One thing that has been high up the list of considerations during the development of Orbital has been how it integrates with the rest of the University. Whilst a lot of new services tend to exist in relative isolation, making use of scheduled batch imports to keep themselves in step with things like staff lists, Bridge is designed to tie in to the very core of the University’s data platform. The benefits are numerous enough to make it worth the additional development and network overhead, since we’re able to provide a truly continuous experience between previously disparate systems.

Orbital revolves around research projects as its basic unit of data, something which we already had the capacity to store within our Nucleus data model as part of work on the Staff Directory. Whilst there is an awful lot more that Orbital wants to know about research than is relevant to the Directory it made no sense to create yet another list of research projects and introduce a second place to keep things updated. Instead we extended Nucleus’s understanding of a research project to include the new aspects such as linking multiple researchers to a single project, a more complex model for funding and so-on. What this now means is that both Orbital and the Directory share the same data, and when a staff member adds a new project to their research dashboard in Bridge it will appear seamlessly on their Staff Profile.

Since we’re using Nucleus to provide more and more data, as well as sending data in both directions, we took the opportunity to start building a more robust solution for the sending and receiving. What we came up with was a PHP library built on the Guzzle HTTP client framework. Although this is very early in development (your contributions to the code are welcome) it gives us a controllable, standardised platform which we can use to both request data from Nucleus and send data back, taking care of issues such as formatting and encoding. Even better, since the library is ready to go with Composer, we (and anybody else interacting with Nucleus over PHP) can include it in their project with a single line in their configuration.

This brings us back full circle to the Staff Directory, which as of the next version will be making use of this library to communicate with Nucleus. As new solutions are put together which rely on the Nucleus platform this library will be extended further until its our standard way of getting and updating data, adding a layer of abstraction where we no longer care how the data arrives at the application or how it is makes its way back to Nucleus.

The upshot of all this interconnectivity? We can build a brand new application off the back of our research project data very quickly, changing what would have taken weeks or even months into a matter of days.