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Frequently Asked Questions

Data integration, interoperability, and workflow automation can be confusing subjects. Not to mention the fact that there are lots of different terms and ways of talking about the same concepts. We get it. Here are a few questions that come up a lot.

What is OpenFn?#

OpenFn is an integration platform as a service. This means our prime directive is to move data quickly and securely between different software systems. In most cases:

  1. A source application sends messages to your project’s inbox when something happens.

  2. Jobs will be triggered, based on your filters, and use the data in those messages to attempt specific actions in destination systems.

  3. The logs are recorded so you can see precisely what happened and when and where it happened to take action in the event of a failed attempt—like editing the job or even the source message and trying it again.

Who uses OpenFn?#

OpenFn is used by organizations big and small, but the individuals interacting with the platform range from system administrators to Javascript developers. With a basic understanding of Javascript, the flexibility of the platform is almost limitless.

What is a job?#

OpenFn automation centers around jobs, which define the specific series of tasks or database actions OpenFn should perform. They can be set to be activated (triggered) at certain time intervals or when data matching specified criteria is received. You can think of jobs as a set of instructions you might give a data entry staff member (e.g., create a new Patient record in OpenMRS when a form containing a newly registered client is received from CommCare, export data to DHIS2 every week on Friday 11pm, send SMS with payment confirmation number when payment confirmation message is received etc.).

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Jobs are fully configurable and reusable. They can also be chained together to create multi-step automation flows, two-way syncs. and to keep data consistent between multiple applications (using multi-app Saga patterns). You can read more on two-way synching below.

What is a run?#

A run is each individual execution of a job. Imagine that a job is configured to create a new patient in OpenMRS whenever a case is opened in CommCare. Over the next week, if 5 cases are opened in CommCare, you’ll see 5 different runs of this one job in OpenFn. If 4 runs are successful and one has failed, you’ll see 4 new patients in OpenMRS, and your system administrator will have been notified that one of those patients couldn’t be created (or whatever more robust error-handling you’ve set up will take place.)

Note that there’s not always a 1-to-1 mapping between runs and the real-world things you’re working with. I might define a job that gets all updated event data from DHIS2 for the last 2 weeks and publishes it to a public map using CartoDB. This job will be triggered at specified time intervals, every 2 weeks in this case, and after a month, we’ll only see 2 runs in OpenFn (that’s one run every two weeks). Each run will have succeeded or failed, and each one might have processed thousands of events from DHIS2.

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For one last example, a single form submission in Open Data Kit might trigger a job that creates new contacts and attendance records in Salesforce. In this case, you’ll find a run for each ODK form submission, but each run will create lots of different records in Salesforce—specifically, at least one contact and N number of attendance records, corresponding to the number of items in your ODK form’s “attendance repeat group”.

Is OpenFn open-source?#

OpenFn is a suite of different technologies with different licenses. We have built and maintain dozens of open-source data transformation and API wrapper software packages. Those are, for the most part, licensed under the LGPL and can be used freely to extract, transform, and load data from a command line, or as part of another software application.

OpenFn also hosts a proprietary web-application that ties these tools together (www.openfn.org) into an out-of-the-box integration management platform. This platform is open-core, providing the powerful ETL tools that sit at the heart of the proprietary OpenFn.org iPaaS as free and open-source software (FOSS). All of the jobs running on OpenFn.org, as well as all of the underlying adaptors, can be run offline using our FOSS tools.

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OpenFn will also soon offer an enhanced FOSS implementation option called OpenFn/microservice. This FOSS microservice approach is currently in development with funding from the DIAL Open Source Center, Digital Square, and the FCDO (formerly DFID).

Please note that this pathway does not provide the entire OpenFn platform as free and open source software (FOSS). In situations where a particular partner or government is unable to use the proprietary platform (though it can be deployed on local servers with an unlimited use license), this approach ensures that all jobs, triggers, and project configuration can be exported from OpenFn.org and used, in conjunction with OpenFn's FOSS ETL tools to deploy a microservices-style implementation which incurs zero licence costs and provides the basic data processing that OpenFn's platform does. While at the outset there will be no web interface and no ability to reprocess messages, etc., these features could be built by partners in time to replace the features of the OpenFn platform. I.E., none of the initial investment in OpenFn will be lost if the partners choose to build their own, fully open-source integration platform based on our powerful open-source ETL tools.

How much does OpenFn cost?#

Design & implementation costs#

OFG offers a range of packages to ensure successful first-time implementations, which include integration consulting, design, configuration, and capacity-building. Typical engagements take 1-5 days to complete, and our most popular package is the Integration QuickStart, in which we spend 1 week to design and configure ~5 integration flows end-to-end and provide administrative training to your staff for $5,000.

