STAR-Trak becomes a SOAP Opera !

The JISC Activity Data project may be completed, but STAR-Trak lives on! We have also been involved in another JISC programme – Flexible Service Delivery (FSD) and have just completed our SOAP Opera 2 project. SOAP Opera 2 has enabled us, amongst other things, to develop our understanding of what enterprise architecture can mean for Leeds Metropolitan and we plan to bring STAR-Trak into a wider “innovation programme” that will enable us to develop our skills in a number of related areas including:

– Data warehouse/ business intelligence
– Extract, transform and load (ETL) tools
– Enterprise Service Bus (ESB)

BizTalk will be used as our ESB and this will form a mediation layer between the source data systems (student record system, VLE, timetabling etc) and the STAR-Trak application tables and the data warehouse. As an intermediate step the staging tables, which currently provide temporary storage for incoming data feeds, will remain, but eventually these will be subsumed within BizTalk. Of course we don’t really need BizTalk to manage the data extracts, but this is an ideal project to have a close look at how it might become a key component of our enterprise architecture in the long term. (By the way, if you have a Microsoft Campus Agreement you can purchase BizTalk at an incredibly low price !)

Talend will be used to manage the transform and load stages. We like the look of this suite of programs and have hopes that it may form part our our master data management (MDM) architecture in the future.

Our business intelligence layer will be provided by the BIRT tools. Currently we don’t have a corporate data warehouse or BI solution, although we use Business Objects for corporate reporting and have purchased their Excelsius product. There is no point in heavy investment until the business is able to fully articulate its requirements: BIRT gives IT and the business the opportunity to learn together at minimal cost, before making a long-term investment decision.

Getting this loosely-coupled end-to-end architecture up and running will provide a wonderful learning environment for the business and IT (I hope to post up an amended architecture diagram soon). From an architectural perspective it will help us develop our understanding of how to attain that elusive goal of “business agility” where IT can at last claim the right to be an enabler of change. Getting back to the core objective of STAR-Trak, it will also provide us with valuable tools for student, staff and corporate planners to aid retention and encourage engagement in all aspects of student life.

Click here to view a high-level diagram of the architecture.

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