There is an abundance of testing technology available for every stage of the assessment life cycle. Working with multiple systems can be frustrating or intimidating, but it is becoming increasingly more prevalent. For that reason, assessment software integration is key for providers of exam development and delivery services.
In this article, we’ll look at some questions we often hear when discussing tech integration. To answer these questions, we’ve brought in our resident integration expert, Kirk Alford. Kirk has spent 15 years in product development and the last four years with Meazure Learning. As a Director of Product Management, Kirk has worked closely with our clients and technology partners to ensure integrations are as smooth as possible.
Question #1: What are the benefits of partnering with a vendor whose solutions are built with integrated technology?
Hands down, the biggest benefits of assessment software integration are increased flexibility and an improved user experience for everyone involved in the testing process. In today’s world, the best technology solution for your exam program is almost always going to leverage multiple applications. You want to use the best technology for every part of the testing journey, but you also want a solution that’s as easy and frictionless as possible. To achieve that goal, you should choose a provider with technology that can be integrated in a way that creates a seamless experience for your test-takers, your administrators, and your customer support staff.
For people taking an exam, the user experience of the testing system directly impacts the overall testing experience. So, it’s really imperative that the technology they’re using doesn’t have a negative impact. Without integration, your test-takers may need to log in to multiple platforms, interact with disparate support staff, and navigate several complicated systems before, during, and after their exam. With an integrated assessment solution, all those different services are connected behind the scenes, so the test-taker has a smooth, streamlined user experience through one system.
Another factor that contributes to a better user experience for both test-takers and administrative staff is the time saved by automating the data sharing and communication processing between systems. Administrators save time by not having to enter the same data in multiple places, not needing to manually align registration and scheduling systems, and not having to wait for scores or proctoring reports to deliver credentials to those who passed.
Think about all the administrative and test-taker logistics that would be involved if you were dealing with one platform for exam registration, another for scheduling, a third to deliver/take the test, a fourth for proctoring, and a fifth for badging. If all those systems aren’t integrated and talking to each other, the administrative and support processes would be entirely manual—the exporting, importing, merging, and comparing of data . . . times five! It could take days or weeks to manually pass all that information back and forth, not to mention all the hassle of keeping up with multiple logins and the increased potential to make mistakes. Likewise, test-takers reap the benefits of faster registration, scheduling, scoring, and badging.
Question #2: What are common barriers to assessment software integration, and what advice would you give organizations for overcoming those barriers?
One major barrier is a resources constraint. Whether you take on the task of integrating systems yourself or work with an assessment technology vendor, there will be development time involved. Some integrations can be achieved quickly, while others can take months to complete. And time, of course, translates to associated financial costs.
When you’re working with a vendor to integrate testing platforms, it’s important to outline and discuss your requirements and end goals up front. That way, you and your vendor can determine whether the integration you’re seeking is even feasible. If it is, you can talk through a timeline for the project as well as any development costs if needed.
Vendor buy-in can be another potential barrier to assessment software integration. Technology provider roadmaps are populated with necessary infrastructure improvements, client requirements, and other needed enhancements. If your new integration request doesn’t align with their scheduled work, a vendor may be unwilling or unable to invest the time and resources needed for a new integration. However, if your request could benefit other programs and your vendor is nimble, they could shift their workload to meet your needs as well as enhance their solution offering. The best way to overcome this barrier is through close collaboration. When a vendor and an exam program can identify mutually beneficial value for an integration, they will have a better business case for their stakeholders and it’s a win-win for both parties. We love working with clients to develop new integrations, especially when it can benefit multiple exam programs in similar situations.
