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Data hub – integration made easy?

Data hub – integration made easy?

2 September 2020, last update 17 June 2021 3 min read

During Derek and Johan’s keynote on the first day of Mendix, I was reintroduced to Mendix Data Hub. After taking part in research on the usability of the product, the big announcement came today on the release of Mendix Data Hub and a GA release in the coming months.

If you are wondering what Data Hub is, I’ll try to summarize the session that gave us an in-depth look into Mendix Data Hub. First of all, there is the ‘why’ question: why do we need Mendix Datahub?

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Businesses generate mountains of data that is stored in different systems. Some data is exposed from those systems to the world beyond the system in a specific language, and can be accessed with a specific protocol. Herein lie the challenges that you will find when trying to build an application that is part of the complete ecosystem of apps. The first challenge is to find out which data is available and whether it has been exposed by some sort of API. So you are now an explorer in the vast jungle of enterprise data. As everyone knows, exploring strange new worlds always takes a long time and the journey is perilous. In comes Mendix Data Hub, providing a catalog of available enterprise data in one place, through a clean, accessible interface. No longer are you the explorer, but rather a traveler checking the schedule for a departing train. You’ll instantly know what trains will be leaving and at what time.

Now that we know what data is available and where, challenge number two is the fact that building integrations is a time consuming process. Although the protocols are known or at least documented for many types of integrations, getting things to work is often complicated. Every implementation allows for certain degrees of freedom, and not everything is implemented as strictly or loosely as a developer would like. So the developer becomes the tinkerer, and often figures out by trial and error what works and what doesn’t - consuming lots of time in the process before getting it right. With Mendix Data Hub, that process becomes plug and play. Now focus can shift to where it’s needed most: where it will generate business value in the application and/or business function.

Mendix Data Hub is currently focused on OData as the protocol for integrations. It provides a lot of information on the content at the available integration point and uses a single standard. OData is a great choice for this, as it can be seen as SQL over a rich set of stable and widely used REST services. One of the challenges remains to be tackled, and that’s standardization. Maybe your organization doesn’t yet have all of these fancy services, and you need to take steps towards standardization and implementation. The different Mendix World sessions on Data Hub clearly illustrate that we are at the start of the roadmap for this product and we need to see what the future will hold for us in helping the standardization process.

So we’re now at the point where we are looking at the train timetable and the transport seems plug and play. But how do we leverage it? As Data Hub is tightly integrated into both the Mendix Studio and Studio Pro IDE’s, integrations have become plug and play. You can search for the available data in Data Hub and select the appropriate entities. Drag and drop them into a domain model for your app and from then on, the external entities will act as local entities, as far as the Mendix developer is concerned, allowing the use of only those attributes that you need. Extend the data with local data by creating associations between the two, something you’re familiar with as a Mendix developer. How about security? That is the responsibility of the originating system, making sure that only that data is exposed that you are entitled to and the responsibility might be shared with the Mendix developer to make sure the same standards are upheld in the apps.

The last challenge is where is your data being used? Do you have a clear picture in your organization of which system is using which data? With Mendix Data Hub, this insight will be directly at your fingertips, displaying all providers and consumers in a clean, network-like diagram. It helps you visualize the impact of changes in the ecosystem interfaces and reduce business risk.

Does this make data integration easy?

That depends on your perspective. If you are a Mendix developer, either citizen or pro, then the answer is yes! The catalog still needs to be filled for you to access the wealth of information available in the enterprise, and that will still take specialized knowledge and experts to provide the API’s/interfaces. Although this requires more scarce human resources, freeing up these resources by making integrations drag and drop will probably be outweighed by the ease and speed introduced in building integrations in Mendix and other applications leveraging Mendix Data Hub.

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Erwin 't Hoen CTO Netherlands. Started at Mansystems 20 years ago and initiated the use of Mendix by Mansystems. For the past 7 years active as CTO at FlowFabric.

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