So you've found the right content management solution to meet your conference planning needs, but getting it to play nice with the other event technology you use (like registration or your mobile app) isn't quite the turn-key process you'd hoped it would be. What now? In a previous post, we reduced the seemingly daunting task of technology integration down to its two most basic components; an API (Application Program Interface) acts as an intermediary, making one system's data useable in another, and a web service handles the transmission of that data.
This post dives deeper into what you need to be thinking about to ensure your various event technology vendors integrate as smoothly and seamlessly as possible. Fortunately, conference planners don't have to become IT experts to drive the integration process; they just need to understand a few key topics so they can effectively communicate their organization's needs to their technology providers. As more and more organizations turn to event technology to meet their conference planning needs, a list of common considerations has started to emerge.
You can directly download the Integration Cheat Sheet via the blue button. We've also expanded upon the content in the cheat sheet, giving you helpful additional context, below.
What are the integration points?
Map out all the components that comprise your current data ecosystem, and identify all the systems that require integration. The most common systems include:
- Badge scanning
- Content Management System
- Digital Signage
- Event Website
- Mobile application
- Sponsor/Exhibitor management
- Website schedule builder
Are your vendors integration-ready?
Not all event tech includes API functionality. No API means that someone is going to have to spend a lot of extra time manually importing and exporting data, which increases the risk of error. This doesn't substantially improve on the kind of manual systems you're trying to get away from, meaning that APIs are, for all intents and purposes, a must-have. That being the case, it's important to understand that not all APIs are the same under the hood. Some APIs are open—meaning that users are allowed to look at the underlying code at no additional cost—and some are closed. Working with closed APIs generally means that the integration process becomes more expensive. Some event tech providers also offer preexisting partnerships with common vendors. This means that their APIs come ready to talk to each other, right out of the box. These plug-and-play partnerships will save you time and money during the integration process.
Will your integration be read-only, or read-write?
Your content management system is going to push a lot of data out to other systems: your website, your mobile app, your registration system, and so on. But don't forget to ask yourself if there are any situations where you'd like to pull data in. Salesforce users, for example, might want to pull invitation lists into their event management system. Find out if the APIs involved are designed to handle two-way traffic. If not, making the necessary modifications will cost you money and push out your timeline.
How often do you need to transfer data between systems?
Different systems will need varied information at different times. For example, your website might require hourly updates while an event is still far off, but you'll want to increase your update frequency as showtime approaches. During an event, you'll want mobile app updates to be as close to real-time as you can get. Data transfer takes bandwidth, and bandwidth costs money. Make sure that each of your connected systems can push data where it needs to go as often as necessary, without breaking your budget.
What's your single source of truth?
Integration will improve the way data flows through your system, but improvement is still a change, and it's important to understand it and plan for it. Make sure you choose a single source of truth for your data.
For example, if attendees can access their event schedule via web portal and mobile app, there needs to be a single, underlying system that stores the most recent changes, and pushes them out to all of your other systems. Establishing a single source of truth for your data helps insure that each point of contact delivers consistent, accurate information at all times.
Your reporting processes will also benefit from the single source model. By pulling reports with the highest throughput from the source, you increase the accuracy of your information. What do we mean by throughput? Take airports for example—JFK might be the busiest airport for take-offs and landings, but the most experienced air traffic controllers are found in the smaller airports of the Midwest because that's where the most planes are in the sky at any one time. Your content management system makes a good candidate for your source of truth because, at the bare minimum, it pulls in and stores the golden version of all your event information (speaker profiles, Powerpoint presentations, session descriptions, and so on). If you set up any read-write connections, your content management system will house even more data.
How secure is your data?
Make sure you ask about how and where your data is being stored. Is your data secure at rest, and in motion? Many companies have SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates that protect your data while its being sent from one place to another, but if their cloud solution provider doesn't include encryption while at rest, it places your user data at risk. Think about the kind of personal information you’re collecting. If you're subject to strict compliance regulations, or you need to transfer CPNI data, you’ll want to seriously consider a solution that offers encryption at rest, which provides a higher level of security.
To help keep things simple, you can download a cheat-sheet version of this article here. This list isn't meant to turn you into a technical wizard overnight, but it should help spark productive dialog between event managers and their tech providers, and ensure that all the bases are covered.