I’m a big fan of Google and a big fan of Blackbaud. What do the two have in common? I’m not sure really. They are very different companies offering very different product ranges. However one obvious difference that is currently affecting me day to day is the fact that whereas Google are changing their interface throughout to reflect a modern sleek approach, Blackbaud (for the their “Edge” range of products at least) are not. In fact, not only are they not changing the way they look and feel, these products are stuck in a design that is several generations old. Due to the nature of the products they are also very restricted as to what they can do.
At the Blackbaud Conference for nonprofits in Washington last month I saw a demo of new functionality in Blackbaud CRM. It was highlighted that this functionality is only available in the “webshell” feature set of the application (as opposed to the ClickOnce feature set). If you are not familiar with those terms then essentially the “webshell” is the functionality available for all in a browser whereas the ClickOnce functionality is available only on Windows. What this also means though is that the webshell can utilise html5 and not be restricted to Windows Forms. This means a beautiful upgrade of the user interface is possible with much less of a struggle.
With the news that there will not be an RE8 what does this mean to those on RE7? When I recently showed our Chimpegration application to MailChimp I felt the need to apologise for the way that The Raiser’s Edge looked. When you look at MailChimp’s website it is very cool and very funky, just as you would expect from a website devoted to email marketing that takes pride in the range of sophisticated email templates on offer. Clearly there is a lot more technical wizardry to MailChimp than just the templates but if their site did not look good, you would be put off from creating a campaign through them. They could see that the RE7 interface was antiquated but were clearly impressed by the depth of functionality available to users which was matched in Chimpegration.
And that is the point. The most noticeable changes that Google makes in Gmail, calendar, docs, reader, etc are staring right at you in the form of the interface. But they also make a lot of functional additions too. With the release of RE7.92 Blackbaud will certainly make some good improvements but they cannot afford to stop there. The reason Google is updating is as a form of rebranding. Raiser’s Edge 7 does not have that luxury so it must shine with its functional enhancements and make them known as loudly as a new interface would do.
The past two weeks have been packed with all things Blackbaud. Last week was the Blackbaud conference in Washington DC and then this week in London. Being a big fan of
all most things Blackbaud, I had a great time, met some great people, got to meet the all new star cast at the top of the company and was pleasantly surprised by the announcements made.
Waiting for RE8 has gone from waiting with great anticipation and expectations in previous years to how we find ourselves now. We now know that RE8 will happen at some point (albeit probably under a different name) but the wait is over. We are no longer waiting for the next big thing, but for the little things. In past years we have been wowed by what was to come on the Infinity platform. This was exciting but left us wanting it without it ever arriving for the majority. Now however, looking at the new functionality in RE7; query lists, new lookup functionality, better dedupe features and being able to easily mark participants as attended, shows that despite its name (and its UI), RE7 is moving forward. Blackbaud is moving forward for everyone.
This was demonstrated so much more so in Blackbaud Mobile. The application allows you to promote campaigns through channels that may have been previously inaccessable to the majority of organisations. Allowing organisations to promote and give supporters the mechanism to donate through text message and mirrored on a Facebook app, brings their technology offerings into this decade.
After being burned by the anticipation of the Infinity platform’s greatness for The Raiser’s Edge users, Blackbaud are quite rightly avoiding the risk of repeated vaporware. One such thread could, in previous years, come from the exciting news of Raiser’s Edge Mobile. This application will be native to iPhone, Android and possibly Blackberry, will allow users to access their RE database directly from their mobiles. After having looked at a prototype version, I am quietly confident that this application will make it in the near future. This is another step in Blackbaud’s progression of the RE7 platform into the modern age.
What is really exciting however is the technology required to enable this. There will need to be a webservice layer for The Raiser’s Edge. There has been this web service layer for a while now with the NetCommunity integration. However it has always been restricted to NetCommunity specific tasks with limited use for other applications. If Blackbaud do the right thing this time around and make the web service layer generic and open to all applications, all of a sudden we will integration with The Raiser’s Edge like never before from all sorts of web based applications.
It does not matter what it is called (RE7 or RE8, Infinity or not) it is the perception that Blackbaud’s offerings are going forward and not stagnating. With the wait for RE8, RE7 was left languishing. The risk was great that organisations would move away from Blackbaud to other platforms offering what Blackbaud should have been doing years ago. Now at least they are moving into the modern era.