“Once you recognize the value of going through the effort of integration, you can approach your changes in the smallest bites possible and build the confidence you need to integrate your system even further.”Kirk Alford, Director of Product Management, Meazure Learning
Consider this example: While working closely with a client during an integration between our ProctorU Platform and their chosen exam driver, we identified a use case where the integration could benefit test-takers who lose exam time due to a technical issue, such as a bad internet connection. One feature of the integration was designed specifically to address this scenario, giving exam support staff the ability to add extra time back to the exam. This exchange shows up in the logs and can be reviewed by the test administrators to make sure policies were followed. Now, that feature is available to any client using that exam driver paired with the ProctorU Platform. Without that feature, test-takers would truly lose time on their exam if they encountered a technical problem outside their control, which could contribute to a failing score, an appeal process, a re-take, added stress, and/or extra work for the exam program administrators.
A third potential barrier I’ll mention briefly is the systems already in place. If an existing testing solution does not allow for interoperability and the owner of that technology is unwilling to work on an integration, that barrier could become an impasse. In that scenario, you may need to give up some of the systems you already have in place in order to move forward, but the end result is often a much better experience for everyone involved.
Question #3: What are some best practices when integrating or preparing to integrate disparate systems?
Creating visual documentation of the integrated workflow gives different stakeholders a tangible view of the integration solution. This helps everyone get on the same page, which is especially helpful if your solution involves multiple vendors. It also opens the door to discussions about feasibility in terms of the solution and timeline, which can make or break an integration project.
My second suggestion—and this may sound obvious—would be to test assessment software integration solutions before launching them. Here’s an extreme example of why testing is important: We had a client with a particularly grueling exam schedule, administering all their exams in one day, using heavily integrated technology. We decided to stress-test the system in a real-time simulation. We coordinated with our client’s team ahead of the exam time and went through the entire testing process, end to end. It gave us breathing room so we could address any issues before the real test-takers arrived.
Having that kind of relationship with your vendor can make an enormous difference. You want them in the trenches with you. A vendor who is willing to test and retest your system can be invaluable.
Question #4: What processes are most important to integrate?
It really depends on the priorities of the exam program. For instance, if the test-taker experience is highly important, you’ll want to integrate processes that make it easy for people to register for, schedule, and take the exam. You’ll also want to identify and track relevant metrics, such as customer satisfaction, and collect user feedback throughout the test-taker journey.
Once you outline your priorities, you can work with your vendor to establish a timeline for tackling each element. Keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything all at once. Making small improvements to the integration on a continual basis allows you to gather feedback and launch new functionality quickly.
Question #5: What questions should you ask an integration partner?
Because designing a tailored assessment ecosystem involves such a close working relationship with your vendor, a number of questions are important to ask when searching for your integration partner. I’ll touch on just a few of them here.
Q1: How do you communicate integration updates to partners?
Good partners will provide as much notice as possible to prevent service disruptions and enable the adoption of new features. Communication is key on both sides—from you and the partner. Look for a partner who is willing to take the time to discuss options and fully address issues. Ideally, they’ll be able to speak from a technical and a layman’s perspective to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Q2: How does your solution scale?
Finding an integration partner that can effectively support and grow with your exam program is imperative. Consider the strengths and limitations of your potential partner when designing integration solutions: Do they have platform stability? Is their tech built with scalability and interoperability in mind? Are they continually investing in their technology?
Q3: What is the process to accomplish customer-requested development?
It’s important that you understand how your vendor manages their roadmap and prioritization. Some vendors are more nimble and can make requested changes quickly. Some can make changes but have long turnaround times due to backlogs. Others won’t really make changes at all if they don’t fit the overall strategy. The expectations you have for custom development projects could weigh heavily into your vendor selection.
Q4: How do you protect the data within your application?
Most integrations will involve the sharing of data between systems. You should choose integration partners who will be good stewards of your data. Ideally, your vendor should be willing to undergo routine security audits to ensure they’re safeguarding your information with the best, most updated technology.
Assessment software integration can make the exam development, administration, and delivery process easier—for you, your administrative staff, and your test-takers. A good integration partner will work with you to provide a solution for your program’s unique challenges. Partnered with the right vendor—and armed with the right questions—you can feel confident that your exam program will meet your success criteria.
If you want to dive deeper into this topic, you can learn more about how tech interoperability makes it easier for systems to work together and improve your testing program.