Connector2 improves services to BCs post-secondary education system

This spring, after the largest implementation undertaken by BCcampus to date, its “backbone” – Connector2 – got a lot stronger, making the data transfer system more modern, stable and flexible.

Connector2 is the system that connects post-secondary institutions’ enterprise systems to each other, as well as to BCcampus, offering secure and reliable data exchange. Although the first phase of Connector worked reliably, Connector2 brings a big improvement in flexibility and ease of maintenance, and it provides the potential for much greater functionality.

The original Connector system was developed 7 years ago in consultation with institutional registrars and information technology directors. It provided for a single online method for public post-secondary institutions to provide up-to-date information on their distance and online course offerings, and for existing students to simply request registration into relevant courses offered at other institutions.

The transactions developed at that time provided the capability to:

  • verify a student’s eligibility to register,
  • access and transfer personal and academic records (with the student’s informed consent),
  • create a student record at another institution,
  • facilitate automated prerequisite checking for courses the student requests and
  • process course registrations.

The original Connector system, developed for BCcampus by a local Vancouver company, was a real leader in its time. After the original developer moved on to other business areas, BCcampus began tracking developments in the emerging enterprise service bus product field, and eventually decided to replace the original system with an open source service bus system called Mule. While the original Connector worked reliably, it was complex to maintain, and difficult to extend.

During the implementation of Connector2, BCcampus utilized the Mule transport system and updated the individual transactions to adhere to the latest North American standards for student data formats. BCcampus is now able to carry different types of data through different channels, which can be tuned for performance and volume. This also means more flexibility for data transfers between post-secondary institutions, making it possible for institutions to transfer data directly to each other using Connector2, instead of all data transfers initiated through the central data hub, as was required with the original Connector system.

Currently 16 post-secondary institutions take advantage of the full core uses of the new Connector2 system, and three others are in the process of migrating to Connector2.

In order to transfer to the new system with minimal downtime, both Connector systems had to operate simultaneously for a time. The transition has taken almost a year, starting with PASBC-related conversions in September 2009.

A tremendous amount of collaboration was required among 16 institutions and the BCcampus team to pull off the Connector2 project. With three layers of software to link up: the enterprise software at the institution (whether Banner, Colleague or another system), the Connector software and the Connector infrastructure – the switchover was a focused effort requiring a lot of coordination between BCcampus and the institutions.

Challenges aside, Connector2 will better serve the needs of BC’s education system. The new system is already being used to test a new transcript exchange capability at three pilot institutions, and it has the potential to connect with other education-related systems to add or streamline services for BC’s students and post-secondary institutions.

For more information regarding Connector2, contact Randy Bruce: rbruce [at] bccampus [dot] ca.