Iris – The Next Generation (and no Klingons in sight!)

The IRIS NFP World conference this month was the Launchpad for software vendor Iris NFP to finally unveil its new-look range of CRM systems for non-profit organisations. And they look good, with potential to challenge strongly in the middle and upper end of the market. On the other hand, the cost to upgrade could prove to be too high for many existing users. Having spent several years buying up various smaller developers, Iris has finally settled on a three pronged strategy. For the medium to large charity there will be IntegraNG and CareNG. Integra will deliver membership functionality with Care having a stronger focus on fundraising. Meanwhile, for smaller organisations who don’t have such complex requirements (or big budgets), there is Donor Strategy, which comes in various versions for charities, membership organisations and schools. There has been much speculation about if and when Iris would choose to bring together its two main products in a single technology platform, and now we have the answer: the new NG product range is an updated version of the Iris Care. This decision is not a surprise since Care is already a more modern and flexible solution than the ageing Integra. So now, although they are the same behind the scenes, the two NG systems sport different features, depending on whether you are looking for charity functionality (donations, sponsor me, legacies, financial processing) or membership tools (CPD, subscriptions, examinations). As many Iris customers know, support has been a problem in the past 12 months or so. The scale and simplicity of a single technology base and a vendor committed to development and support is an encouraging step forward. Martin Carter, the new Head of Support for IRIS, said he has been hiring staff and building capacity so that there is now a single integrated team handling queries for all of their products. Let’s hope things continue to improve. If you are an Iris user please let us know if you’re feeling the benefit of these changes yet? For anyone interested in the technology, Iris has selected the latest implementation of Microsoft’s .NET framework – version 4. The NG software should be easily accessible via web services, which means that other developers, in particular web developers, should be able to access the data in the NG system and integrate it with a wide range of third party applications. Interestingly, by shifting further towards .NET Iris has followed their rival Blackbaud who announced their commitment to the same technology (their so-called Infinity Platform) back in 2009. However, don’t assume that the gap is as great as it may sound, because Iris has the advantage of many years of Care development in earlier versions of .NET, and Blackbaud has been slow to bring to market the new version of its market-leading product, The Raiser’s Edge. So, this all sounds like good news. Iris has got its act together and the playing field has been levelled for anyone considering a new CRM system. But what about the options if you already have the current versions of Care and Integra? Happily, there is no charge to adopt the new versions of the software – they come for free, as long as you are up to date with Iris’s annual licensing and support scheme. However, the process of upgrading will not be free, with various costs (and risks) associated with planning and managing the migration to a new system. The migration path will be much easier for existing Care clients as they are already familiar with the .NET framework. For Integra users, it will be a much steeper learning curve, with a lot of work to translate, import and restructure. Estimates for the amount of consultancy time needed to upgrade start at around 30 days for smaller implementations, which is not a low cost upgrade! With all the operational changes and retraining, for many users this will feel like an entirely new system, with all the associated headaches (and the benefits of course)! This may not be an entirely attractive prospect, but ultimately you have no choice! Iris has announced that their current products will be supported until 2015, but after that they plan to progressively withdraw support from the old Care and Integra, with clients expected to move across the new platform. Overall, we think this is a welcome development. Iris NFP has staked its future on NG, which appears to be a much better product with vital improvements to integration and flexibility. New customers have an good option and existing customers can lok forward to the prospect of significant enhancements. We look forward to seeing the products in more detail and we will keep you posted here.

Electric Plum…Purple Vision…and the enigma that is The Raiser’s Edge 8

As company names go, Electric Plum is almost as good as Purple Vision, although perhaps not as good as Speedy Tomato (a company a friend of mine worked for that I believe was a victim of the dot.com bubble burst ten years ago!)

But Electric Plum is significant, because it is the start up company created by Shaun Sullivan the former Chief Technology Officer at Blackbaud.

In his own words Electric Plum is a “startup focusing on mobile apps, and the mobile Web. One area we will focus on is bringing innovative mobile solutions to compliment the Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge and Infinity-based offerings.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Electric Plum fairs, in the light of other young companies whose business is built primarily around offering complimentary solutions to Blackbaud’s products, such as Omatic Software.

It’ll also be interesting to see what now happens to the long anticipated Raiser’s Edge 8 – or whatever the new version on the Infinity Platform will be called. Our friends at RE-Decoded are also watching news on this very closely – an updated version of Raiser’s Edge will surely be necessary sometime soon if Blackbaud are going to hold off the challenge from Salesforce and it’s CRM offering to the non-profit sector.