Integrations 2020 – Way Beyond Connectors


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This article captures some of the trends in the Association Industry related to integration technology, best practices and the use of iPaaS.

The significance of the integrations increase is due to the number of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications that have emerged across industries. The SaaS market is projected to be $278 billion by 2021 by Gartner. There are thousands of these purpose-built, lightweight applications that are in the market. Companies are procuring these platforms at a rampant pace. Hence, when there are so many data management platforms, integration is critical to make these applications well connected to produce a meaningful outcome for the enterprises.

Integrations are a big topic, particularly in the Association world. The association and nonprofit industries have acquired more and more of these SaaS applications. The vendor-managed, purpose-built relatively inexpensive pieces of Software is a natural fit for associations. With that, the associations embarked on the data decentralization trend. As you may recall a decade ago, data centralization used to be the central theme. Every piece of data had to come to a single enterprise system, which is the Association Management Software (AMS) in the Association world. But I believe associations are leaning more towards more lightweight best-of-breed applications. The AMS platform, of course, will continue to exist but will play a different role in the ecosystem in the future. Again, if there are so many applications in the play, the integration becomes a basic necessity.

In terms of popular integration points, the event technology industry operates a little differently in the Association space. Most of the companies not only offer the Software, but they also offer onsite services. This is a significant advantage for associations. However, users want to bring the registrant data back to their AMS for data analytics and reporting purposes. The Learning Management System (LMS) platforms have picked up enormous momentum so that those integrations are becoming more critical. Client Relationship Management (CRM) applications can never replace the AMS, which has the depth and breadth of offerings. Still, they can coexist with AMS for member management and services purposes. So, there are several integration points there. There are, of course, many others, but these are the most common that we see.

There are significant changes in the systems integration industry that has become disruptive. There are few new tools like the integration platform as a service, or iPaaS solutions are in the market to reduce the time it takes to build integrations. Then there is a significant amount of methodological changes as these applications are reasonably lightweight because they are purpose-built. The Application Program Interfaces, or APIs, are evolving, and the new Application Service Providers (ASPs) have bought into the idea of API first development.

All the same, there are real challenges to integration projects. Most of the difficulties in integration projects commonly revolve around project governance. For example, the requirements are not usually well defined. The term “connector” is deceptive and confusing. When you ask a vendor, “Do you have a connector for a particular application?” they will say, “YES!” 

However, this doesn’t mean the connector offered by the vendor will tackle all your integration requirements. If you are building an integration between an AMS and a CRM application, typically, these are enterprise-grade applications with several modules and several hundred APIs. Any integration developed between these applications using a cookie-cutter approach is invariably not going to meet all your requirements.

All that being said, there are some best practices for integration projects. Start with following a process and define the requirements clearly with as many details as you can. We have seen some customers spending extensive amounts of time to do data mapping upfront. It is needed, but precise mapping can be done at a later point. If a systems integration company like us is involved, you can take our help as we know the data fields for several platforms. Your job is to define the data exchange requirements and identify the system of truth, mainly if you are doing two-way sync. Also, it is crucial to determine the triggering events clearly, so don’t overlook that essential process function.