Sunday, February 12, 2012

Integration – what does it mean?!

INSPIRE Conceptual Approach 
If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “Can I integrate my database with…” I’d be a rich man by now. And if I’d said yes each time, and then tried to do it, I’d probably be a gibbering wreck by now - and spending all my riches on psychiatrist fees. Because, unfortunately, "integration" is one of the most abused, mis-understood and mis-interpreted words in IT vocabulary. Stop 5 people in a fundraising office and ask them what integration means to them and you’ll get at least 7 ½ answers.

Integration can mean so many different things to different people. From the comparatively simple requirements of automating a thank you letter straight out of your database into Microsoft Word or implementing a one-way transfer of data between a fundraising database and a finance system; or just enabling someone to look-up an address in a third-party PAF software and populate the address fields in the database; through to a full-blown, real-time, automated, synchronised, two way (or more) integration between two or even multiple systems (your fundraising database, box office system, online activist web site, events management system…) – right up to the highly acclaimed, highly sought after Single Supporter View. (BTW, can’t your database manager do this? They’ve got a couple of spare hours next Tuesday…)

So take care. When anyone says the I word, find out exactly what they mean and what they really want. As so often with IT systems, the first thing to ask is, Why? What are the benefits? What would it mean if we do “integrate” the systems? How would we use that data? And if it is more than a simple data transfer, if we do have 2+ systems with the same “contacts” on both, how will we keep the data synchronised and up-to-date? And what is the cost?!!

But don’t get me wrong – I also love integration. The benefits of an ‘integration’ exercise when it is done well and with thought are great. Just take care you – and everyone else – understands and agrees exactly what you all mean.

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