In the last few years, there has been an accelerated spike in the number of technology companies that have entered into the event marketplace. This growth has provided our industry with a vast array of technology options that has enabled show managers to consider “tailored” solutions that match their event operation needs. A decade ago, it was pretty difficult to find a solution that could connect to another solution without a significant investment – often beyond the budgets that most organizers could support. Yet most event executives understood the benefit and desired results if their tools would work together in unison like a beautifully orchestrated underwater acrobatic show.
With the evolution of event technology, we now have the ability to move data from one cloud based solution to another. This ease of data transport makes integration more feasible since we do not have to be as burdened by data imports, lists de-duplications, file corruptions and so on. By reduction of these data management processes, we have the ability to produce accurate information, efficiently manage lists and develop valuable technology partner relationships.
Yet, not everything about integration is easy. There are technical hurdles to overcome and a few fine details that our industry needs to understand.
So how does integration work?
Imagine if you have a someone speaking French in Thailand where they speak – Thai. A communication gap would exist if neither person understood the other language. However, if you have a translator tool such as Google Translate, the communication gap can be overcome.
For example, the French word for data is “données” and the Thai word is “khaaw”. In order to choose a common term that both people will recognize, the best decision may be to use one or the other word or even select the third party English word “data”. As long as both people agree with using a specific word, they can start to converse and exchange information.
Continuing with the analogy, each software system matches up corresponding software components and arrives at a mutual definition that yields an integrated system. As long as both systems recognize the agreed term, the two separate systems can start to integrate and exchange information.
Similar to the silo from language gaps in the world, data is stored in each system in its own unique way. To help each system understand each other, you need an Application Program Interface or API. An API is a translator tool for data that needs to be implemented if integration is required as part of your systems.
Once a software API is selected, it is now important to determine what to do with this data. Questions to ask include:
- what data is being moved from one solution to the other?
- is data validation needed?
- what data needs to be transferred from one system to another?
- is there a need to push this data back to the primary system?
These type of questions will make it easier for technology partners to understand your business goals and guide you through the process.
The next step is to define the data “pulling/pushing” process, which determines who will be writing the code to pull the data. With this definition, there is often a cost associated for the technical work so smart strategic planning should consider event goals impacted by integration to help ensure changes are minimized in the future.
Another integration question to consider is the limitations of the software for data export. Some solutions may not be able to provide the data as defined by other vendor requirements. Yet, they should be able to export all the data into a “clean” format – minus additional code or formatting. The challenge occurs when solutions become unique to customer requirements and not common for most mainstream data definitions. and in this we have some limitations, sometimes.
With the current state of technology and rapid growth, most tech solution providers have some version of an API component. This capability not only enables show managers to have a more tailored solution, but it allows event system growth independent of one vendor. It also supports strategic decisions to move to other vendor candidates as event requirements evolve.
Finally, when vetting new technology suppliers and their tools, initiate a technology introduction call with your other established system suppliers that might be involved in integration plans. This conversation will demystify any limitations or uncover gaps that are rarely discussed during normal software demonstrations. During this call, API developers can discuss the solution, the process and approve the goals at hand. Great supplier partners seek to prevent a signed contractual relationship based on wrong expectations. There are no costs for a well-organized integration discovery call and all parties benefit from a well-defined plan that eliminates confusion.