Software Integration Basics

What They Are and Why They Matter

by Monique Bouchard, CourseStorm

Ever notice how software sometimes seems to make everything move just a little faster? 

You check your calendar and invite someone to a meeting via email with the click of a button. You visit a website and pay for something online with no waiting. You check your fitness tracker results in an easy-to-read chart in an app. You log into your credit card website to pay a bill and see your credit rating. You support a cause and seconds later invite your social media followers to do the same —without even leaving the thank you screen. 

If you’ve ever observed perceived how smoothly these applications work together, you can probably thank an integration. If you’re noticing it more often, it’s likely because we’re surrounded by software applications which we use for everything from online meetings to records management to getting takeout delivered. And if you’ve never really thought about it, well, that, for an integration, is a job well done.  

In fact, while on your way to this article you probably used several software integrations, some without even knowing!

What are integrations?

integration · the action or process of combining two or more things in an effective way.

Like the very definition of the word, an integration connects software applications so they can share information. This communication between applications gives users more flexibility by automating tasks that might otherwise need to be done by a person. Integrations save time and increase efficiency. 

Why are they important? 

Think about how many software applications you use daily. Each has its own, distinct purpose, functionality, and features. Wouldn’t it be great if these applications could “talk” to each other and share information? Integrations help applications do just that. They enable data to easily move between applications, cut down on repetitive tasks, and save time. 

We’ll use adding information to reports in your program’s Favorite Accounting Software as an example.

No integration
You have a print out with financial and student information about the classes you offered. You enter information by hand into the accounting program. It needs to be accurate, and it’s easy to lose your place when you’re interrupted. Eventually, you finish the data entry and can run your report. This method is tried-and-true but may introduce common copying errors, and it’s tedious and time-consuming.

Basic integration
Instead of typing all the data, you upload a spreadsheet with that information directly into the Favorite Accounting Software and then run your report. You may have a few extra steps on the way, but the uploaded data is much more accurate. It will take much less time, especially if you have a large amount of data.

Advanced integration
You open your Favorite Accounting Software. You navigate to the report you need. All you have to do is run the report. You’re done with the click of a couple of buttons. It’s more efficient and takes less time than either of the other options.

That’s the power of effective software integration. 

Integrations automate a process between software applications and are exceptionally helpful in automating repetitive tasks, like moving data into places where it’s most useful.

How do integrations work?

Integrations let different kinds of software talk to each other efficiently, often automatically. They can be simple or complicated, depending on what your needs are.

Complicated ones may pull large quantities of information from one system into another when you, the user, tell them to connect, or they may do it automatically every day at a set time or whenever the data changes and needs to update. 

Here are a few examples of common integrations that educational programs find helpful.

Showing content on a website
You have a WordPress website and want to display all the classes you offer. If you’re a CourseStorm user, you can install a WordPress plugin. This is a method of integration that is very easy to use and requires little to no technical knowledge to create a connection between your online catalog and your website. You then only need to enter your classes into one location —CourseStorm— and they will then automatically be “copied” to your website. When your CourseStorm catalog changes, so will the classes on your website.

Automating an email list import
You use an email marketing program and want to mail to a list of students using data from your registration program. You can connect your email marketing software and your class registration program using Zapier, a platform that creates integrations between various software products without relying on developers. In this example, Zapier would “listen” for new registrations and add them to the mailing list you’ve connected. 

Moving information into a master student database
You use a software product for class registration that you love, and you want some of its information to go into your organization’s master database. You could do this by exporting and importing, but an integration could move the data automatically. You might use an existing integration or work with a programmer to set up a custom integration that pulls data from your class registration system into your master database exactly the way you want. The result is that the software interacts with each other so seamlessly that you may not even notice that there is more than one system involved!

How do I get integrations for my software?

You will have to do a little research to see what’s available for your software.

This research is best guided by this question:

“What data do I get from this software that I really wish I had access to in this other software.” 

To learn about available integrations for specific software, you can

  • Look at what is available on Zapier.com
  • Check the software’s help site or app exchange (if it has one)
  • Do an internet search for integrations + the name of your software
  • Contact the support team for the software you’d like to integrate.

It’s easy to see why integrations are so powerful. They let computers automatically manage repetitive tasks quickly and accurately. 

In turn, this gives human beings have more time to do what people do best —be creative, thoughtful, strategic, and passionate about the (not so automated) things that help our educational communities thrive! 

 


 

A brief plug: CourseStorm can integrate with many kinds of software including PatronManager, Ellucian Banner®, WordPress, and Zapier partners. Our API is also available to connect your CourseStorm to whatever software you need by using a custom integration. If you need more information, don’t hesitate to contact us