Peter Campbell, IT Director of Earthjustice and author of Tech Cafeteria has published a wonderful primer on data integration, Understanding the Alphabet Soup of Data Integration. Thanks to Idealware, which sponsored this article.
Exchanging data between applications can be done in a variety of ways, but many can be difficult to grasp. Peter offers a clear explanation of how data can be stored, types of data formats and methods to transfer data, as well as how APIs are used. What I found especially useful was his section on how to identify “data exchange friendly software,” in ways such as “Can I do data exports” and “Is there an API available?”
Tate Hausman who issued his Integration Proclamation also recently described to me how he is attempting to manage an integration project between SalesForce and Democracy in Action, two applications often used by nonprofits.
It’s clear that being able to share data is finally getting some attention, as evidenced by the recent announcements of Kintera’ Connect and Convio Open. Wouldn’t it be nice if eventually we could select the applications that are best for each of our needs, and easily move data between them.
My take: data integration must be discussed before products are chosen; if they don’t connect, look for an alternative that does. Vendors must also do more to make this area understandable by non-programmers. Why is this important for online fundraising? Because everyone in a nonprofit needs to have access to the same information about constituents (not just development), and it shouldn’t be different depending on which internal system you use.
Sat, Oct. 13 I attended the NYC Joomla Day run by PICnet and sponsored by Google. Joomla is currently the most popular open source CMS (Drupal and Plone are also widely used).
As a relatively new Joomla user, I found the ‘Joomla 101′ session helpful. Louis Landry, a core Joomla developer, also reviewed the history of the development of upcoming 1.5 version and why it has taken a while to be released (it will be fully internationalized).
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I am a big believer in data integration, and that applications should be able to share data with each other. (I’m not alone in this effort – see the Integration Proclamation.) Ryan Cozimek of PICnet led an afternoon session to explain why integration of CMS & CRM products is important. Some benefits include allowing constituents to manage their profile on the web, providing a way to search data in inventory systems, making available help tickets to users and allowing for ACLs – access control lists, as a way to customize web site content. PICnet is currently developing tools to integrate Joomla with SalesForce and Democracy in Action. Recently announced integration initiatives by the big nonprofit vendors are Kintera Connect and Convio Open.
If your organization doesn’t have an current web site because it takes too much time to update content, using a content management system will help. With an active community and developer base, Joomla looks like the strongest option in the open source CMS market.
Is it better to use integrated software where not all the pieces are equally good or to search out the best applications of each category and try to use them together? My current organization has chosen the integrated route, but it’s very a painful process. One vendor which promised to integrate with our existing fundraising software has never been able to get it working completely. Two other products that we bought from the same vendor, expecting them to work well together, still have been a challenge to integrate. Obviously many are concerned about this issue, as evidenced by the site Integration Proclamation.
This reminds me of the early days of PC software. Remember Symphony and Framework? Of course now you have Microsoft Office, which does have modules that work together well. But it seems that if an organization can identify its top needs, there’s some merit to searching out the products that are strong in those product types. Integrated software can work too, but only if the ‘strong’ modules agree with your top priorities.
With Convio & GetActive’s recent announced merger, the ‘all from one vendor’ concept seems to be gaining new steam. But it seems like there will always be room for products which do one thing especially well.