Recently, we’ve been focused on launching a new InFlight integration. InFlight is now able to fully integrate Blackboard Learn with SharePoint.  Blackboard is a core application commonly used by institutions in the higher education community, as well as the military, government, K-12, and commercial organizations, to make learning more effective for both students and instructors.

Now that we’re launching InFlight for Blackboard, we’re going to author a series of posts describing the process of what it takes to develop a new InFlight integration. Over the next couple of weeks, you’ll see several posts beginning with the title ‘Integrate Blackboard and SharePoint’. In these posts we’ll break down what it takes to develop a new InFlight integration, specifically Blackboard.

The anatomy of a new InFlight integration effectively has 6 core components.

They are;

  1. Basic Authentication
  2. SSO Authentication
  3. Basic Content Retrieval
  4. Addressing JavaScript Errors
  5. Advanced Content Retrieval
  6. Look and Feel

When combined with the core technology that powers the InFlight product, the above 6 components, or more accurately, stages of development, guide us through the process of testing out a new web-based application for integration into SharePoint.

1.   Basic Authentication

InFlight uses a custom SharePoint Web Part as the container in which to surface another application into SharePoint. The first step when using InFlight to integrate a new application into SharePoint is to ensure that we can embed the application into SharePoint and successfully login in. Can we access the target application through InFlight? Often we’ll pull the target application’s login page first. Can we see it? If so, on to step two – can we also log in?

2.  Single Sign-On Authentication

Being able to login to the target application, in this case Blackboard, and use it while embedded in SharePoint is great, but why log in at all?  So the next task to accomplish is enabling single sign-on within InFlight and ensuring that you can access the target application without being prompted to authenticate.

3.  Basic Content Retrieval

Once we’ve ironed out the SSO, we determine if we can in fact pull an application’s content into SharePoint.  To do this, we go to a page in the target application that we want to surface in SharePoint and we copy the url of that page from the top of the browser into the corresponding field in the InFlight Web Part. Then, we get out of edit mode, log in to SharePoint and see if the content from the target app is visible inside the InFlight Web Part. There may be all sorts of JavaScript errors, but we’ll deal with those later.

4.  Addressing JavaScript Errors

JavaScript errors are essentially a given. There’s just no escaping the fact that when we pull an application into SharePoint through InFlight the application’s JavaScript goes bananas. Taming the JavaScript takes patience as our engineers identify the errors and then test and nuance a new set of rules designed to bring them under control. Frequently, 80% of the JavaScript errors are caused by a few bad apples and once we have them under control, the rest of the target application will surface smoothly. In other cases, for example, where a client has customized their application, we may encounter errors more sporadically. When this happens, a custom rule is created and added to the rule set. Once the JavaScript has been tamed we’re ready for the exciting part, Advanced Content Retrieval.

5.  Advanced Content Retrieval

Back in Basic Content Retrieval it was all about isolating a page or a section within a page which can be accessed by entering a url in the browser.  In Advanced Content Retrieval we take that simple idea one step further.  We delve into the target application, accessing parts of it not accessible by entering a URL in the browser.  We selectively choose which parts of a page we want and how we want to display it.  If there are parts of a page we don’t want to see, we just get rid of it.  The reason we’re doing all of this, is to deliver the best user experience and in this case it means only delivering what the user wants/needs to see and delivering it in a way that looks great and makes them more productive.

6.  Look and Feel

After we have successfully achieved Advance Content Retrieval we can move to the part everyone likes best – look and feel. After all, InFlight’s ability to deliver an outstanding user experience is the leading reason executives at some of the largest companies and Higher Ed institutions have chosen InFlight, so it’s what everyone is most excited to see.  To us, it’s like pulling up the curtain on opening night of our own Broadway show. We’ve worked hard, we’re a little nervous and waiting eagerly in their seats are our customers, ready to see the results.  Sometimes what happens next is a bit anti-climactic to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, the results always exceed expectations and everyone gets excited, but the fact that the entire integration only took about two weeks leaves everyone with the impression that the whole endeavor was easy. Oddly enough, it actually was.

That was easy.

What makes integrating PeopleSoft, Blackboard and other web-based applications into SharePoint so easy for us is the fact that the core technology powering InFlight was built to dynamically adapt to and accommodate different applications with only minor adjustment.  InFlight is composable, allowing us to leverage knowledge we’ve gained from implementing previous deployments.  As a result, when we’re getting ready to test InFlight with a new web-based application we know it’s highly likely that 90% of the work is already done. If we’re fortunate, the remaining 10% of a new InFlight integration will largely revolve around efforts designed to accommodate the new client-user’s specific needs and their look and feel.

So, like we mentioned early on – over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be blogging about how InFlight can now Integrate Blackboard and SharePoint in a series of posts that describe in detail the process of integrating Blackboard Learn with SharePoint using InFlight. If you have any questions, or you have an application you’d like to integrate into SharePoint, contact us. We would really appreciate any comments so feel free to post them below and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @inflightcorp

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