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Stu Hawkins

The Integration state of the Nation

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WHEN we set out with Blackbaud Pacific on the journey to put some research behind our gut feeling of where the NonProfit world was tracking adopting new integration technology, we wanted a snappy title.

So we set about trying to creatively insert ‘integration’ into ‘State of the Nation’. Think Abraham Lincoln. (Though on further research that turned out to be ‘Union’ — which doesn’t rhyme at all — but does have a certain connectivity vibe about it!).

Sadly, our integration skills apparently don’t extend to linguistic integration and the nearest we got was:

State of the (integra)nation

Which was a no-go. I should have asked Phil Stevens

HOWEVER, thankfully, the RESULTS of the survey were far more successful — a positive goldmine of insight into this key area. And this post is our take on what they told us…

2 in 5

Let’s start with the basics — the majority of organisations now have both a CRM and at least one other specialised system doing something, well, specialised (email marketing, face to face, chatbots, etc etc )
However only 2 in 5 organisations are using direct API-based integration to connect these systems. This means the rest are using manual data transfer to make these systems work together.

And it turns out this manual processing is using a sometimes staggering amount of resources to keep everything moving:

  • 2 days a week spent simply moving data was reported
  • With 3–4 people involved in the process

Which is a LOT of wasted time and resource that could have been used for their cause — not to mention the hidden cost from their teams feeling like Kermit below:

You don’t know what you don’t know…

A telling statistic was that 24% of people selected the intendedly humorous response “What is an API?” to one of the uptake questions. Which means that despite it often feeling like a buzzword — actually, some organisation still don’t have the information they need to make an informed decision around whether integration could help. And when you don’t know what you don’t know — you don’t even know the right questions to ask to get the right information.


We’ll try and do a better job of getting info out in future.

And a great place to start might be our post “Five signs your organisation is in need of a connectivity revolution” — which does exactly what it says on the tin 🙂

Too hard, too expensive, too difficult to know where to start

Now here’s an interesting one — 89% of organisations believed that integration would save them time. 62% believed it would increase accuracy. YET only 21% use it. WHY is that?!!

Here’s our theory — three (in our opinion, inaccurate) perceptions that stop you even getting started…

Too hard

Integration is definitely perceived as hard. (Yep, that’s the too-hard basket!). And if you believe you need a development team, expert knowledge and an IT strategy committee to do it — it probably is.
Truth is, you really don’t.

Tools exist that make connecting some of your simpler systems together an achievable reality, with just some tech savvy, definitely without out a developer in sight.

And organisations (like ourselves!) are out there to help with the more in-depth projects.
AND possibly more importantly what to integrate and what NOT to integrate (see point 3!)

Too expensive

To be fair, integration used to be VERY expensive. The realm of enterprise, with terms like Middleware, ETL and Enterprise Service Bus 🚌🚌🚌 to add to the mystique. But platforms like Zapier have changed all that, and the demand for connected systems from small business has created an expectation that cloud applications should support connectivity natively. All of which has created a new ecosystem of affordable options. Go ahead and get a quote — you’ll be surprised. Plus have you added up all the time that manual transfer process takes??!!

Too difficult to know where to start

Our advice — start somewhere! Pick the process with the easiest, quickest win and automate it. And if that quick-win process isn’t obvious — get an integration specialist in to review your workflows. They can also help plan ahead to build a connected ecosystem — and probably save you heaps by telling you what *not* to integrate!

Change is coming

54% of NonProfits who took part are looking to to implement API-based integration. 53% are looking to do this in the next 12 months. This means there are going to be BIG changes over the next year or two.

We are expecting a LOT of activity as more organisations move to connect their systems, in turn creating more innovation and more solutions available in the sector as volume increases.

It really is the time to start planning for this. The technology has become affordable and the knowledge and support is available to implement an effective strategy to get resources back towards your cause.

