We develop a number of different types of solutions that connect The Raiser’s Edge with third party applications. When this is done for one organisation the hardest challenge is getting the requirements to match the end user’s as closely as possible. However we also develop a lot for third party applications directly. Most recently we released Chimpegration but there have been many others that integrate many different areas of the application. With these clients the important point is not so much as to match one set of requirements exactly but to match as many requirements exactly!
I have yet to come across two organisations that have set up RE the same way. Sometimes the differences are small but sometimes they are very large. One recurring theme is that of phone/email types. The Raiser’s Edge seems to be relatively unique in its setup of these values. Not only are phones and emails stored in the same location but you can store them according to address type too. How does this match up with a third party web application that uses email address as a primary key? They may have one field for home phone, one for mobile and possibly one other. How do you get that tie in with the possibility of any combination of phone and email types? I have seen a whole plethora of regular phone types e.g.
Those are just the ones I can think of as I write this. And of course each of these could have a number after them.
Then of course there is the proliferation of email (or is it e-mail, etc) addresses.
What techniques do we use to overcome these issues? When we are working with a third party developer directly it is often in their interest to develop the configuration piece. This saves them a lot of development cost. This means that we simply say to them if you want us to update a phone number you need to tell us which type it is. This is then supplied in the file/webservice. Likewise when we supply that piece of data, we also send the phone type too.
Another solution is to build a configuration part to the application. This is what we did with Chimpegration. We allow the end user to map the fields that they want to synchronise so that they specify which fields on MailChimp map to the fields on The Raiser’s Edge.
The last solution is the least desirable. It is possible to simply say that the home phone number should be called “Home” and email address should be called “Email” – end of story. This is clearly the simplest and cheapest but unless you have a lot of sway over the organisations that you are selling to it is unlikely that you are going to get many buyers.
Phone and email types are perhaps the most obvious but what other issues can arise?
Where you are collecting business details, should these be added to an organisation or to a business address on the constituent record? Should you create a new constituent for the organisation? How can you be sure that it does not already exist in the system but under a slightly different name. One solution is to allow the end user to review the matches that have been made but this again adds to the development cost. It could also be prohibitive if the volume of data you are bringing in is large.
What about fields that do not have an obvious place in The Raiser’s Edge. One application that we worked with had an anniversary date. There is no such field in RE. We gave the end user the option to ignore the field, store it has the spouse relationship from date or store it as an attribute.
What happens if one organisation makes a field mandatory? When I work with an organisation directly I will ask them what mandatory fields they have set up on their system. If, as part of the process, I have to create a new constituent then I will ask them to give me a default value for that field. For a generic solution this has to be worked into the application configuration.
You can see much of this in action in Chimpegration where we account for mandatory fields and different combinations of phone types and emails. Check out the synchronisation screencast for a glimpse of this in action.
So all said and done is this type of solution to be avoided? Absolutely not! It is not cheap because of the extra work involved in making the application work for all types of organisations. When people complain about NetCommunity or Patron Edge integrating badly with The Raiser’s Edge hopefully this article will have given you some insight as to the skills required by Blackbaud in getting the integration to work well. (Update 15th Dec 2011: I should clarify that given the difficulty in developing generic solutions I actually believe that Blackbaud have done a good job with these integrations)
If you are a third party application wondering how to integrate with The Raiser’s Edge then speak so us. We are skilled at doing this and have done it a lot. We can either do it for your or we can share the development. When done well it is a great asset to your company and will bring Raiser’s Edge users to your application.