Why a “little i” integration might be right for you

Sometimes the needs of an organization are just not big enough to justify an API integration. That’s when you might consider something simpler: a “little i” integration. In this type of integration, you export well-designed reports from one system, minimally modify them, then import them into another system.

When different departments in the same organization need to share data between systems, we often hear about integrating the systems so that the data will “flow” seamlessly between them.

The truth is that automatic integrations (often called API integrations) are costly to set up, can be difficult to extend or change, and are expensive to manage long term. Some systems are closed systems and don’t even support automatic integrations.

With this in mind, sometimes the needs of the organization are just not big enough to justify an API integration, or what we’ll call a “big I” Integration. 

That’s when you might consider something simpler: a “little i” integration. In this integration, you export some well-designed reports from one system, minimally modify them, then import them into another system. 

Benefits of a “little i” integration

  • Faster and less costly to set up than a complex automated integration
  • Well-documented, repeatable, well-understood by the person/people who work with the data
  • More nimble: “little i” integration processes are owned in-house by the people who work with the data, so they can be less expensive to extend or change 
  • Provides an opportunity for departments to align their data processes

A “little i” integration works very well when you have two departments who are willing to work together to align their data entry processes and workflows to get a mutually beneficial result. 

A real nonprofit integration challenge 

A client came to us with a problem they wanted to solve by integrating systems. The fundraising and finance departments needed to work together to routinely reconcile data, close out the month, and then report on how that month went. Their manual process for compiling these reports was tedious and no longer working well. Accounting was manually booking fundraising gifts and pledges one by one into their NetSuite system, and it was getting incredibly time-consuming. 

The fundraising department already tracked pledges and payments using Salesforce Opportunities, Payments, and General Accounting Units, so finance wanted to integrate systems to save time and simplify the booking process.

They didn’t have a lot of time to do it, and they didn’t need a complex integration.

Our “little i” solution

Using the existing architecture of Salesforce, some creative custom reports, and the dedication of two teams who were willing to work together on their processes, we were able to avoid a complex and costly “big I” Integration, and build out a simpler one.

The accounting and fundraising teams worked together to decide on new fields to code Salesforce gifts for NetSuite, and entered the data in Salesforce’s General Accounting Unit records. 

We built custom reports that included those new fields, and accounting used the reports to export from Salesforce and import into their accounting system to book payments all at once instead of one by one. 

Instead of a complex and costly integration, the fundraising and accounting teams now have a well-documented, repeatable process for getting the two systems to work together. They took the time to talk to each other and both review and refine some of their data entry processes. As a result, they found a mutually beneficial process for data entry that allowed finance to run a report with all the necessary information for the accounting system. 

Other real examples of “little i” integrations

Shipment information: One of our clients provides state-level logistical support to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). TEFAP is a federal nutrition program that provides commodities from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to emergency food providers nationwide. 

One of the client’s biggest pain points was trying to manually keep the status of highly detailed information for hundreds of shipments up to date. The real-time data resided in USDA’s system, which does not support external integrations. So we designed a repeatable export/import process to Salesforce which enabled our client to quickly and accurately create and update all relevant shipments in as little as 10 minutes. 

Payment requests: One of our housing and homelessness prevention clients needed a way to get emergency financial assistance payment requests from Salesforce into their Financial Edge accounting system so that they could quickly distribute payments on those requests. Payment requests for several different funds (including rapid rehousing, student emergency assistance, and the state’s homelessness prevention fund) are entered and approved in Salesforce using customized workflows for each program. The resulting requests require a quick turnaround to get those payments out the door. 

The fastest, most effective, and most accurate way to get the payment requests from Salesforce into the financial system was to develop a custom report which included formulas to code each request based on the fund it drew from. After Bigger Boat developed this report, it enabled the finance team to export the relevant information from Salesforce, import into their Financial Edge accounting system, and cut checks quickly without the expense and delay of a complex third party integration. The approval history remains in Salesforce for audit purposes. 

The next time your organization is considering system integration, consider the benefits of a “little i” integration, and move your data with a simpler import/export process. 

Trying to figure out the right approach for your integration needs? Contact us to set up a time to discuss your needs.