Go back to the source

You can download the full paper giving these results here
(including some classic lines 😳)

“It can be a big, inefficient mess”, notes Stu Hawkins, integration specialist and founder of Red Arc Systems

You can even watch our webinar where Greg Dellas and myself talk through the findings.

And if you’re now part of the 54% looking to find out how integrated systems will optimise your processes and make your NonProfit thrive — and you would like some help getting started — please get in contact!

Some things we learned from going into crazy startup mode (and why we wouldn’t do it again..)

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In January 2018, we became a tech startup. Before that we’d simply been a business, but that was SO 2017. And we definitely *embraced* the culture (hey, if you’re in, you’re in, right?!). We relocated to a startup hub, we learned a whole new language around hustle, pitching & angel investors, and we decided we were going to get seed funding. This was all very awesome. And let’s be honest — we had a LOT of fun.

Six short months later it all unravelled spectacularly. 

It’s now 12 months on — and it’s time to break the silence (it’s a LONG time since the last blog post!). We’re still here — in fact we’re doing better than ever. But I’m not sure we’d do it exactly the same if we did it again — and this little post contains some of the reasons why — hope it helps!!

1) You have to sell stuff

Yep, we were so caught up in being a startup, generating ideas, chasing investment, etc etc that we TOTALLY FORGOT THAT WE WERE ALSO A BUSINESS, AND BUSINESSES SELL STUFF. This is hopefully obvious to you, the reader. But if not — with no time or energy going into sales, there aren’t any sales. And unless you’ve already secured investment or have cash reserves — with no sales, you run out of cash. And no amount of startup buzz will make that a good situation 😐

Ironically — it was pretty easy to fix. We stopped ‘being a startup’, focused on selling what we already had — and funnily enough the bank balance stabilised. #economics

2) Pursuing investment takes up more time than you think

This was a major contributor to the sales amnesia above. Basically, once you head down the investment route — it can easily become a full-time occupation. Which means that unless you have someone else to actually run your business — that’s not going to fly! 

I think that’s all that needs to be said on that one 🙂

3) (on the other hand) “Bootstrapping is cool..”

Those were Henry @ Fishburner’s exact words, and still his most memorable advice… Unfortunately it was advice we received WAY too late. Specifically, on the day we realised the investment we’d been pursuing wasn’t going to work out and we had no Plan B.

Of course it’s now an idea that has a groundswell of popularity. And there’s a huge debate out there on it’s merits vs ‘traditional’ startup funding — a debate which, to be honest, I don’t feel qualified to enter.

SO all I’m going to say is this:
It was the smart choice for us (we were fortunate in that we already income from our existing business we could leverage), in this phase, and might be for you as well — so don’t dismiss it altogether amongst all the noise…

4) Startup communities are a bit like living in The Matrix

They’re kindof real, but then again, they’re kindof not…

Which of course can be both good and bad. Surrounding yourself with like-minded organisations doing the same thing as you is a great source of community and inspiration. It also sparks creativity through collaboration and watching the more successful members of the community succeed can be a real incentive to work harder and up your game!

ON the other hand — because EVERYONE around you is doing the same thing, ‘being a startup’ can somehow become an end in itself. 

Also — because all your peers are seemingly spending all their time working on their ideas, taking insane risks with their livelihoods in order to turn their dreams into reality — this somehow becomes ‘normal’ i.e all the checks and balances of actually normal business practice disappear. 

‘Seemingly’ was an important word there — another thing we found out WAY too late was that the really smart startups weren’t taking anywhere near as much risk as it appeared they were. The REALLY smart startups (think Staybil) had secured (often very creatively) finance for each stage of their journey BEFORE they commenced that stage. And if things hadn’t worked out, they had planned EXIT POINTS

Basically — they had a plan — NOONE had told us about this 😳

Us —  we just went for it. 
No exit points, no pre-secured finance, just hope and a heroic sense of risking all. 

