Key takeaways from Connectivity Track

Susanne Asteljoki Data Management Consultant, Solita

Published 09 Aug 2023

Reading time 6 min

What is an integration? Not that many of us know what they are. But in our everyday life, we are surrounded by them. When you are buying groceries online, paying bills, logging into social media or checking your lab results from health care service app. Integration is the connecting bridge which enables the data to flow between different systems and applications. Integration systems improve the convenience, accuracy, and coordination of different services and processes. They help deliver better user experience and make organisations more efficient. The focus being on sharing data between different systems not only with users or within an organisation but also within business partners. Integration Specialist builds these connections to help companies use their data more effectively in their day-to-day business. 

Because integrations are so vital part of doing business in this day and age, more Integration people are needed and welcomed to the field. Solita’s Data Academy is arranged twice a year and its Connectivity Track gives a jump start for future data and connectivity experts in their professional careers. Here are some key integration related takeaways from two participants of Solita’s latest Data Academy last spring.

Data Academy started in March, and it lasted for six weeks. After three weeks’ general onboarding, participants split into their respective specialisation tracks. We took part in the Connectivity i.e., API and Integration Track where we had separate sessions about the basics of agile integration development, project work, integration patterns, scrum and agile development and integration architecture. The Integration Track also included a walk-through of different integration technologies used in Solita. Even though there was a lot of ground to cover, sessions were balanced so that in between technical training there were sessions about ways of working at Solita, project work, lean and scrum. Customer and project work-related sessions felt especially fruitful because adopting effective ways of working usually requires having an example provided by the wider working community.

During Integration focus weeks we recognised five illuminating and valuable takeaways we felt were worth sharing.

  1. Integrations are all about making sure the data flows from one system to another reliably and securely. But integrations are also about people. A large amount of time is used communicating with different stakeholders: customers, teams, managers, 3rd parties, other Solita experts etc. The idea that an Integration Specialist would develop APIs and integrations by themselfs is only partially true. You need to communicate what you are currently doing. You also need to inform others when there is something you need help with. It is crucial to know what others in the team are doing. All relevant stakeholders must let the team know if project plans or focus has changed. For an integration specialist it is valuable to ask the right questions to connect the dots, clarify the needs of different stakeholders if needed and Project Managers/Product Owners have to make sure that each party understands the requirements.
  2. Quality and efficiency in working are achieved through automation and minimising the amount of manual work using continuous integration and deployment in development processes as well as Infrastructure as Code (IaC) for environments and infrastructure. Merging changes to the mainline reduces the risk of multiple integration conflicts and failures when the branch is merged back as not so many changes have happened in the repository during the development. Implementing automated tests to the development process reduces the amount of manual work and increases reliability. Version control and automated releases ensure that exactly the same release with exactly the same functionality is deployed to different environment when required. Version control enables traceability and a way to roll back changes if something goes wrong.
  3. Many integration platforms notify of errors and malfunctions according to their error handling implementation or configuration. But for larger scale integration and API setups, monitoring capabilities are a must. Monitoring is not useful only in the development and deployment phase. Monitoring tools are one of the main tools for continuous services. Reliable integrations are often crucial for customers’ business processes, so it is important to make sure that the implemented integrations work as they should the whole time they are actively used. When monitoring is provided by Solita, automated alerts are implemented enabling rapid response to alarms and potential incidents.
  4. Integration architecture may seem daunting for someone whose work doesn’t mainly revolve around architectural questions. But architectural considerations are valuable for everyone working with APIs and integrations. For example, it is important to understand the systems you are building an integration for. Without this knowledge, you are not able to see if the integration you have built is the right fit. There is no black and white or good and bad. When you are building the integration architecture, it is essential to ask, does it make sense? Is the integration platform the right fit? Are individual integrations built so that they serve the whole? If the overall business processes are not analysed, architecture becomes cumbersome and inefficient. Technology solution decisions come second in priority, and they serve the architecture.
  5. Although the Scrum method with well-defined roles, ways of working, meetings and sprints commonly used agile method in integration development, the Kanban method would usually serve better for integration work. When developing APIs and integrations, completion of tasks is often dependent on other stakeholders’ work. Kanban practices include visualising work on the kanban board, limiting work in progress (WIP), managing workflow and continuous improvement. The advantages of Kanban are that tasks are not tied to sprints and that it helps to visualise where the bottlenecks of the project workflows are.

As an onboarding experience, Connectivity Track was invaluable. Training sessions were held by more experienced Solitans who really knew their subject matter. This enabled newcomers to get to know and network with several Solitans from the get-go and also helped old Solitans who participated in the Track to grow their expertise to widen their networks. Instructors gave great insight into working with integrations and Track provided immediate contact points for people to spar with or get support from. Your ability to take in all the information during the three weeks the Track lasted is obviously limited, so it was great to have all the materials from the lectures saved in one place for future reference. You could revise lectures’ subject matter later when working on a project along with project-specific guidelines.

Connectivity Track provided immediate benefit in ways of working in current projects. For example, SoapUI which is one of the integration testing tool recommended in the Track is now taken in use for integration testing in Solita’s Mater Data management project. It provides MDM developers’ a secure and efficient way for API testing and mocking. More value from things learned in Track will be gained in the long run when best practices are taken into use and while projects continuously develop the ways in which integration development is done in MDM projects.

About the writers

While working on Master Data Management projects at Solita Susanne got interested in integrations and Solita allowed her to increase her knowledge in that area by participating in Solita’s Data Academy’s Connectivity Track. Susanne had joined Solita through spring 2021 Data Academy’s MDM Track, so she had already a couple of years’ experience working at Solita at that time. Paula joined Solita in March 2023 and hopped straight into the Data Academy onboarding. Paula has a background in HR and HRD. After making a career shift into IT, she has worked with APIs and integrations, ERP development and testing. 

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