A story of the benefits of platform openness in a Web 2.0 world

Much of the value of software is determined by how completely an application solves a particular user problem and meets a user need. The Web 2.0 revolution is evidence that no application can fully solve every nuance for every customer within an area of requirement.
This has long been evidenced by the proliferation of bolt-ons, add-ons, extensions, etc. designed for traditional software. In the Web 2.0 world, adding on and extending software is an assumed critical element of the application value. Software providers that fail to provide ample hooks into their applications will inevitably fail to maximize their value to customers.

As a long time developer and integrator of the Intuit QuickBase platform, we have become intimately familiar with the QuickBase API. The simplicity of the QuickBase API means that, in almost 5 years of use, we have rarely needed more than a few basic request types to command substantial interactivity with the application. In addition to being open to external calls, the QuickBase API can be used inside the application to create simple and complex customizations. What’s great about having such a simple but powerful API model is that it allows developers and reasonably savvy end users to solve a myriad of information problems that could not possibly have been anticipated by the platform designer.

One of the greatest leaps in our business came recently with our move to utilizing open source ETL as a method for interacting with and controlling QuickBase applications. Because QuickBase does not have it’s own logic processing tools, it has become essential for us to tie in processing capability to best support our client’s value. The Talend Integration Suite allows us to provide this type of processing capability with advanced Java components for executing business processes and integration. Once again, one of our key decision points for selecting Talend to provide ETL services in connection with QuickBase was related to the platform openness. Talend’s Java and Perl components are all user configurable but also fairly easy to customize, which allows for expansion and extension of the toolkit whenever needed.

For a recent project with ENSAT, there was a need to provide EOHS and ISO compliance. To deliver on the need, we developed asynchronous routines that would run periodically throughout the day, check for certain information updates and propagate the changes to the compliance requirements to assure staff of a major manufacturing facility had proper training for their assigned work. QuickBase was already being used successfully to capture training and staff information, so it seemed logical to extend QuickBase for the EOHS and ISO compliance handling. In order to execute the data processing required for the compliance determinations, a Talend job was created to pull QuickBase data, generate compliance records and load them back for reporting. With just hours of assistance from Talend services, and a lot of brain-power applied to writing compliance data rules, we were able to set up the necessary Java componentry for an effective QuickBase integration and go live inside of a week.

As we evolve our practice at MCF Tech to support the future of cloud based, Web 2.0 technology it is apparent that the key is not to find the silver bullet technologies that aim to solve all problems, but rather to choose those that have the humility to know their limitations. Important questions to ask about any platform or application are whether there is an API, WSDL or other integration method and whether customization is encouraged. It is surprising how many traditional and even cloud based applications fail in the area of openness.

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