<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=520757221678604&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Adam Higgins

By: Adam Higgins on December 4th, 2020

Print/Save as PDF

HighRoad Spark: An Evolution in System Integration

data marketing | data management | data integration

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article

As more and more associations work to become data-driven organizations, they keep running into the same problem: integration. Associations have the data. The problem is getting all of that data into one place.

Data integration is tricky in most circumstances. It can be really tough for associations, as the majority of commercial tools don’t work with Association Management Systems (AMS). And integration isn’t just an IT problem either. Without the right data pipelines in place, you can’t run data-driven marketing campaigns or execute member-focused strategies.

That’s why we here at HighRoad Solutions have been working tirelessly to help associations unify their data. Our go-to tool has been the Plus Connector, a neat piece of software that enables fast communication between an AMS and another data source.

But now it’s time for Plus Connector to slowly stand down. The next phase of integration is soon arriving. We call it HighRoad Spark.

How does HighRoad Spark work?
Every association marketing team uses multiple software systems, such as an AMS, CMS, event management, learning management, email automation, and marketing automation. Collectively, we refer to these systems as the martech stack.

Each element of the stack holds important member data. Your AMS has full membership details, your email automation platform tracks engagement, and the learning management system contains details of programming consumption. To understand your members, you need to bring all of this data together.

And this is where HighRoad Spark comes in. Spark is a software platform that sits in the middle of your martech stack, coordinating data movements between systems.

Say, for example, that you want to sync your marketing automation platform with the data in your AMS. Typically this involves some coding and working with APIs.

With HighRoad Spark, the process goes like this:

  1. Connect Spark to a source: Connecting Spark to your AMS is easy. Just select your system from the menu, grant authorization to Spark, and you’re good to go.
  2. Connect Spark to a destination: This is equally straightforward. Just select your marketing platform from the menu, authorize it, and you’re done.
  3. Create a mapping: Use the interface to tell Spark how to match your AMS database with your marketing platform database. For example, your AMS may have a column called LAST_NAME, while the marketing platform has a column called SURNAME. Mapping lets Spark know that it should take data from LAST_NAME and insert it into SURNAME.
  4. Run the integration: You can schedule automatic integrations to run at regular intervals, or can click a button and start an integration right now.

You only need to go through this process one time for each integration. Once you’ve set up a functioning pipeline, you can let it run in the background, or execute it at any time with one click.

When you run an integration, Spark goes through three steps:

  1. Extract: Spark accesses the source database (your AMS) and pulls out all relevant data.
  2. Transform: Spark holds the extracted data in an intermediate database. Here, Spark can perform data transformations, such as mappings or integration with other data sources. You have full visibility of these processes, so you can immediately identify and resolve any issues.
  3. Load: Once the data is ready, Spark will push it through to the destination. Your destination database is now fully updated and ready to go.

This process will be seamless and quick. From your perspective, it’s a matter of clicking the button and waiting for the integration to complete.

HighRoad Spark vs. Plus Connector
Plus Connector has been an amazingly popular product. Many associations have built data strategies based on Plus Connector, and those strategies have helped to deliver a serious return on investment. So, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

HighRoad Spark makes some substantial improvements to the old Plus Connector, as well as offering some brand-new features. Some of the main benefits are:

