What Do You Mean When You Say Integration?
Integration. It’s a word we hear a lot when discussing association websites, but, depending on where you are on the technical know-how spectrum, the term could mean something different to you than the next person. The truth is, the term doesn’t have just one meaning. There are many.
To help clear the confusion, we’ve provided a quick breakdown of the six most common types of integrations with a brief description and example of each.
- Single sign-on (SSO) integration: In the world of web development, this is the most common reference to the term integration. On the most basic level, SSO is when your association management system (AMS) - like Impexium – is bridged with your content management system (CMS) to create a seamless login experience for members.
There is nothing worse than requiring a member to login more than once on your website as they navigate across different third-party platforms. With SSO, there is a coded connection between your systems that allows a member to login once and then navigate from your web pages to your AMS pages and then back again without any interruption. In addition, other third-party platforms like job boards, learning management systems (LMS) or online communities can be linked into the SSO code so that you can create one large ecosystem of web-based tools for your members – all accessible to them through one login.
- Design integration: Very commonly coupled with SSO, design integration allows the visual user experience (UX) to be seamless as well. Your website’s branded design template (header, footer and sidebars) can be implemented into your third-party system (AMS, LMS and others) to create the visual impression that all your systems are actually one big system. This is a big plus in the user-friendliness column. Note, however, that some third-party systems, like online communities, sometimes prefer the user to see a unique visual experience across their application so the user can feel comfortable they are in the right place for peer-to-peer networking. For the most part, though, continuity in design between systems is desired.
- Upload Integration: Beyond SSO there is another scenario when integration between systems can be very useful. There may be information in your AMS that you’d like presented on your website in a unique and customized way. As a simple example, maybe you’d like committee and board members’ information pulled from the AMS and displayed on a web page. One way to achieve this is by exporting the data from the AMS and housing it on a server. This data would represent the latest committee and board member information as of that moment in time. Then nightly (or more or less often depending on your needs) a snapshot of that data would be uploaded to the content management system and displayed on a pre-formatted page ready to accept the data.
While the benefit of being able to display data from your AMS (or other third-party systems) on your website is great, this method is the more manual and rudimentary (and many times less expensive) way of achieving this. The drawbacks, of course, are that the data is not real-time and any changes to your committees or board members’ information (keeping with this example) would not be reflected on the web page until the next new upload process took place.
- Real-time data integration: Let’s keep with the same scenario as above. Most top-performing AMS systems, including Impexium, offer Web Services that allow two systems to share data across the Internet in real-time, thus eliminating the delay between uploads and instead providing real-time data to the committee and board members’ web page, allowing that page to always be current. The opportunities for this type of integration are endless - not to mention automated - and an effective way to create member-specific personalization of content.
- I-Frame integration: A dated and less desirable version of data integration, but worth a mention as it still does surface from time-to-time on websites. An I-Frame is a web page inside of a web page. An HTML tag exists that allows you to take data from a web page outside of your website and “frame” it inside a web page on your site. The header and footer would be from your existing website, but the body area of the page would be showing a web page from an outside source. Again, most modern-day systems would not require an I-Frame but if you have a system that does require it, it’s a sign you might be working with a fairly old system.
- Embed integration: When you see a Twitter or Facebook feed on a web page, that is embed integration. Google Analytics, YouTube and many ad management systems are embed integrations. Instead of offering a Web Service for your CMS to talk to, many popular mainstream applications simply offer a small snippet of code for you to insert (embed) onto your web page. Any browser will then know how to read this snippet of code and will display a fully styled, fully integrated feed on your web page.
So, as you can see, the term integration does have several interpretations. It’s important when you’re speaking with your AMS or website vendor to clarify what type of integration you’re referencing to help ensure all expectations are met. And, keep in mind, integrations really are the key to a robust and user-friendly website experience for your members, offering them dynamic content in a cutting edge way that works for them.
About Vanguard Technology
Vanguard Technology has been in business since 1998 and serves associations exclusively. They are a full-service web development firm offering strategy, design, CMS and more. They’ve built over 200 integrations in the past 10 years and have worked with virtually all third-party applications in the association space. You can find out more at www.vtcus.com.