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The Do’s and Don’ts of External Integrations

Danielle Cole | | June 17, 2019

In some cases, associations can deliver exceptional value to members by integrating third-party systems with their core AMS. However, setting up an integration is no cakewalk. Wes Trochlil, Owner of Effective Database Management, says that, “integrating third-party systems can be difficult and tedious, but if done correctly, the payoff is worthwhile.” (Trochlil, n.d.)

Setting up an integration can be a challenging undertaking because it requires three organizations – the association, the AMS vendor, and the third-party vendor – to coordinate their efforts. These organizations must work together to develop a shared understanding of the overarching goal. Next, they’ll translate that goal into their separate systems, each with its own technologies, data models, and assumptions.

While creating these integrations can be challenging, following these three crucial do’s and don’ts of an integration project will help ensure your success.

1. Be careful, precise, and realistic in your expectations of an integration.

A general rule of project management is that a project can be defined in terms of three constraints; scope, budget/resources, and timeline. Integrations are not an exception to this rule.

Let’s say that your on-site event vendor needs their system to access membership information from the AMS for check-in and registration, and the conference is a month away (timeline). Your staff will be maxed out getting ready for the event (resources). You’ll have to make careful scope decisions to have a successful launch.

Additionally, beware of the idea of a “bi-directional’ integration, which is complex and risky. An example of this would be allowing a member to edit contact information in the event registration system in addition to the regular AMS portal, with the goal that an update in either system would be synced to the other. In most cases, you’d be much better served by choosing one system to be the system of record for contact information. This would most likely be the AMS. In this example, the registration website could read the contact information from the AMS and include a link to the AMS portal, where the member could edit their information when needed.

2. Maintain ownership of the project and stay involved in key decisions.

It is critical to be in the room for all key meetings and decisions. This will ensure that alignment is maintained among all parties and will give both vendors clear and consistent direction. One of the most critical technical decisions of an integration is identifying the shared identifier(s) that the systems will use to stay in sync. Typically, this is a unique identifier such as the member number. The association staff member who “owns” the project should understand and be a part of the decisions made involving the shared identifier(s).

Additionally, establishing milestone check-ins at the outset of the project will help your team stay on top of deadlines. Check-ins will tell you if the project is on track and will help you avoid a last-minute rush to completion. Some common milestones include:

  • A “Project Plan” meeting, prior to vendors beginning development work, to confirm shared understanding of scope, timeline, and responsibilities. This would be a good time to have a conversation with your vendors about the technical risks in the plan and how they could be mitigated or avoided.
  • A “System Development” milestone at the completion of the development by vendors. This meeting should occur before end-to-end testing, to confirm that each vendor has completed their tasks as planned. This milestone will also launch the integration testing phase.
  • A “System Integration” milestone, at the completion of testing and prior to the launch, to confirm that testing was successful, and that the integration is ready to launch.

3. Write down the tests that you will do to confirm that you are ready to launch the integration.

A common example is an integration with a Learning Management System, in which a member would purchase a course in the AMS portal and then navigate to the online LMS to complete the course that they purchased. In this scenario, a good test would be, “I can log in as a member, view the list of purchase-able courses, buy one, receive the confirmation email, open the LMS, and have access to the course that I purchased.” It’s just as important to test what should not happen; for example, do you have any users who should not have access to the new LMS course purchase functionality? Lastly, share these tests with your vendors. Sharing the tests will help you confirm that everyone is on the same page about the scope and criteria for the launch.

At the end of the day, an integration project can be challenging, but can also make the member experience more seamless or dramatically improve staff efficiency. The critical steps to achieving this are to carefully define your goals, maintain ownership of the project, and take the necessary steps to ensure a quality result. It’s not rocket science – it’s just hard work.

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