Educational organization Cito stays in charge using API Management for data exchange
Cito moved from a BizTalk environment to Azure in the cloud for a faster solution with better insights and faster time-to-market.
Cito's mission is 'Equal opportunities for all'. The education-oriented organization offers (digital) tests as well as complete student information systems. A changing market requires flexible back-end systems. Cito stays on top with Azure and API Management.
If you’re Dutch, you have probably heard of Cito: their name is on the final test for primary education. They are also responsible for the national final exams.
Nowadays, that role has been expanded. Cito is the spider in the web for all kinds of examinations, certifications, tests and online student monitoring systems.
Data exchange between production systems used to be done with CSV text files. After that, Microsoft BizTalk Server was used as middleware. Now, the time was right to pursue cloud integration and API development.
Cito employs around 500 people and is currently split into two parts: Cito Foundation, which carries out various statutory tasks such as the production of national school exams, and Cito BV, which caters to the commercial market providing certification, testing, and information and tracking systems.
Over the years, the market for testing and tracking systems has changed. There are now several providers and Cito is eager to retain its leading role. That can only be achieved using information technology. Software plays a crucial role in product innovation, in the process of testing and providing insight into results and progress, but also in more mundane tasks such as the delivery of books and manuals or invoicing. It is vitally important that IT processes are always up-to-date.
What Codit found was a solid organization with an excellent vision, but too many technically focused integration solutions between systems. These had been built in BizTalk.
Matthijs den Haan, Integration Architect at Codit Netherlands, explains: “A more effective development methodology was needed. The integration layer also had too many business rules, which don’t really belong there. We prefer to see decision logic in the linked computer systems only. That way, there is no confusion and management and maintenance are easier.”
Codit is not a 'we do whatever you ask’ organization. They stand beside us as a partner and contribute to transparent, party-independent solutions. ”
Cito approached Codit because they were looking for an IT partner that doesn’t just implement an integration, but rather has an active involvement with the customer. In a joint effort, both parties set out to build a future in which data exchange with different parties would take place in a standardized and independent manner. To open up their own data, Cito needed a robust and secure API environment.
Cito was working with an IT partner that was great at helping them define their vision. But they were not the ideal party to translate it into reality, help with the design, and ask critical questions. That’s why Cito started looking around and found integration and Azure specialist Codit. Right after the initial presentation, it was a match.
Codit was expected to stimulate service-oriented thinking. This means that solutions are not designed in a purely technical way, but from a functional requirement point of view.
To begin with, the existing BizTalk environment was scrutinized. Cito decided to switch to an integration solution in the cloud, in part because of some uncertainty regarding BizTalk’s future, and with the pleasant side effect of cost reduction.
Microsoft Azure proved to be the logical next step. Codit’s Matthijs den Haan says: “The data exchange between different IT systems can be solved completely using Azure Functions and Logic Apps. This allows us to phase out the BizTalk environment. For message exchange with external parties, Cito sought to develop APIs. Therefore, we also advised them to look at Azure API Management.”
Bart Duijnstee, Information Manager at Cito, describes the collaboration as follows: “Codit helps us with a good vision of the architecture that is easy to implement. Personally, I am a great advocate of first setting up an interchange agreement (a ‘contract’ about exactly what information is exchanged and why). Only then do we fill in the technical details. Our people and the Codit developers work together very well. This has led to more trust between the parties than with our previous IT partner.”
As a result of excellent cooperation between Cito and Codit, a more manageable integration layer has been created. Removing confusing business logic from the couplings has led to fewer errors and therefore better service to customer. New APIs allow Cito to function more efficiently by, for example, securely exchanging order data with business partners. This has allowed Cito to easily outsource their warehouse to an e-fulfillment company.
Cito is in the process of changing from an organization that makes tests and booklets to a provider of online certification, testing and tracking systems. Such systems also need digital licenses to access them. The result of this change is that certain software, such as the CRM system, has become much more important for primary processes. Another consequence is that the physical warehouse, that delivered testing materials on paper, has been outsourced to a third party. This party now receives all orders digitally, takes care of the shipment, and feeds information back into Cito’s systems. All these tasks are done with APIs. The message exchange is handled by well-organized code in Azure Logic Apps.
The entire communication with the e-fulfilment partner’s servers was set up within two weeks. After that, another month of testing was used to make sure everything was running perfectly.
The robustness of the data exchange is such that errors are virtually non-existent. As a result of the cloud architecture, the speed of processing has been greatly increased, and can be increased even more if required.
Cito has already written several APIs on their own. This created a need for good API Management. Of course, Codit was able to help.
By switching to high-end, intelligent and robust APIs, new collaborations and initiatives can be realized quickly. The time-to-market of Cito’s products has been increased. Which is very important, according to Mr. Duijnstee, because Cito is faced with increasing competition in the education market.
Codit and Cito continue to work together on flexible API Management. Data security is of the utmost importance here. No single business partner can see more data than they need to. And if schools want insight into their student’s performance, only the right person at that particular school has that level of access. As you would expect, every change to the APIs is tested in an OTAP street, everything is neatly documented, and governance is paramount.
A word from the client
“I see Codit as a collaborative partner and am very happy with their approach. Our developers talk directly to theirs. Myself and an architect from Codit are at the helm, but subprojects flow naturally.”
Bart Duijnstee Cito Information Manager