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NC State - Lowcode Staff Augmentation

The Enterprise Application Group (EAG) at NC State University leveraged Kinetech's Expert Certified Mendix Engineers to augment their staff and deliver new lowcode modules on an aggressive timeline.
AJ Emmanuel

This case covers staff augmentation along with value added consulting services using lowcode & Mendix. The solution incorporates reflexive design, microservices, branching, and architecture review.

Background

North Carolina State University (also referred to as NCSU, NC State) is a public land-grant research university in Raleigh, North Carolina that was founded in 1887.  NC State is part of the University of North Carolina system, and is the largest university in the Carolinas. The university forms one of the corners of the Research Triangle together (with Duke and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

NCSU

Historic Arial Photograph of NCSU Campus. The brand-new school held its first classes in the fall of 1889 with 72 students, six faculty members and one building.

Today, NC State has an enrollment of more than 35,000 students, making it among the largest universities in the country. NC State has historical strengths in engineering, statistics, agriculture, life sciences, textiles and design and offers bachelor's degrees in 106 fields of study.  The mission of the University is to promote an integrated approach to problem solving that transforms lives and provides leadership for social, economic, and technological development across North Carolina and around the world. REPORTER, the digital solution Kinetech provided staff-augmentation for, assists in advancing this mission.

"We were immediately drawn to NCSU's RFP because the impact REPORTER has on the NCSU community and how the work aligns with our mission to service as a Transformative Catalyst for Good through our people and work."

Michael Guido - CEO | Kinetech

REPORTER is NC State’s Registration Platform for Non-Credit Activity and Required Training. The REPORTER application is a cross university solution for tracking, managing, and reporting non-degree credit activities. REPORTER was built by NC State’s Enterprise Applications Group using Mendix, the leading low-code software development platform. Today, REPORTER supports over 100,000 accounts of current & former students of the University as well as members of the community who leverage REPORTER to build their knowledge base by enrolling in non-degree courses. NC State uses REPORTER to streamline the course registration process and ultimately report activity required by local and state grant organizations.

 

Challenge

The Enterprise Applications Group (“EAG”) at NC State faces growing demand from the department's EAG supports, as they look to onboard and adopt REPORTER to offer Non-Credit courses to the community. This is common across IT Departments and can be visualized via The Digitization Challenge Graphic:

DigitizationChallenge

The Digitization Challenge illustrates the Supply Vs Demand imbalance between an organizations need for new software and solutions and the IT departments ability to deliver.

In addition, EAG services all development requests and acts as tier 1-3 support for REPORTER’s users.  Managing support, maintenance and upgrades while balancing new enhancement requests is a difficult prioritization exercise all agile organizations must address. In the spring of 2020, NC State identified two areas where they sought to augment their staff with certified Mendix experts in order to provide solutions within three months. Through their competitive RFP and vetting process, Kinetech was selected for our lowcode expertise, staff augmentation capabilities, and our experience working with various organizations who shared similar needs. Kinetech employs 3 of the top 15 Mendix Certified Expert Developers in the USA.

"Reflexive system architecture is an advanced software design that enables users of the application to configure the solution themselves... [It] provides customers with more flexibility while reducing maintenance... "

Michael Guido - CEO | Kinetech

 

The first area of new functionality modernized and replaced a legacy system whose forms facilitated requests to offer a course or activity for Continual Education Units (CEUs).

The requirements specified by NC State involved a reflexive design. Reflexive system architecture is an advanced software design that enables users of the application to configure the solution themselves, at runtime, and define the response mappings to specific domain model (database) attributes (to store the responses).  This contrasts with traditional design, whereby the application has to be taken offline and redeployed so users can access the additional functionality.  Reflexive architecture provides customers with more flexibility while reducing maintenance and future development requests because they can configure the solution to their preferences without having to change the system during design time.

The second area of functionality entailed Membership features and subscriptions to courses and activities offered through REPORTER. 

