University of Toronto Logo

Information + Technology Services

Small normal big

Things that work together…

by Frank Boshoff


Thinking Architecturally - July 5 2017Administrative and academic processes would be much better if our IT systems worked together to support them, rather than, for example, requiring staff to cut ‘n paste data from one system to another, which is time consuming and error prone, not to mention excruciatingly boring. Consider the number of productive hours spent collating data from one or more systems and inserting it in a spreadsheet. Every time I see a printed spreadsheet, I wonder if I see a broken process – caused by two or more systems that don’t communicate.

Needing systems that work together to achieve academic or administrative value is seldom debated, but also seldom occurs. Part of the problem can be attributed to Conway’s Law, established in 1968 by Melvyn Conway, which states “Organizations which design systems…are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of those organizations.” [http://www.melconway.com/Home/Conways_Law.html, retrieved 2016-04-04]. IT Architecture and design needs to permeate through the University to enable new IT communication structures and enable systems to communicate for everyone’s benefit.

Over the past few years, some IT standards have materialized that enable systems to communicate more consistently than they have previously. Much of the recent advancement can be attributed to Roy Fielding’s dissertation [https://www.ics.uci.edu/~fielding/pubs/dissertation/rest_arch_style.htm], which initiated a consistent integration method based on Internet technologies (and we know those are pretty good in terms of integration standards).

It is now possible to consider integrating our systems using an established method (REST – understood by many web application developers) and elevating the level of IT consistency across the institution, while also improving the academic and administrative value of our IT systems. The first implementation of REST-style integration will be in production within a few weeks.

If we can also reduce the boring cut ‘n paste work that some of us have to do, all the better.