Cos that seemed normal…

5) Startup is a phase not a destination

And one final thought — this one from a visit to The Entourage. Someone was describing the business growth model — and it suddenly hit me: 

being a startup is a phase — you’re meant to graduate from it and become a real company.

This is the essence of where we had gone wrong. We had SO identified with being a cool tech startup that we’d forgotten the journey we had set out on — to build a company that made a difference.


The 12 month perspective..

Of course I could equally have written a blog on all the GREAT lessons we learned from going into crazy startup mode. And the truth is, we ARE still here, we ARE doing better than ever, and who knows what part going crazy startup played in that. 

But it was a roller coaster of a ride — I actually ended up physically unwell. And it doesn’t just impact you, it impacts the people around you — most of whom are innocent bystanders. None of which is worth the buzz.

SO if only for the sake of your team and your nearest & dearest: 

  • Have a plan
  • Have a plan that includes where the money is coming from (!)
  • Have some exit points
  • Remember hope is *not* a strategy

In praise of limitations

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Integration technology is getting simpler and more available – don’t think it was worth writing a blog just to establish that! Perhaps because of this, there’s now a shift from being able to integrate two applications to be able to make that integration effective.

You see we often get a request to “just integrate” two applications. And in many ways, that’s an understandable sentiment. I mean, why wouldn’t you want all of the information from your apps to be available in all the others?

Well, it’s possibly a little counterintuitive, but we’re going to humbly suggest that in integration design ‘limitations’ are your friend. Let me elaborate…

Get that time sheet approved…

Say you have a Time & Attendance app that you want to connect to your payroll app. The T&A app produces a timesheet that is transferred to Payroll.  Easy.

But wait! The timesheet was sent before it was properly checked, the employee has added more hours, but the timesheet has already been processed and the pay run completed.

Now you could write lots of clever code that detected and processed updates, transferred them to payroll, detected the status of the timesheet in payroll, reversed it if needed then  posted the update then reversed the pay run, recalculated everything then reprocessed the payroll again (phew!)

OR you could make the T&A app the master, implement a business rule that says that all time sheets should be approved before transfer and can’t be edited once approved.

You’ve just significantly reduced your development, what you develop will be simpler and more reliable, PLUS you’ve made it necessary for the organisation to implement good HR practices!

Ye cannot serve two masters…

Another example – the classic scenario where you want to your email marketing solution updated from your CRM.  Now in actual fact, these days, these two probably communicate with each other all by themselves – but for the purposes of this example: this can be achieved in a deceptively complex scenario where all new subscribers and updates are transferred in both directions.  Where you write code to manage validation, duplicates, CONFLICTS etc etc etc

OR you set one app as the master and ONLY push updates from that one to the other. Again that seems like a limitation and less technologically clever.  But if you implement it that way not only do you save on development cost and end up with simpler more robust code. The ‘limitation’ ALSO channels your client to implement good list management and setup data flows to a central point. We think that’s a win for everyone!

The lowdown..

You see with all the technology around at the moment – the temptation is to code something super complex that attempts to allow for a multitude of potential variations on the workflow.

What we think is actually clever – is to deliberately limit what is possible, and build streamlined, simple, ROBUST mechanisms that not only make the technology more efficient – but these workflow boundaries actually help organisations achieve more efficient human systems as well!!

Or put another way – It’s not how you integrate it’s what you integrate!

Hope that helped – if you’re looking for advice on your next integration project (or an entire integration platform with advice included!) – get in touch – we love to talk!

Red Arc Segmenter

By Integration, Systems No Comments

Segmentation is difficult, time consuming and is no-one’s favourite job. Yep, we said it.  And if you’re reading this, you probably already know it’s true.

You also probably already know how important well-segmented data is and the work that is involved in producing it.

AND you know producing a tiered segmentation by running a separate query for each segment, then using VLOOKUPS and other dark arts to merge and de-duplicate them is not fun and can take HALF A DAY OR MORE.  