The EAG tasked Kinetech with developing a new module to manage various types of groups at the University, which includes memberships (paid and unpaid) for both students and non-students. The primary purpose of the membership module is to enable group administrators to create and manage their membership groups. Group members are not limited to University students only, which meant members could include people without existing profiles within REPORTER.

Kinetech engineers reviewed the existing data model and quickly identified and proposed enhancements to legacy architecture decisions. When addressed, these modifications improved application performance, reduced database size, and enhanced maintainability.

Basic components of the module had been created several years ago, and to a limited extent, were already in use. In addition to building new capabilities, Kinetech’s challenge was to review and leverage the legacy design while enhancing / future proofing the membership functionality for future use cases. The membership module would also need to integrate with several other existing modules within REPORTER, which added complexity to the solution. 

Before beginning development, Kinetech engineers reviewed the existing data model and quickly identified and proposed enhancements to legacy architecture decisions. When addressed, these modifications improved application performance, reduced database size, and enhanced maintainability. As with all properly designed applications, it is critical that the architecture is designed correctly with both scalability and the client’s the long-term goals in mind. The recommended changes were implemented to ensure the membership module not only “works” but performs at scale. 

Kinetech found additional ways to provide value by building a reusable SendGrid integration to support NC State’s email requirements. Our design enhanced their existing email capabilities, while providing a solution that is reusable throughout REPORTER. Reusable components (microservices) are simple to implement and maintain, which further drives the return on investment for lowcode technology. Our Expert Certified engineer also advised the EAG’s engineering team on best practices surrounding system architecture, microflow design (with a focus on performance, scalability and reusability) and best practice user experience (UX - page and layout design).

Results

Projects with an aggressive schedule are best executed by following a proven process like the Kinetech Digital Execution Strategy. To augment NCSU’s Enterprise Applications Group staff, without disrupting their cadence, the Kinetech team hosted standard check-ins Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  By establishing a cadence that blended with NCSUs traditional approach, Kinetech’s business engineers were able to establish a rapport with the technical & business leads defining the functional requests.  By working as a bridge between business and IT while providing our Mendix Certified, lowcode expertise we were able to provide maximum value in an aggressive development window.

As the reality of COVID-19 social distancing requirements took hold, NCSU leveraged their existing agile experience to re-prioritize an upgrade to Mendix 8 (Mendix will only support the previous two major releases of the platform once a major release becomes publicly available) to leverage the latest functionality and security patches). 

Kinetech used subversion (SVN) within the Mendix Team Center, to develop new functionality while assisting on the upgrade in parallel by using development branch lines. Together, Kinetech and the EAG used two branches off the main line, one for new functionality and the other for the upgrade.Kinetech: Mendix-branching

Branching allows the development team to create new functionality which is then merged with the main line once ready for deployment.

Kinetech managed the branch used to develop the new functionality required by NCSU while the EAG managed the other branch focused on the upgrade. Kinetech advised on best-practice upgrade strategy to minimize conflicts so NC State could take advantage of the lull in normal business operations due to COVID-19. The result was the experienced NCSU Mendix practitioners were able to upgrade the platform to version 8 while Kinetech business engineers developed new functionality in a parallel branch before merging the changes and resolving conflicts.


About Kinetech

Kinetech, a platform Mendix partner, is a provider of custom enterprise software, delivered through the cloud with a focus on improved business productivity. The company focuses on lowcode, cloud, mobile, and integrated technologies that solve real client problems. Kinetech’s service offerings are configured and integrated with other web services (APIs), platforms, and enterprise applications (CRM, ERP, HCM). The company delivers its offerings via internet browsers and on mobile devices. Kinetech designs, builds, and supports mission-critical applications, client/vendor portals, and modernizes legacy systems. Its cloud offerings include Digital Factory (Manufacturing), Kinetech PM (Construction / Project Management), GovTech (Government Technology) Cloud, and other bespoke solutions (Enterprise Cloud).

 

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