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!