One-to-many integration
Plus Connector works on a one-to-one basis. System A can talk to System B, but System C will then require an additional connector. HighRoad Spark offers a one-to-many integration model. In this structure, System A talks to Spark, and then Spark talks to System B, or System C, or System Z.
Greater flexibility
One-to-one connections can create a rigid infrastructure. For example, your current AMS might have a dozen individual Plus Connectors. If you want to move to a new AMS, you would have to reconfigure all of your individual connectors. With Spark, it’s much easier. Simply disconnect from your old AMS and point Spark at your new system. You’ll need to update your mappings, but the integrations are otherwise unchanged.
Create your own integrations
Plus Connector is quite technical, so most marketing pros would need to ask their IT team or HighRoad consultant to set it up. Spark, on the other hand, allows even the most technophobic marketer to set up sophisticated integrations. The Spark platform is pre-programmed to automatically connect to some of the most popular association software, so you can set up a new integration with just a few clicks. No specialist tech skills required.
Exact control of data mapping
Data mapping can be challenging. IT people don’t always have the appropriate product knowledge, so they may not be sure if, for example, RENEWAL_DATE and MEMBERSHIP_EXPIRY_DATE are the same value. With Spark, you can bypass the IT team and create your own mappings, ensuring that the right data always ends up in the right place.
Process visibility
It’s not always easy to see what happens when the Plus Connector executes. For example, you might see that there were 100 records at the source, but only 98 records were added to the destination. What happened to the two missing records? When you switch to HighRoad Spark, you’ll have total visibility of the process, and you’ll be able to see if the records were deleted, merged, or if something else happened, like the contact unsubscribed.
Greater control
Most integrations are set to run each day automatically. If you want a manual run, you generally have to raise a ticket with your support team. HighRoad Spark puts the power in your hands, so you can change the scheduled run time. Or, with a single click, you can start an immediate data integration.
Faster performance
Spark offers a smarter, more controlled integration process. Rather than moving everything each time, you can focus on specific tables, or only copy data that’s been changed since the last run. This has a huge impact on performance, cutting execution times from hours down to minutes, or even seconds.
Build your own views
A view is a kind of virtual database table, featuring data values from multiple different locations. Usually, you’ll need to ask your IT team to build custom views for you, which is a slow and laborious process for them. With HighRoad Spark, you can create custom views with only a few clicks, allowing you a fresh perspective on members whenever you need it.
Create views from multiple sources
The AMS is typically your most data-heavy application, and therefore it often dominates your data views. But HighRoad Spark makes it easy to grab data from everywhere – including transactional and behavioral information such as event registration, certification applications, LMS signups, and data from your email and marketing automation platforms. This will allow you to build a 360o view of the entire membership.
What are the immediate benefits?
Integration isn’t as sexy as something like, say, marketing automation, but that doesn’t mean that an integration platform doesn’t offer a substantial return on investment. By integrating your marketing tech stack with HighRoad Spark, you’ll help both marketing team in a number of ways, such as:
  • Empowerment: Take complete control over the flow of marketing data without having to explain your requirements to the IT team.
  • Centralization: Bring disparate data sources together in a single location so you can understand your members on a demographic, psychographic, and behavioral level.
  • Instant gratification: Set up the views you need and run the integrations you want, without having to wait for IT to process your ticket.
  • Transparency: See everything about how data flows from A to B within your systems. Identify data loss or bad mapping before it becomes an issue.

As well as that, you’ll deliver substantial value to your IT team, such as:

  • Time savings: Minimize the time that IT spends on processing routine data requests.
  • Centralization: Reduce data redundancy and fragmentation within the marketing tech stack.
  • Flexibility: Build a scalable infrastructure where components can be plugged in or out with ease.
  • Data integrity: Build credibility by creating reliable, sustainable data structures.

How do I get started with HighRoad Spark?
We can’t wait to show you Spark. If you're currently a HighRoad client, and would like to know more, get in touch with your Strategic Account Manager to discuss pricing and migration details. And if you’re new to HighRoad, book a time to talk about how HighRoad Spark can help your association.

About Adam Higgins

For over 20 years, Adam has functioned as a marketing and business analyst for non-profits and associations. As Chief Technology Officer at HighRoad, he leads a team of software developers, business analysts, and customer support analysts to supports technical integrations between marketing automation platforms and digital systems. Throughout Adam’s career, he has bridged the gap between the business units and information technology departments. Often when he's working with clients, he is their defacto MarTech liaison and solution architect. Adam is a graduate from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He’s a Los Angeles native that now resides in Atlanta, GA with his wife and son.