On Friday 19th July, Symphony3 ran a webinar entitled “An introduction to integration for local government."
With a variety of council employees attending, from CEOs to IT Managers to Communications and marketing people, this was very much an introductory session to integration and a primer for upcoming integration Webinars over the next 12 months.
Some key takeouts from the session were:
- Integration technologies are everywhere – they are disrupting entire industries by allowing new business models. www.webjet.com.au is an example of an aggregation website that is driven by APIs. Physical products also increasingly contain integration technologies, for example the automotive industry is adding integration technologies in every new car built today. For an idea of scale of these technologies – think of Google – there are 10 billion API calls per second to its services!
- APIs connect internal processes to external third-party applications. APIs dictate how third parties can interact with an internal system, including the messaging format, the structure, and contents. An API is like a waiter in a restaurant, the customer (a third party) has a menu and wants to order food from the internal system (e.g. the kitchen). The waiter (API) takes the order from the customer and brings it to the kitchen in the correct format. The kitchen reads the order and then sends the food back to the customer via the waiter.
- APIs are in either the SOAP or REST format – SOAP is more rigid and standardised, REST is more lightweight and flexible. SOAP can be described as a letter and an envelope, REST is a postcard.
- Middleware is responsible for transforming messages between applications, it is the “plumbing” for IT infrastructure. IT avoids point-to-point communication which enhances scalability and fault-tolerance – instead of a ‘spaghetti’ infrastructure you get a “hub and spoke” infrastructure.
- Local government is undergoing digital transformation. The key drivers are:
- To meet customer expectations
- To drive efficiencies
- To improve customer service and service delivery
- To find new and better ways of doing things
- To unlock potential
- Australian Government agencies and businesses are in “digital deadlock” with many struggling to achieve the huge benefits that digital transformation can deliver.
- Local government is also in digital deadlock. Councils can have up to 40 core systems none, or few, of which speak to each other. This makes delivering seamless customer experiences and driving automation very difficult.
- In addition, council IT departments have undergone massive change as systems move to the cloud and staff demand to have tools available to use in the field. API and cloud technologies make this possible; but the complexity of managing IT increases as a result.
- Integration technologies are critical to breaking the deadlock and managing the complexity.
- Middleware is essential to building the correct integration backbone and to avoid the chaos of a spaghetti infrastructure.
- If the will and planning is in place to implement integration technology then it is feasible for every council to put it in place. With open source integration tools available in the market, the technology is very affordable for even the smallest council.
- Integrated online forms that improve customer service and eliminate or automate internal processes are a great place to start implementing integration strategies. This was illustrated by examples in the webinar.