It also requires a not insignificant skill level. And inevitably, with all this complex manual processing going on, subtle differences are introduced each time a mailing is produced meaning SOMEBODY gets the wrong letter.

IN OTHER WORDS it represents a significant amount of time, effort and skill and doesn’t always produce the result you were hoping for!!

Until now..

We’d like to introduce you to Red Arc Segmenter.

Red Arc Segmenter is an ultra-simple tool that is able to produce tiered segmentations in a single operation. It reduces the whole process from half a day to less than half an hour!
It also makes it INCREDIBLY STRAIGHTFORWARD. Making it a tool all your staff can use.

And by automating all the hard work of manually preparing data – you’ll not only save time and money but INCREASE repeatability and accuracy.

How does it do it?

Red Arc Segmenter connects directly with your donor database to automatically synchronise your most current data without you having to do anything.

Then we set up your unique segmentation template – which combined with your latest data mean accurate, repeatable segmentations are available to you at any time.

Which means you can cut processing time from half a day to half an hour.  (Did we mention that before?!) Oh, and that half an hour – that’s mostly your people deciding which of your people should get that amazing mailout – we process your decision in seconds.


If Red Arc Segmenter sounds like something that could revolutionise YOUR data preparation.

Please get in touch and we can discuss how it could fit into your organisation. Because YOU want to save time and automate all that tedious stuff – and WE love to help people do exactly that.

Get in touch >

One tool DOESN’T fit all

By Integration No Comments

So you’ve decided to get that deck built – and Monday morning, bright and early, you have a tradie at your door.  Except when you let him in, you notice all he’s brought with him is a single hammer. Hang on! you think. Where’s all his tools, where’s all the things he’s going to need to get the job done, where’s his UTE for goodness sake??!!

Because turning up with only one tool to do a complex job isn’t going to work, right?

AND YET when we choose software to make our organisations run smoothly we so often look for the ‘one tool’ that will solve all our problems..

In today’s software universe we have the luxury of choosing multiple tools, each of which does one thing awesomely (like a software drop saw!) and with INTEGRATION we can make all these awesome tools work together as a single solution. It’s a thing of beauty.

Below are some of the tools WE use, and why – and yes, we’re trying to inspire you..

Some tools we use..


Asana kindof keeps our business running.  It handles all the detail in all of the tasks we keep track of day to day.  We even run our sprints and support desk in it.  What we really love is it’s simplicity, which makes it fast in operation and flexible enough to be applied to a huge range of scenarios.


But for all Asana’s mastery of the detail – sometimes we have trouble seeing the wood for the trees! For this we use Trello.  We have a board set up that give us a bird’s eye view of the projects we are working on.  We also use it to store ideas, features and, well, random stuff.  It’s all a bit unstructured and free-form – but that’s what we need – and Trello is VERY good at that!


If you’ve not come across this, you’ll love it! Perfect for big-picture project planning at a week level. We use it to visually plan future capacity and project timelines. Check it out!


Bit hesitant to let you know about this one (everyone needs some secrets!). Qwilr allows us to create super-slick looking proposals, super-fast. It even handles the approval process. But hey, it’s rubbish, don’t use it..


Yep, we’re an integration company and we use Zapier! Actually, we LOVE Zapier – we use it to quickly connect things together and build one-off ‘applications’ for specific tasks from a few basic tools.  You need to use Zapier.  Trust us..


Almost forgot this one – because it’s ALWAYS there! Toggl makes tracking time a reality – transparent enough to actually use – yet with enough reporting to make it useful.  Without toggl, no-one would get billed, and I wouldn’t be writing this!


We remote work.  We couldn’t without #slack. It’s that simple.

The end bit

So there you go – that’s what our Ute full of tools looks like – actually that’s only the more interesting ones – cos no-one’s really that interested in what brand of nails hold your deck together!  

We reckon there’s tools out there that would make YOUR life easier. And when you’ve found them – CONNECT them together! That’s when it REALLY starts working for you.

