Open letter to Blackbaud

Dear Blackbaud, In October, you gave many people a sneak peak at a new product option, The Raiser's Edge Mobile. This mobile application is being developed for iOS, Android and Blackberry devices, we were told, and will let us access our own Raiser's Edge database from outside the enterprise using mobile devices. I believe this is a huge leap in the right direction for Blackbaud, and I am very encouraged to see that this functionality is very near useable. However, developing a mobile app is easy; anyone can develop a mobile application, and connect it to a SQL database. Adding mobile functionality to The Raiser's Edge will not set you apart, in many ways it won't even bring you up to par. It's 2011 (almost 2012!) now, and mobile applications were so 2009.  What you really need to bring to the mobile space, is the tools for us to build out our own solutions against The Raiser's Edge: you need to release a mobile platform.

We're told the initial release of The Raiser's Edge Mobile will focus on getting relevant information into the hands of mobile solicitors/fundraisers/stewards; those folks who make the money flow in, but who aren't in the office themselves. This would include predominantly read-only access to constituent biographical information, relationships, giving history; and maybe some edit capabilities for notes and actions. I commend you on starting small but effective; this model will let you get a limited set of functionality (and a limited set of security concerns and liabilities) out in front of a subset of your users, allowing you to redesign, tweak, and respond as necessary.

The future may include dashboards, basic reporting, and eventually a suite of applications to allow event management, volunteer scheduling and other broad functionality. According to one product designer, the distant future may include web services and mobile development.

This is where you'll go wrong, where your legacy will bite you, and where you have the biggest opportunity to stand out. 

The mobile ecosystem is the development platform of today, not the future. And the culture surrounding the mobile ecosystem contains the target audience for consumers as well as developers, right now. While you've spent the last few years trying to figure out what The Raiser's Edge 8 should look & behave like, an entirely new medium has sprung up around you and made RE8 all but irrelevant. Your new "Blackbaud Mobile" product for the UK shows that some of you are aware of this situation, but your insistence on developing a set of functionality for mobile to essentially mirror RE7, shows that the cultural aspect has not yet hit home.

I can hardly blame you, 30+ years of enterprise development imbues you with certain tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. I believe you're seeing this play out with your Infinity platform. On paper, Infinity is excellent: it provides web service endpoints for everything, role and security access for everything, robust scalability & tailoring, the promise of on-prem or hosted Saas models, and just about everything else that we would have wanted from a big enterprise application, 5 years ago. In conversations in Charleston, it was presented to me as your answer to Salesforce.

But I have to ask, how many third parties are actively developing products against Infinity? How many hobbyists?  How many Apps have been built that sit on top of Infinity services? Why can't I find Blackbaud Infinity on Twitter?   Where is the huge interest and excitement around Infinity? I believe Infinity is an excellent platform, but you've designed it, built it, rolled-it-out and marketed it like an old-school enterprise vendor. And that's a problem, because today you're competing with old-school enterprise vendors, new-school enterprise vendors, fresh start-ups with no baggage, and even garage hobbyists. When all my organization's VPs and our president can't pull up any given bit of fundraising data that they want, from their iPhone, you're doing it wrong.

And you can't hope to do it right, by doing it all yourself. You must open up a mobile API, and encourage an open, mobile platform for app development to arise around RE7. This will attract developer interest like nothing you've done in the past. You see, enterprise developers fall into 2 camps: those who develop enterprise applications; and those who develop enterprise applications AND care about software. The ones who care about software write about it, and create conversation, and develop hobbyist apps, and have a following. You can win quiet enterprise developers, but if you win noisy enterprise developers, half the job is done for you. And then there's everyone else: the same everyone else who developed the majority of the apps in the iOS or Android app stores, the same everyone else who gives to charities, who's involved in a church, who knows someone who knows someone who has a problem they need to solve.

You need to attract interest, and it's really not hard to do so if you play the game right. So, release the interfaces that power the RE7 Mobile application, when the application launches. Get it out there, warts and all. It'll turn heads, guaranteed. Every time you add a new method or new level of functionality, get it out there. A mobile API for RE7 is not a value-add to the Raiser's Edge Mobile... it in itself is the product you need to be releasing, right now. The Raiser's Edge Mobile must be your demonstration of what can be accomplished using the tools you've authored. Tools that any developer must then be able to use, to create their own interpretations of what is necessary for their organization to accomplish their fundraising goals. Which is what this is all about anyway.

This opens up the possibility of a "Raiser's Edge App Marketplace", which only helps to solidify the choice of The Raiser's Edge as the best fundraising software on the market. Now not only due to your domain knowledge, but due to the rich functionality that is available and continues to become available thanks to the free market. I urge you to open that door in Q1 2012, rather than at some undefined point further down the road "when it's ready". The market is ripe, so you need to respond now.

All the best!

Jonathan Puddle