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Why the UK's UCAS turned to APIs to link up the admissions process for millions of students

Scott Carey | July 31, 2017
The UK's university admissions service is modernising its technology, turning to cloud, APIs and MuleSoft's integrations platform.

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Credit: UCAS

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has turned to integrations specialist MuleSoft's Anypoint Platform, as it looks to link up its siloed backend systems and give university applicants a more consistent user experience.

"We are two years through a digital transformation programme replacing the majority of front-end and back-end systems, starting on postgraduate then undergraduate services," Mark Woodfield, head of technology development at UCAS told ComputerworldUK. UCAS moved to the cloud with AWS in 2013 and the entire programme is due for completion by 2020.

MuleSoft, the former middleware specialists which went public in March this year, offers its flagship Anypoint Platform to customers looking to integrate modern software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, with legacy on-premises software, primarily through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

UCAS is embarking on a complete rethink of its data architecture strategy, moving from monolithic databases to having the right data near the relevant system, decommissioning legacy systems where possible.

By moving away from monolithic systems, UCAS wants to give all users a single search capability across courses. Before this change the undergrad and postgrad systems were completely separate.

Woodfield said he wants to get to the point where every user has a consistent user experience, and MuleSoft becomes "the platform sitting between all of these services".

Nick Harper, head of enterprise architecture at UCAS added: "In the legacy world an undergrad and postgrad would start from scratch, but now we use a cradle to grave analogy, where a profile of you can be built up over time."

Ross Mason, founder and VP of product strategy at MuleSoft explained to Computerworld UK in more general terms. "You used to wire stuff together with point-to-point code, which takes time and is expensive.

"Now we connect those apps and every time you open up a reusable interface to the application, an API, which means once it is exposed there is a lot you can do with it across apps, and control information flow, and data governance. So this becomes a powerful baseline for unlocking the value of the enterprise."

In short, UCAS wants to turn its technology assets, such as its CRM or database, into building blocks that can be more easily pluggable and reusable across the organisation, and even outside of it.

Next, UCAS wants to expose these new APIs for third parties to consume, modernising the way its systems communicate with universities and colleges, but also for new business models like validating job applicants coming out of university.

"We see our partner platform as one of our biggest areas for growth. Opening up and exposing our internal APIs will help us drive continuous improvement and innovation, and is also key to helping us attract the best developer talent," Woodfield added in the official press release.


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