Ongoing costs#

OpenFn.org offers a free plan for users seeking to trial the platform or implement projects handling low data volumes (up to 100 runs/month). Usage of OpenFn.org, the proprietary integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS), incurs ongoing costs, which are largely dependent on the expected data volumes to be processed. OpenFn offers monthly subscriptions, enterprise licenses for annual and multi-year agreements, as well as unlimited and local deployment options. Contact enterprise@openfn.org to learn more and for a tailored cost estimate.

There are also available DIY options, as well as bespoke training services to develop your capacity to implement and manage OpenFn independently.

Can I trial the platform?#

Yes. As a matter of fact, you can use it for free, forever.

OpenFn.org offers a free plan to all users (sign up here). Try it out using OpenFn Docs, or contact our team for a free consultation and help getting started. Change your OpenFn plan at any time (no lock-in!), or contact enterprise@openfn.org to learn more about annual, enterprise, and unlimited licenses.

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At low volumes, or for prototyping, you can use the hosted platform for free forever.

How reliable is the hosted service?#

OpenFn has harnessed the extreme stability and scalability of Erlang to coordinate these actions and provide users with email alerts, project management tools, and an online job writing IDE.

We constantly monitor our own status with independent infrastructure at status.openfn.org. You can subscribe to notifications there or follow @openfnstatus.

We've been delivering this service continuously since 2014.

Can OpenFn integrate with my custom app?#

Yes, OpenFn can integrate with any application.

If your technology has a REST endpoint or webhooks service, it will likely work right out of the box. This covers most web applications (e.g., CommCare, Kobo, ODK, DHIS2, Salesforce, MS Dynamics, MPesa, etc.). OpenFn can also integrate with most databases, like Postgres, MySql, and Mongo, custom applications, legacy government systems, and can even parse CSV files–so long as these can be accessed from an online location. Read more about connecting source applications, or check out the Apps page for applications widely implemented.

We offer pre-built connectors (called "adaptors") for our users' most popular apps to make the integration setup quicker and more user-friendly when connecting with these tools. For example, users can implement language-http to send basic HTTP requests to any web application, or implement language-dhis2 to automatically handle DHIS2 authentication and access helper functions like fetchData()to export DHIS2 datasets.

Does OpenFn support two-way syncing?#

Yes, OpenFn can support two-way syncing of applications. Utilizing Flow Triggers, OpenFn jobs can be chained together to facilitate real-time two-way data sync, multi-step automation and data cleaning processes, and complex branching logic. Users can also implement bi-directional data syncs, as well as complex Saga Patterns to implement a transaction that spans multiple applications by configuring webhooks in their endpoint applications and performing updates in both systems when events take place in either.

Do I need to know how to code?#

No, but it helps to have written a formula in MS Excel! Many OpenFn users are familiar with data, not development, and quickly get comfortable with OpenFn jobs.

If your project is leveraging an OpenFn adaptor (e.g., language-dhis2), you have access to pre-built helper functions (e.g., getPatient, update) so that you don’t need to write custom code, and rather can use OpenFn documentation or existing job scripts to write your own job. See OpenFn Github for inspiration and open-source job code shared by OpenFn users. You’ll notice that these functions work in the same way that functions do in Excel… sum(A1, A2, A3)

Jobs can be written and extended using raw Javascript for advanced data cleaning and manipulation. Therefore, you may want to implement Javascript to achieve specific requirements or to extend existing OpenFn adaptors, which are open-source!

Where is my data stored?#

OpenFn is a middleware provider rather than a data storage system. We move information from system A to system B, and integrations can be set up to be compliant with GDPR, HIPAA, and other policies. To make auditing and reprocessing easy, OpenFn temporarily stores message data and job run history, but we're not the single source of truth nor the final resting point for these data. When organizations choose to use our hosted OpenFn platform at OpenFn.org, no data processed by OpenFn is stored locally and our platform runs on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Read more on our Compliance page.

OpenFn.org currently offers hosting on U.S. and Swiss-based cloud servers. OpenFn local and in-country cloud deployments are also available upon request. Contact enterprise@openfn.org to learn more.

Is my data secure?#

Yes, OpenFn prioritizes security, stability, and scalability (what we call SÂł) above all else, and many of our users implement OpenFn to comply with GDPR, HIPAA, and other policies. Read more on our Trust, Compliance, and Privacy pages.

OpenFn.org runs on the Google Cloud Platform, an infrastructure protected by more than 500 top experts in information, application, and network security. For organizations with specific compliance and data governance requirements, OpenFn can also be deployed on designated local- or cloud-infrastructure.

What if I have more questions?#

Open Function Group is a team of ICT4D and integration specialists, waiting to help you get started. Click the chat icon in the bottom right hand corner of this page to talk now. Or Email our team at admin@openfn.org, chat us on OpenFn.org, or post a question in our Community Forum.