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Transferring referral databases amongst software systems

Many non-profit help lines like to build up referral databases that can be used to direct their callers to other service providers for specialized or more in-depth help. Often times, it would be useful to be able to transfer these databases to and from other software systems so others might benefit from the information. For example,
  • A collection of help lines might have formed a collaborative to serve a larger geographic region together.
  • A smaller help line would like access to the database a larger help line in the area maintains.
  • A help line wants to change from using one software system to another.
But how could this be done if people are using different software systems, which likely store the information in different and not-directly-compatible formats? Fortunately, there are a variety ways to facilitate such transfers between different software systems, either on a one-time or ongoing basis. The following explains some of those methods.
  • If all involved help lines are using the same software system, it is highly likely that the transfer could be done easily or even instantaneously.
  • Using an industry standard called the AIRS XML 3.0 format, data is exported from the source software system in a pre-defined format (or “schema”), which can easily be imported into the destination system if it also supports this format.
  • Exporting data to a comma-separated value (CSV) file. If the destination system already has defined its own format for importation of CSV’s, then the transfer would be eased if the source system can get the export into that format. Otherwise, importation is still possible but might involve some custom programming work by the vendor of the destination system.
  • Direct access to the source system database. This is easiest where the source system is a custom-made or home-grown database and its creator agrees to assist in the process, although it can be done without the creator’s help. The vendor of the destination system would then build software to interpret the source database’s structure into the destination database’s structure and then run the actual transfer.
Interestingly, if these transfers need to be done on an ongoing basis, there are ways to automate any of these approaches so that they can occur without the need for continuous human intervention. In other words, the transfer could be scheduled to happen weekly, daily, or even on a real time basis. In this latter case, a secure direct connection would be established between the source and destination system, so that whenever there was a change in one, it would immediately propagate to the other.


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