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Heroku Made Easy

By: Rob Jordan

How Nonprofits Wrangle Massive Data and Large Tech Stacks

Let me start by saying I was a dummy when it came to Heroku. I remember when a colleague of mine attempted to explain the technology to me and it sounded something like this droning technical description I found on Wikipedia:


Heroku is a cloud platform as a service (PaaS) supporting several programming languages. One of the first cloud platforms, Heroku has been in development since June 2007, and supports Java, Node.js, Scala, Clojure, Python, PHP, and Go. For this reason, Heroku is said to be a polyglot platform as it has features for a developer to build, run and scale applications in a similar manner across most languages.


I fell asleep right after I heard polyglot.

Still, I continued to hear all the great things you could do with Heroku and it didn't take long to recognize that Heroku was the answer to many of the challenges faced by the modern NPO. Namely, storage space, solution integration, and connecting disparate solutions with a single user interface (UI).

I am going to show how Heroku addresses each of these challenges while removing much of the jargon that can drown out the value of the platform. I promise I won’t put you to sleep.

Storage Space

Heroku is great for organizations that are looking for a dynamic data storage that can expand and contract with their data needs. Imagine you built a solution that had an ebb and flow of large amounts of data. In the old days you would have to buy a “data locker” (Aka Data Lake) large enough to store the data flow you anticipated. As you can imagine, buying a locker with a huge amount of space but never fully using it is a poor investment by any measure.

Heroku resolves this problem by expanding and contracting with the amount of data you are receiving. In other words you only pay for what you actually need. Problem solved. 

System Integration

Organizations use different technologies together at the same time for different purposes — Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. In many cases we choose a system for a specific feature that simply may not be available in the other tools we use. Marc Benioff recognized this need and made specific mention of it in his 2019 Dreamforce keynote:

“We realize that you do have more than Salesforce and we commit to you that we will work with everybody. We will not create boundaries between us. We will operate as one community."

There are a number of ways to facilitate integration. The most common integration is bidirectional — integration between two solutions so that data flows back and forth between the two. In fact, this sort of integration is so common that Salesforce purchased Mulesoft to address this exact need (for the mighty sum of 6.5 billion dollars!), which is one reason why we now work with Mulesoft as well.

Heroku takes this capability one step further and provides an environment that can integrate multiple solutions together in near real time using Heroku Connect. For example, a nonprofit could integrate their accounting, fundraising, and eCommerce platforms (from entirely different tech stacks) to share information across multiple departments. With Heroku you can integrate exactly the technology you need from as many solutions as you like.

A Customized User Interface for Unification of Data

This is perhaps the most important solution Heroku offers: a unified UI. If your tech stack consists of many different solutions, you can integrate not only the data available in each, but can consolidate the interface users use to access that data. Using Heroku you can have all your data accessible through a single UI design your developer builds just for you. And more than that, data isn’t just shared, but the meaning of that data is shared, which is known as semantic interoperability.

When one considers how many disparate solutions are needed to run an organization you can see how important the ability to unite them through a single user experience will become in the coming decade. In fact, it won't just be important — it will be necessary. Tracy Kronzak (a former Senior Manager at says it best:

“Interoperability, data integration standards, and data analysis are the new action drivers. It’s no longer how to get all your data in one place, it’s how to best leverage your data from many places”

Tracy rightfully speaks to the challenges of change management and the costs that occur as the result of switching systems. By consolidating your user experience with a single interface of your design, you can focus on interpreting, managing, and utilizing the data rather than being preoccupied with the change often needed to adopt a new solution.

While Heroku has been leveraged in the private sector extensively it has only recently made its debut in the nonprofit sector with some notable success such as Habitat for Humanity, B Lab and Charity Water. There can be no doubt Heroku is a disruptive technology for the nonprofit sector and we can only expect to see more of its magic in the coming years.

If you are interested in learning more about how Heroku can help your organization embrace a true digital transformation please reach out to us directly or join our Heroku user group in the Power of Us Hub.


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