In the last blog about MySURF, Regina Zwarthoed talked about the vision and ambition behind MySURF. In this blog, I will look at the MySURF architecture. But before zooming in on this topic, I would briefly like to look back at the philosophy behind MySURF. So: why are we doing this again? And more importantly, what use will it be to our users?
Fragmented range of products and services
For some time now, we have been receiving indications from our target group, and by that I mean the total target group of all SURF operating companies, that it is difficult to get a clear picture of the products and services we can supply. At present, the range of products and services is very fragmented, inconsistent, often obsolete, incomplete and, more importantly, difficult to find. I did some counting and discovered that information about the SURF services portfolio is scattered across no fewer than 10 different places. Here are some examples: an overview of products and services on surf.nl, the range of services offered by SURFconext via the ‘SURFconext Dashboard’, the list of licences that can be taken out via ‘mijn SURFmarket’ and the ‘SURFsara User Info’ pages. All these outlets were created for specific services that cater to a certain group of users: the contact person for licences, the SURFconext contact person, the researcher, etc. We can improve the visibility and use of our range of products and services by no longer offering them in a fragmented manner.
Limited and fragmented information
It’s not just the overview of our products and services that is extremely fragmented at present, but the corresponding information as well. What’s more, many users often find it is very limited. This applies particularly to information regarding third-party products and services supplied via SURF, such as SURFspot products and SURFconext services. There are hundreds of these products and services, but only a limited amount of specific information is provided. As a result, customers often do not know what the possibilities of such an extensive range are and which product or service can help solve their particular problem.
Improved service with MySURF
It will be much easier for SURF’s users and customers to make full use of all the products and services supplied by or via SURF if they are easier to find and more visible. We are building a service portal under the MySURF innovation project; a website where the entire range of SURF products and services, complete with the detailed and relevant information, can easily be accessed by the entire broad target group, from decision-makers to end users.
Our aim in the first phase of this project is to launch MySURF as a single catalogue of products and services:
- with clear and up-to-date information;
- where the user can easily perform searches;
- where the manager or the service provider provide the information directly (rather than a SURF communication department staff member;
- which is user-friendly.
The aim is to improve supply chain services across all SURF operating companies.
MySURF is about adding rather than replacing
MySURF will not replace the current outlets, such as SURFspot and SURFconext Dashboard, but serves as a display window that showcases them all. The window represents the central hub where the user can purchase or connect the product or service. The user will need to log in, and for the purpose of the SURFconext Dashboard have the appropriate authorisation role. Even for users who have not logged in, MySURF will serve as a central knowledge bank that adds plenty of information.
API First philosophy
You may have heard of the API First philosophy. Before you start building a service or an application, you must first make agreements about how the various application components will talk to each other. This is quite logical, because if you separate the user interface from the back-end logic you will be more flexible, without interfering with the operation of the application. That’s why the heart of MySURF consists of a central MySURF API which routes the information from the back-end to one or multiple front-ends. Multiple front-ends? Yes, because we don’t just need an interface to display content, we have also included a separate interface for inputting and managing content. They both talk to the back-end logic through the MySURF API.
MySURF basic architecture
The basic architecture is illustrated in the figure below. In simple terms, it comprises a front-end and a back-end. The figure shows a back-end in which the database, the search engine and the MySURF API fulfil a central role, with two additional MySURF front-ends above them. These consist of a MySURF web application (in which users can view the total range of products and services) and a MySURF content management web application (in which the descriptions of the products and services are managed).
The reason for using two front-ends for this purpose rather than one combined front-end is that we want to be more agile. It is better to have two separate applications, each with their own specific functionality, than to have everything in one large application. This will enable us to arrange the interfaces more conveniently. The application should be so self-explanatory that users can use it without any assistance.
The product or service manager will input and manage the product and service descriptions. This will be a SURF product manager for the services offered by the SURF operating companies themselves. For the cloud services offered through SURFconext, we would ask the service provider to supply the information through the MySURF content management web application.
In the next blog about MySURF, I will zoom in on the MySURF architecture, the development environment we’re using and where the cloud fits in.