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What is Integration Anyway? A guide for nonprofits and their funders


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Unmesh is the founder of the SoPact. SoPact is a personal vision that grew from 30 years of experience in technology, management, and the social sector.

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Posted on 2017-05-11

‹ Back to the listing

Posted on 2017-05-11

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At its core, integration is the sharing between applications. It is most often the sharing of data between applications. And while integration is not specific to Salesforce, Salesforce for nonprofits is turning out to be the cloud platform of choice for many non-profits, foundations & impact funds.

Typically the implementation of Salesforce integration grows overtime from simple data management into a comprehensive ecosystem of connected applications. In fact, It is not uncommon to see nonprofits go from 1:1 app integrations to the integration of 150 apps within a decade.

Possible applications to integrate include QuickBooks and Intacct for Accounting; Salesforce Nonprofit Success Pack for Donor management; among many others. As our use of applications grows, so does our need to manage all the data. Integration allows this to happen by aggregating or managing all of our diverse data sets in one place.

Integration overview.png

So what’s the dotted line? What connects our various apps to a hub like Salesforce?

“Cloud Integration” tools like Zapier and Workato are the glue that connect your applications.

As your investment in applications grows, it’s important to consider your data management now and into the future. This includes your processes to manage your application ecosystem, the user experience of this process for your employees, and of course, the level of security that you need to maintain.

Cloud Integration tools provide built-in integrations for applications (in the industry, we call them recipes). They are the easiest form of integration compared to customized solutions.

cloud integration overview.png

Now that we know the different pieces that make up integration strategies: the applications and the cloud integrations, let’s look at our three strategies.

1. Simple | Single-Input, Single-app Internal Integration: This strategy solves the problem of repeated manual data entry

The first is for a one to one app integration. Fairly straight forward, this cuts back on manual entry of data for a very focused purpose.

2. Average complexity | Single-Input, Multi-app Internal Integration: This strategy achieves the same objectives as the first, however ,involves a greater number of apps.

Average builds upon the first – but includes more apps within the integration, furthering the benefits of this effort. Typically this involves integration with business application like Oracle, NetSuite, WorkDay, and so on.

3. Complex | Data Integration with an External System: This strategy, among other things, solves complex grant management reporting requirements.

And finally, the complex integration, what we call Data Integration with an External System is a highly customized solution that enables a diverse array of activities coordinated for external systems such as grant reporting in HomeKeeper & HUD Connector that we built for Grounded Solutions.

If you are wondering how to proceed, which integration strategy works best for you, take time for considering these 5 aspects.

  1. What applications do you need to be integrated?
  2. To what end? Do you simply need the data aggregated in one place? Or do you need to have it shared between applications?
  3. What kind of data are you integrating? Your financials, contacts, client information?
  4. The capacity of your organization financially and otherwise for implementing an integration strategy
  5. What integration layer will you be working within? Data? Process? UI? Security?

With that, let’s look a little deeper into the three strategies.


Single-Input, Single-app Internal Integration

First is our Single-Input, Single-App Internal Integration. As you see, there are four separate examples of this type shown here. Each has it’s own purpose, and it is fairly straightforward.

simple overview.png

Simple integrations, we selected three primary options for the glue – or cloud integration tools that we can use.

Zapier is popular and simple to use. It is not just for Salesforce, but for over 750 applications.

Salesforce Connect is primarily used for simple and direct data to data integration between Salesforce and another application.

And OpenFn is designed for International Development application integrations such as Magpi, SurveyCTO, DHIS2 and many common data management in the field.

simple_cloud integration.png


Single-Input, Multi-App Internal Integration

Now on to an Average complexity integration strategy, which we are calling a ‘Single-Input, Multi-App Internal Integration’

In this strategy, as you can see, various apps are being integrated using the same “glue” – or cloud integration tool – Workato. More than the last strategy, this allows you to coordinate between multiple applications through rules and workflow through a highly visual tool.

average overview.png

The integration clouds for Average complexity strategies like this are slightly more robust, they include Workato, Jitterbit, Informatica, and MuleSoft and various others which are all different from one another, but overall solve similar types of application integration needs.

average_cloud integration.png


Data Integration with External System

Our final and most complex strategy, ‘Data Integration with External System’ is implemented for very specific external integration needs. These cases are very technical in nature and require a great deal of custom development for their cloud integrations. On the screen you will see our case study for the day, with an integration between Grounded Solutions’ HomeKeeper app and the Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Counseling System.

complex case study overview.png

No matter which strategy you take for integration, to make it successful we need to go beyond just integration. We need effective analysis of the data and the reporting of the findings.

We hope this has equipped you with some insights for your own data management journey. Happy to hear from you - What integration questions are you left with?

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