About once a month my phone rings and someone asks if JCA can tie together multiple systems to save them time and money. It’s a great question. Integrated systems help organizations run internal processes better, improve external communication and ultimately raise more money. One of the enduring mythologies, however, is that the project itself should be simple and inexpensive. Like anything with technology, cost mirrors complexity, so before beginning any project I ask people to explain exactly how they intend to save time or raise more money by integrating their systems.
I often find that different departments select best-of-breed software for specific business functions without considering how information is shared throughout the organization. In a typical museum, for example, you might see The Raiser’s Edge in Development and Membership and something else (Ticketmaster Vista, Galaxy Gateway, SiriuswareSalesware, etc.) for ticketing at the Front Desk. Without integration how will you know when members visit or how visitation correlates to renewal? Improving member renewal is a great reason to invest in an integration and will quickly justify the expense of the project. Or how about an alumni association that wants to let graduates update their contact information online and share that information with The Raiser’s Edge for the annual fund? Automating this process of data exchange will improve accuracy and cut the cost of rekeying the data.
The key word here is investment; good database integrations require an ongoing commitment of time and money. Continuing with the museum example, there are many ways to configure The Raiser’s Edge for membership. It is an extremely powerful toolset that serves the needs of both the smallest and most complex cultural institutions. The details of how information must flow between systems will vary accordingly, as will the cost of integration, development and maintenance.
Data integrations look like any other software project: analysis of the business requirements, development, testing and maintenance. It is the last step, maintenance, that is all too often neglected. Everything changes over time. Vendors continually release product updates, operating systems change and business requirements evolve. Organizations must understand that they are creating a new product and the integration will need its own care and feeding over time. It is not a one-time investment.
For a great example of a data integration done right, consider the RE Adapter for Encompass. JCA and iModules partnered to create a link between Blackbaud’s The Raiser’s Edge and iModules’ Encompass. The Adapter exchanges core biographic, demographic and gift data between the two products, enabling alumni associations, colleges and independent schools to better serve alumni. Check it out here
JCA provides strategic consulting to the world’s leading nonprofits.