A long running discussion in association IT departments has been whether to purchase an all-inclusive suite of website tools from one vendor, committing to a single technology platform, or to instead integrate several best-of-breed applications into a super system. There are some obvious conveniences to committing to one technology platform and vendor, but today there is a strong case to be made for hiring an “integration partner” to create a joined set of applications specifically designed for your organization’s needs.
Back in the “old days” – you know, the early 2000's when your iPod was a 1/2 inch thick and your mom wasn't on Facebook – associations’ access to vendors and technology options were somewhat limited and price was an issue. Organizations were forced to accept incomplete functionality or wait for the next software release in which functionality may or may not work, making committing to one vendor and one platform a bit of a stressful choice.
The recent emergence of Cloud technology, coupled with Service-oriented Architecture (SOA), has made the case for using a “plug-and-play” approach, integrating best-of-breed applications into a super system, as compelling as it has even been. These modern technologies have enabled associations that might not have the largest IT staff – or any IT staff at all – to consider an integrated association website design endeavor, which would have been unfathomable just a few short years ago.
Technically speaking, Cloud computing has made it possible for a Web firm to build an application for every need, every user, and every business case by integrating several separate applications into one “master” application – and then roll it all out with minimal capital. The steady increase in vendors entering the association space with niche online products each year is evidence that this coupling of Web apps is more and more common.
“In the cloud” simply means the Internet has become middleware, with integration of applications occurring through APIs or third-party Cloud integration services. The emergence of open SOA-based application architecture also means integration is easier and cheaper to implement and manage today. An association can now pick and choose applications from multiple vendors, integrate them through APIs or third-party cloud integration services with the help of an integration partner and have the suite they always wanted in weeks or months, not years.
The advantages of the integrated approach are:
- Functionality Options – You don't need to be stuck waiting on a single company to innovate.
- Continuous Improvement - Since there are more companies rolling out software updates, you get more features quicker.
- Vendor Flexibility – If you find one service isn’t quite working for you, you have the option to turn it off or switch vendors without disrupting your entire online experience.
- Vendor Management – Employing multiple technologies, you’ll have more than one vendor to manage. This takes coordination and ongoing relationship management.
- Technology Skill Sets – Your staff project managers leading these integrations need a basic understanding of the technology involved in order to make wise decisions for your organization.
- Security – Do the vendors involved have proper security protocols in place on the hardware, software and personnel side of their business? Ask for documentation of methodologies and protocols.
- Scalability – Is your website built on a flexible platform that allows for easy scalability and integration with other systems?
- Usability – Are users noticing that they are shifting from one application to another causing them confusion or lack of confidence? It’s critical to make sure your integration partner, as well as the integrated systems, all have the capability to create a seamless look and feel integration so that your super system truly looks like one complete application.
Vanguard has developed a proven process for integrating systems so that your association can have the best tools available for a plug-and-play website experience. We leverage the power of your association management software (AMS) to manage the login process and most of the member self-service by skinning the AMS web portal. We then extend the AMS and CMS integration into any other online tools that make sense for your business to create a powerful, flexible, engaging website for your members.
So what has your experience been with one vendor vs. best-of-breed? How do you plan to leverage different technologies on your website for the future? How are you approaching AMS integration of these technologies? Does an integrated approach seem to make sense for your organization?