Why Nonprofits Need A Data Warehouse Layer

Why Nonprofits Need A Data Warehouse Layer

Why are so many organizations looking into data warehousing and reporting suites?

The answer is deceptively simple.

The dream of just one database – and that elusive 360 view:
The dream (and the marketing hype) would have you believe that Salesforce or Raiser’s Edge or Team Approach or any number of other database players is the master “database of record.” It’s the location where all data from other systems should be stored, live forever and be that complete 360 reporting view.
Have you tried it? It’s like struggling to fit a square peg in a round hole. The harsh reality is that each of these systems is primarily designed for a specific range of uses and when you start piping other data in, it either doesn’t fit, there aren’t fields for it or you hit data limits and your contract price goes up. This data includes tracking contacts and interactions, storing email history, data entry and batch uploads, creating segments and lists, fundraising reporting, etc. These databases have pre-packaged data structures, reporting tools, and editing interfaces with limits on flexibility and adaptation.
Sure, most systems allow for some pre-built “standard” methods to incorporate other data from a selection of systems and/or the option of expensive customizations for point to point integrations. This model requires time, lots of money and human effort to get new integrations, reports and user facing engagement features online.

The main challenge in this model is not being able to get all the data into an existing platform. Most have the means to push in millions of records. The problem is that the existing platform is serving two different masters who have two sets of completely different needs: the business user who is entering, viewing and updating the data; and the data user who is managing the business processes.

When the dream of one database spins out of control:
So here’s the other harsh reality. Your business users are going to continually add new needs for online tools and data reporting … and they’ll change their mind about what data they want and need. And, at some point the technology they use is going to get old. Eventually, you WILL need to change the technology that they use. And if you’ve got a bunch of critical data in there that you use for reporting and bulk operations, and built custom integrations pointing at it, you’ve got the choices of:
  • Spend lots of time and $$$ to switch to yet another “database of record” that promises a 360 degree view of your constituents.  You thought you’d done all the research, but after switching discover that you didn’t ask ALL the questions and that there are some inherent limits of the new system causing disappointment and frustration across the organization.
  • Quickly start using in a new tool that meets a critical need, but for a variety of reasons, wreaks havoc for both your business and data users.
  • Decide it might be easiest to put bandaids on your current systems, knowing the limits it imposes on the critical needs of your business users.
  • Consider adding a data warehouse layer that connects critical data from each system and allows for best of breed technologies to be used. For more on data warehousing, keep reading.

A Different Solution – a modern data infrastructure:

At Frakture we believe the data warehouse layer must be INDEPENDENT of the database interfaces used for day-to-day operations. Frakture’s clients continue to use their current systems. Frakture curates data from all your systems into a highly scalable and flexible data warehouse opening the doors to all kinds of possibilities.

The data layer is typically responsible for things like data integrations, bulk operations, data appends and cleaning, enforcing business practices, data archiving, pushing well formatted data to reporting systems, etc. Using this kind of modern architecture, where the data layer can be fed from many systems and feed out to many systems, allows the best possible freedom of choice for the business user, and the solid core infrastructure needed for the data user.

With this modern set-up, it’s easier and more cost effective to connect multiple systems. Have your colleagues started talking about the new cool “tool de jour” that they absolutely must use? Well, with a Data Warehouse it’s now possible for you to upgrade your business systems and consumer engagement tools. And most importantly, it allows you to develop programs with new, as-yet-unseen technology without sacrificing your organizations critical business processes.