Monday, March 31, 2014

Integration: One of the NFP Sector's Top Technology Trends for the Next Few Years

API calls 
The Access Group recently published their top 5 tech trends for charities with one of them being Integration. This is something which I completely agree with. Not integration as in integrating a database with Word/Excel or with PAF software etc, but integration of systems and data flows. For example: integrating your fundraising database and your website; integrating data files to/from your fulfilment house(s); integrating third-party giving websites with your database; integrating your database and your finance system. And so on.

Why? Because these are some of the best uses of technology in order to get some huge benefits. Automation, time-saving, efficiencies, better use of staff time, data accuracy, data up-to-dateness, quicker decision making, better and quicker reporting, better and quicker analysis, smoother changes for new systems, even improving your competitive edge; and so on. There are just so many things which data/system integration of this ilk can help.

Unfortunately to achieve this is not always so easy. Even with today's more contemporary, open systems. Most charities do not have the resources of commercial organisations who can throw money and teams at such problems, buying in such skills if necessary. And not just for the initial implementation of such integrations, but the on-going maintenance and future changes too. Most charities will of course have limited budgets and resources and unfortunately the time and effort needed to implement integration in any better way than "importing a csv file" often restricts them from doing so. Hence, the "importing a csv file" route is still so common.

But hope is on the increasingly nearer horizon. Systems are standardising, APIs are more available and third-party integration tools are more accessible and far more flexible and smarter than in years past. Even native data loaders in the latest fundraising/CRM systems are better than they used to be if you do have to go down that route.

And I think charities and NFPs are starting to really understand the benefits of such integration, and therefore they are committing budget and resources to such tasks. And that's fantastic. I really hope that over the next few years we are increasingly going to see huge steps in improving integration at NFPs. Assuming so, that is going to bring some wonderful benefits.

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