Fundraising UK are reporting that Blackbaud have released a new version of The Raiser’s Edge. This is clearly not the new version that very many people have been waiting for. It is not RE8 nor is it on the Infinity platform. It does appear to be useful however for those organisations that want an enhanced, internet aware version of The Raiser’s Edge. The Raiser’s Edge (i) as it has being called (more details on Blackbaud’s site) is a new hosted package that incorporates a web presence as well as donor maintenance application.
As this new product has just been released, it is hard to imagine that Blackbaud will be announcing RE8 on the Infinity platform any time soon. Combine this with the fact that no major enhancements to The Raiser’s Edge version 7 application are expected, many organisations are surely feeling frustrated by Blackbaud’s apparent inertia. I have worked with Enterprise CRM and know how far advanced that application is from the existing version of The Raiser’s Edge. I have said on numerous times that it is worth wait and I still think it is. The question is how long will others hold out. An organisation that is thinking of upgrading functionality will not wait forever for Raiser’s Edge on Infinity and will certainly be tempted to look elsewhere.
I am sitting in the plane on my way back to the UK following the Blackbaud conference in Washington DC. There were no new announcements about the generation eight products (few seem to refer to it as The Raiser’s Edge 8), no new major applications and no new major personnel changes (that I was made aware of). However there was a new branding. The new logo should represent a more open Blackbaud. At first I was unsure about the design. It seemed somewhat cartoon like but now it has grown on me. To put the record straight the tag-line is not as in this post’s title but rather “Your purpose -> Our passion”. I ought to remember it. The free WIFI from Blackbaud at the conference used this as the username and password. Instead I managed to use each permutation available. If we take this tag-line at face value what can we expect?
Continue reading Blackbaud – My purpose is their passion
A while ago Blackbaud released Blackbaud Enterprise CRM. For me as an observer of all things Blackbaud related I don’t remember exactly when BBEC was released. There was no big announcement but instead there were small releases of information over an extended period of time. First it was snippets of information about the Infinity platform, then announcements that various organisations had selected BBEC and then finally mutterings of information about RE8. The gradual increase of information about the product range has, over time, increased the expectations of Blackbaud’s customers towards the release of RE8. This was no bad thing. Such releases of information, whether officially from Blackbaud or just speculation from within the community creates a buzz around the product. (Such a model has worked wonders for each of Apple’s releases). Unfortunately buzz can lead to hype which can lead to frustration. RE8 has this mythical quality about it. While most people realise that it is more than just vaporware (given the release of BBEC) there is nothing, as yet, tangible. Continue reading RE8 and the risk for Blackbaud
There has been much discussion on various forums and between different organisation about the rumour that Crystal Reports is not going to be supported on the Infinity platform. While I don’t have any inside information from Blackbaud about this I can dispel a couple of myths.
Currently in Raiser’s Edge 7, Crystal Reports is used as the reporting engine for all canned reports. Blackbaud use components that feed their data into various Crystal Reports so that you need merely click on a button and the report appears. These reports have a predefined format and although the user can change some aspects of this it is very limited.
In RE8, BBEC and the Infinity platform the canned reports do not use Crystal Reports as the reporting engine but rather SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). This is server based and comes with SQL Server. Blackbaud currently bundles Crystal Reports with their software but this version is client based. To bundle the server version would clearly mean a greater expense for them (and ultimately their customers).
When it comes to custom reports there is some uncertainty. I am not sure how the Infinity platform handles custom reporting. I am sure that there will be some kind of function to integrate custom reports with RE8 but most probably via SSRS.
There is a lot of investment in Crystal in the community so it is obviously of concern to think that Crystal will no longer be used. This, though is not strictly the case. It should be quite possible to use Crystal against the BBEC and RE8 database. After all Crystal can run against any kind of database. Many RE7 users develop reports that run directly off of the database rather than using the custom mechanism inside of RE. This offers much more flexibility.
One other possibility that I am currently looking into is developing a Crystal Report engine to integrate with the Infinity platform. That way data can be exported from RE8 and BBEC and linked to a Crystal Report in the same way as is currently the case in RE7. It does seem a shame to waste all the Crystal knowledge out there. Watch this space…
What are your thoughts on the shift to SSRS? Do you currently use SSRS with RE7 or other products and how does it compare to Crystal Reports. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.