during which it narrowed down potential vendor partners from 10 to three. MuleSoft was chosen because it offered the most complete solution, recalls Booth:
It wasn't the cheapest in terms of cash on the day, but when you look at total cost of ownership, because MuleSoft is fully formed with all these connections, you can be more productive more quickly. Some of the solutions were like a box of Lego bricks. They can do everything, but you've got to build it all yourself. We're also a Salesforce customer, so there's a fairly natural synergy there in terms of the platform as well.
The biggest project running on the platform to date is the university’s Student Engagement Program, which aims to re-imagine the way in which Coventry works with its undergraduates and postgraduates. Booth says too many academic systems focus on the requirements of staff and he wants to develop a student-centric approach:
We've looked across the entire student lifecycle, not just being a student applicant. So, starting from initial first contact through to recruitment, attraction, enrolment, support and being alumni at the other end, we've tried to look at the whole lifecycle and to re-envision that.
That approach has entailed a rewrite of the university’s legacy student records platform, which had become large and unwieldy. The aim is to create a system with a more social dimension that allows the university to support communities of interest. Booth’s team started this process by focusing on the admission process, which meant building integrations with the legacy student records platform:
We can't just switch it off. And that's where MuleSoft comes in and sits in the middle. If you imagine a successful applicant joining Coventry, they have to register with us on our virtual-learning environment, pay course fees and enrol in the student records system. All those things require integrating and that's what we use MuleSoft for.”
The technology provides other benefits, too. As well as a platform for Agile transformation, Booth says MuleSoft has boosted service robustness. He cites the example of a major finance system upgrade, which his team had to run during Coventry’s main enrolment period:
In the past, we'd have had to make a hard choice of slowing transformation down or interrupting enrolment for a day and all the problems that brings. With MuleSoft, we were able to do that upgrade, and take the finance system down, without impacting enrolment. So, we've seen that improvement in overall service availability as opposed to maybe system availability, and that's such an important transition to be thinking in service terms rather than just system terms.
Booth also points to the ability to drive further transformational change. The legacy student records system has 180 integrations with other systems. By the time his team has finished their re-imagination and rewriting work, Booth envisages that number will be down to 40:
That is a massive improvement in our ability to maintain the platform and to change because we've got fewer things to test.
The university’s long-term plans for integration include replacing the entire legacy student records system, which will probably take another two-to-three years at least. The institution is currently adopting SAP SuccessFactors as its HR system. Booth says they’re integrating SAP with the university’s wider business environment through MuleSoft:
The vision is to put MuleSoft and integration at the centre to enable continual change. There are future capabilities of the platform we're also interested in. They're bringing out some RPA technology in terms of automation that we will get into but right now the focus is on making it the centre of our integrated ecosystem.
Booth’s main advice for other CIOs thinking about implementing MuleSoft is to avoid seeing the platform as just another technology project:
The really powerful thing for us has been the fact that it's enabled an operational change to an Agile delivery model. So, don't lose the opportunity to change the way in which you work because that's where you’ll really see benefits and that is where you can really start to deliver a meaningful digital transformation as opposed to just putting in the next shiny bit of tech.