Custom apps integrated into a Central System: the example of UCLouvain
Custom apps integrated into a Central System: the example of UCLouvain
11 October 2019 - Author : - Categories : Technique

Custom apps integrated into a Central System: the example of UCLouvain

Logo UCLouvain

For the last 5 years we have been the reference consultant for FileMaker at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCLouvain).

With no less than 240 programs of study, this university, spread over 7 sites in Belgium, welcomes more than 30 000 students. With an excellent reputation in education, UCLouvain is also renowned in the field of research.

Responding to a variety of needs

The FileMaker platform plays an important part in the creation of a significant number of custom applications used within the UCLouvain. The ease of ownership of the tool has enabled the various stakeholders to step in and take part in the creation of various management solutions tailored to the specific needs of the administration of each faculty or department. Management of internships, follow-up of memoirs, registrations for group work, inventories of teaching materials, management of university housing, job offers for students … the variations of personalized apps are as numerous as there are professions and approaches within the university.

In our consulting work, we assist users in their process of creating tailor-made solutions. We train them in generic training sessions on the FileMaker platform: one day is dedicated to growing user skills and five half-days are dedicated to introduce the participants to app development; we coach them and implement together features in their specific tools and we develop the most complex parts of their solutions.

This year, we have one more resource in our palette of technological modules: the integration of the central information system’s API.
To illustrate this breakthrough, let’s study the case of student management.

Many decentralized databases in the faculties treat student files for needs that are very specific to their faculty. For example, physiotherapy students or marketing student’s internships are not managed the same way. However, certain indispensable data are common to the different faculties. The main one being the student’s identification: name, first name, coordinates.

ESB

Enterprise Services Bus (ESB)

Now, the central administration has a colossal system for managing student files containing all the administrative information as well as the study path.

Why not tap into this extensive reservoir to obtain the information that local systems need? This is made possible through an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). From the FileMaker solution we send a question to the ESB that responds to us in a format that FileMaker analyzes and understands. “ESB, what is the name of the student whose registration number is 123456? What is his registration status, what is his email address, etc.? The response received takes the form of a JSON object that FileMaker can interpret thanks to its native JSON format parsing functions.

The advantage is that you can quickly have up-to-date information and avoid re-entering existing data or risk getting it wrong.

Authentication Active Directory

Moreover, we have extended this approach of relying on the institution’s central information systems to the authentication mechanisms used to access solutions. For example, when a student has to register online for group work directly in the FileMaker database, it is no longer necessary to have created an account in the file security. We establish the link between the FileMaker file security layer and the Active Directory University central authentication system. Students can use their UCLouvain Global ID to connect to the FileMaker solution. There is no more account and password to create in each file, students no longer have to memorize several passwords. The University’s large Active Directory and the external authentication features of FileMaker Server handle the job.

Authentification via Active Directory

Take aways

These integrations (link with ESB and Active Directory authentication) greatly reduce the tasks to be performed by the student files’ managers in the faculties and make it possible to put all the attention towards the specific functionalities of the local programs.

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