Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Raiser's Edge NXT: My Initial Thoughts (Part 2)


Last week, Blackbaud announced details of Raiser's Edge NXT. In the first part of this blog, I gave the facts of what I currently understand NXT to be. In this second part, I will say a bit more about what I personally think of the system and the implications for current RE7 users/potential new NXT users. As such, I should add a great big caveat at the start which is that this is my own personal opinion and so you can blame me for anything I am ultimately wrong about (or, hopefully, right!), but I hope that this post is at least a fair and open narrative.

What's Good about NXT?
The good news is there is lots to look forward to about NXT. It's interface and UX is undeniably very slick and far more user-friendly than RE7. There are definitely better features such as the approach to dashboarding, the work centre, the summaries users can easily see and the far more flexible way of displaying information. It looks good and that will certainly help user adoption. (Of course, that is only one aspect of any software, but it's a great start).

The different role-based views are promising and although that might add some extra support to database administrators to maintain them, I would still vote for and want that flexibility.

It supports REST API technology which means that using its API should be a far better experience compared to RE7's API which many people didn't like. What this means in practise is that your technical staff, or Blackbaud or third-parties should be able to integrate NXT more easily with other systems and get data in and out of the database better using such tools.

The conversion approach (which I detailed in part 1 of this blog) is clever in itself, although I have reservations too for the initial implementers (c.f. below).

And for those of you who want a cloud-based fundraising database it could be a great option.

Of course, the above sub-heading means I need another which says there might be stuff I think is not so good…
So what are my concerns/questions about NXT?

  • In the short-term (although that actual timescale is currently unknown), I am not sure how the approach to using RE7 and NXT at the same time will be received. You can look at it on the positive side and say that it is of course great that some users will get earlier access to NXT, or even that some users will have an option of which system to use, but I think there are issues that may need to be resolved.

    I would think it could be harder to explain to users who should be using which version to see what; and administrators will need to support both systems. And as more NXT functionality comes on board, so testing, training and internal documentation will need to be kept up-to-date on those aspects. There's some potential 'hidden costs' there in terms of internal staff time/effort. And although some existing RE7 clients might accept all that, it will be interesting to see how that is seen by potential new customers. (NB I realise that the software interface is simply one aspect of any procurement decision, but it's quite a significant one in this case).
  • I'll be interested to see how Attributes are ultimately managed in NXT. As I understand it, at the moment Attributes will simply be migrated from RE7 'as is', and that is probably a good thing for ease of migration and for initial adoption.

    But if Blackbaud are promoting NXT as a great UX and with their role-based views, then if users can only still see all Attributes all in one list and then have to work out from there which are relevant for them, then I don't personally believe that is taking a step forward in that aspect of the UI. I know many organisations who have dozens (many dozens) of Attribute categories. That said, I think users may be able to filter the Attributes list in some ways so that is going to help.
  • When RE was originally released, attributes were a very clever way to enable non-technical users to be able to add their own 'fields'. And they are of course still very easy to add. But today's CRM systems (Blackbaud's competitors) offer charities the ability to add 'standard' fields very easily, simply through using a GUI and still without the need for any specialist technical knowledge.

    Again, I know that this is a very specific point but I personally believe it is an ever-increasing example of user-friendliness with power which NXT might need to catch-up with. I also acknowledge that at some point, if users want this capability a lot then they should maybe consider Blackbaud CRM, but that doesn't really address the NXT needs.
A few things we don't know yet but will start to do so
We don't yet have a timescale for a full implementation of NXT so that it replaces all of RE7. The only thing we know is that it won't be a matter of just a few months. So the 'hybrid' approach will be here for a while.

And as the pricing won't be based on user numbers then I assume it will either be based on record numbers and/or online storage requirements. How this works out will depend on Blackbaud's final cost model.

One of the things we will need to know is how Blackbaud will allow and manage client-created and third party API developments. Current RE7 hosting has limitations on third-party APIs so will that be the same on NXT? I believe that existing add-on functionality built on RE7 using RE7's API functionality will also be replicable on NXT, but it isn't completely clear to me how that will happen. Will it only be for API apps built by Blackbaud on RE7 or by third-parties/clients too? This is especially pertinent given that Blackbaud are launching a Partner Network in November this year.

There was talk on Twitter during the Blackbaud conference announcement that there could be a private cloud option. In which case, that would seem to offer more functionality for control of performance management and flexible use of the future API.

So how would I summarise all this?
Although I know RE7 is still selling fine and fundamentally it provides solid operational functionality for fundraising, it is difficult to argue against the view that it looks a bit long in the tooth, it is based on older technology and it is more difficult to integrate with. And all that whilst (some of) Blackbaud's competitors have surged ahead in terms of technology and an open approach to integration, and are already challenging on fundraising functionality.

NXT will address this. That's good news for the sector in terms of software options. Especially for small to mid-size charities already using or considering Raiser's Edge, which is where I suspect NXT will do well.

But it still won't be available until the middle of 2015 and even then it won't be replacing 100% of RE7 functionality. The time Blackbaud take to develop NXT further could have a significant impact on its adoption. And as I say above, I remain to be convinced as to how the 'hybrid' approach to using RE7 and NXT will be received by some users.

I also don't know if the cloud-only approach will alienate some organisations? It shouldn't do in terms of cloud security although there are of course some people who are still wary of cloud systems - but the management of client/third-party APIs could be important here too.

But as a one sentence summary? I think NXT will put Blackbaud back in the game (if they were ever out of it…)


David Zeidman said...

Ivan you offer some interesting points. I don't think the hybrid approach will be a problem. In many respects that is its strength. It means that organisations will be able to continue using every existing process until they have found a suitable replacement within NXT. This is far less daunting that the big bang approach of just changing software packages to something else. As different NXT roles are brought online organisations can migrate in small numbers to those roles. This means that training and process planning within an organisation can be staged incrementally without requiring the same volume of work that you would normally associate with such a transition.

As for attributes, yes minutiae. We do not know how attributes will be dealt with from a UX perspective but if an organisation were transferring to a new system they would need to handle the volume of attributes too. Even though there is no conversion to NXT, it would nevertheless be prudent to have a good system clearout (especially if cost is based on the size of the database)

Of course third party applications are of great interest to Zeidman Development as that as what we do. There was talk at BBCon 2014 of allowing organisations a virtual private cloud to enable them to keep these tools intact. There was no mention of cost for this though so that will certainly be one to watch out for.

I agree with your assessment that NXT is an exciting prospect. The development process has begun at a rapid pace and I look forward to seeing how it progresses. There will be a period of a hybrid model but this will both give Blackbaud time to develop and give organisations time to adopt which is not a bad thing.

Paul Morriss said...

I think one disadvantage of the fact that the underlying data is remaining unchanged is that we're stuck with the slow pace of change of that. For example, how long have people been asking for an email address which isn't tied to a postal address. I think I read this is coming in an upcoming RE release, but they only happen about once a year. I expect to see rapid updates with the interface, as that's easy to roll out, like with BBOX. I don't think we'll see the underlying data changing so quickly though.