And if you need help doing that – please get in contact – we LOVE connecting tools and helping organisations get their efficiency on!

The greatest system ever designed

By Integration, Systems No Comments

Everyone knows that great systems make your life easier – and everyone knows that COFFEE makes the world go round (at least before 11am!). Which means the system we’re about to describe HAS to be the greatest system ever designed – because it speeds the delivery of that double-shot ¾ full flat white that fuels your inspiration and all-round business prowess on a daily basis!!

Let me explain..

So this system doesn’t involve ipads, or touch-screens, or databases, or API integration. Actually, it doesn’t involve electricity at all. In fact, it is so deceptively simple, that you’ve probably never even thought of it as a system. But in actual fact its simple elegance contains systems genius – and has been accurately delivering the correct coffee to customers for years!

We are of course talking about the common (at least in Sydney!) practice of writing customer’s coffee orders directly onto the lid of the coffee to be made. This, in our humble opinion exhibits some pretty classic systems design features:

  1. Encapsulation
    The customer brief, the manufacturing instructions, and the final product are all intrinsically linked (they’re on the lid!) , ensuring accurate, accountable delivery of the customer’s requirements every time..
  2. Kanban
    I bet you’ve never thought about the fact that row of coffee lids bears an uncanny resemblance to a Kanban Board. But look again, and we reckon you’ll never see it in the same light again!!
  3. In built queuing (with dynamic re-prioritisation)
    An important client comes to you with an unforeseen urgent deadline (the boss just called!) – no problem – simply put the lid at the front of the queue!
  4. Tracking
    You can SEE how many back orders you have, what current demand is, whether you have sufficient capacity and raw materials. It doesn’t get much simpler than that..
  5. Resilience
    Barring a strong gust of wind, there’s really nothing that can go wrong. No system crashes, no internet reliance, even a power outage wouldn’t cause any lost data!!
    (the last example is of course largely irrelevant – because unless you just ordered a cold batch brew – there’s not going to be a lot of barista-ing going on without any electricity!)

I think we’ve made our case – but why are we telling you all this??! Well, partly so you can marvel at how clever baristas are. But mainly because we can all be tempted to throw technology or features at a problem in order to find a solution. But the truth is (and bear in mind we are in the business of developing technology!), Simple is usually best. And ultra-simplicity like the coffee-lid system (that consistently, efficiently and with incredibly low-friction produces exactly what you set it up to do) is where the real systems genius lies.

We reckon that’s thought of the day..

Everyone needs a Connected Solution..

By Integration No Comments

So.. you have this brilliant idea for how you can save your organisation time and money by getting software to automate  something people are currently doing manually.  You’ve pinned down all the things this new system needs to do, and you’re excited to get going and start gaining the benefits of letting your software do the work.

And now you need to figure out how to actually make it happen..

We reckon you have options:

  1. Find a single application that already does everything you identified in your requirements.  If you’ve found it, you’re winning!
  2. Develop a new, custom system from scratch to do the work.  
  3. Build a Connected Solution. Find apps that each do an individual part of your process brilliantly, and use integration to connect these together into a seamless solution.

Below is the solution Red Arc  developed for Mondial Fundraising to automate their recruitment and onboarding processes, which as they had grown, and the process was still largely manual, was beginning to take up a significant amount of time for their HR team.

Connected solution

Mondial’s connected solution for HR

Now when we say develop, what we actually did was source several apps that already offered great functionality for part of the process. Why reinvent the wheel?

What we used:

  • Workable (  Awesome application for managing the job  application and recruitment process. And it had a great API (of course it did!)
  • Xero (  Xero, as we’re sure you’re already aware will change your life.  Specifically, we used Xero payroll here, which Mondial were already using.
  • Webmerge ( .  Mondial wanted to automate sending personalised contracts to each new employee.  Webmerge was a great little app that did exactly that, really well. And all controlled through the API..
  • Mandrill (  We use Mandrill (from Mailchimp) a LOT.  We needed to communicate with the new candidates and send them some relatively complex emails.  All set up in stylish mobile optimised templates to make Mondial look great, first impressions and all that.. Mandrill does all that and with remarkably little effort.

What we did:

With all those apps in place doing the real work,  all we needed to do was tie it all together so Mondial users had a single interface to use, making it feel like a single system for them.

So we built a small web app, with a single web form and a bunch of integration code behind the scenes. This enabled their staff to:

  • Select and automatically transfer successful candidates form Workable
  • This automatically created users in Mondials other systems without the user having to do anything else (right there, an hour or more’s work down to a few minutes)
  • The candidate is then sent an automatic welcome email, prompting them to fill in further details for payroll etc on a web form
  • Once all details are collected. Mondial staff send the complete set of employee documents to the new employee via the same web form.

The Outcome

Mondial got a solution that met all their requirements, with each part of the process being done excellently (due to a dedicated app) with a great user experience.  Development time was low as only integration elements needed to be created. And the original objective (saving a LOT of time spent by HR staff) was over achieved.

WE got to have a lot of fun doing what we love to do – connect things together and create a solution that exceeds the sum of it’s parts!!!

And you? If all this has inspired YOU to join the Connectivity Revolution, build your very own Connected Solution, and start saving time & money too.

Get in touch!! We’d love to chat with you!

5 signs your organisation needs it’s very own Connectivity Revolution

By Integration No Comments

Ever feel like everyone’s talking about integration these days? But how do you know if integration would make a difference in your organisation??

Always happy to help, we’ve put together 5 tell-tale signs that could indicate you’re doing work that you don’t need to do, and missing out on the effectiveness connecting your systems can bring. Take a look – can you see yourself in any of them?

  1. Double entry, double the work
    Is the same thing being typed in two separate places all the time?
    Ok, we thought we’d start with the obvious. If this is you, please call us, call somebody! – you don’t need to be suffer this pain..
  2. Export. Import. Repeat..
    Do you regularly export something from one of your systems, only to import it again into another on a regular basis?
    Bit more subtle this one, but probably still eating up someone’s time unnecessarily.  Let me put it this way: imagine if you DIDN’T have to download that file from your Ecommerce site then upload it again into your accounts system, every day.
    Those systems are both yours, imagine if they could just talk to each other and all you had to do do was be impressed with the results??
  3. You’re getting really good with Excel..
    Um, what was your job title again?? Kudos to you for your awesome tech skills, but integration could mean that file you receive (you know, the one that’s almost in the right format, at least it is an hour later after those vLookups and applying that cunning formula you devised) is created automatically. Or better still, the information just appears in the application you need it in! Which would mean that all that creativity and problem solving you put into creating those mega-spreadsheets could be put to use on what you’re really good at – your job. You know it makes sense..
  4. You’re sure that information is somewhere..
    Getting serious for a moment – if you’ve given up on all the re-typing/excel-file-handling described above – you may well have also ended up with your information silo’ed into less than helpful pockets across your organisation.  Meaning reporting and/or access to information is time-consuming or completely impractical. Meaning you don’t do it..
    SO here’s our thought: if you could connect your systems together and pull meaningful reports WITHOUT the daily work you gave up on, wouldn’t you do it?  Of course you would! #integration
  5. If only I had time to..
    Mundane, routine tasks are taking your team’s time away from what they’re passionate about
    Here’s something we’ve noticed – introducing integration and automation doesn’t usually mean fewer people working at your organisation.  What actually normally happens is that the existing people have MORE time that can be spent on creative, meaningful activities,  because they have to spend LESS time doing repetitive, frustrating stuff.
    All of which means – people are HAPPY – and we all know what happiness does to productivity…

Does any of this sound like your organisation? – if so it’s time to look at joining the connectivity revolution!

Taking that first step to get connected is easy! Talk to us. #itswhatwedo

Call us or email us on [email protected]