John Joseph is VP of Marketing at Scribe Software.
The shift to cloud applications created a proliferation of data silos that seemed to set us back to square one in our efforts to integrate enterprise data. But now more cloud application providers are improving their apps’ ability to connect to both on-premises and cloud applications. It is a reflection of the growing importance of data integration. It represents a milestone in the evolution of cloud applications, as they become more connected out of the box as a way to differentiate the application, and it’s an opportunity for business users to rethink their data integration strategy as cloud-based data integration alternatives become the norm. But, does it mean that an enterprise can start to think about shrinking their data integration efforts?
For SaaS providers, the pressure is increasing to add more out of the box connectivity. Whether the application itself is mature or emerging, how well the application connects to other cloud applications and on-premises applications has become a primary evaluation criterion when businesses purchase SaaS applications. Until recently, integration was usually addressed as a “phase 2 requirement” – after the software or service was purchased and in use. It meant that when businesses purchased SaaS applications, such as social media platforms or sales productivity tools, the burden was on them to figure out how to get them connected to the rest of their cloud and on-premises systems.
That is changing. Increasingly SaaS providers are deciding to solve their integration challenges by embedding a commercially available cloud-based integration platform, or integration platform as a service (iPaaS), with their own applications.
For businesses that may purchase a variety of SaaS applications this is a great opportunity to re-evaluate their own integration strategies. They need to add more integration capabilities, therefore, to keep pace with the rate of SaaS adoption – especially they need to add agile integration capabilities to address the needs for customer-facing teams to change applications, fields, and aggregations.
Consider what’s happening to the application landscape, where there is an explosion in the number and variety of applications available and in use at a single enterprise. Some research organizations have reported that a single enterprise can be have hundreds of SaaS applications in use within their walls. Plus, with innovations such as the Internet of Things promising to spur new application needs, you should expect the number of applications you use to continue to rise. There is a clear and present need, therefore, to integrate more apps and to deal with the complexities of applications and APIs from different manufacturers.
So as you think about your integration approach moving forward, you should evaluate your options on these points:
- Lifecycle Management Costs – If you are going to be using a wide array of SaaS applications from various manufacturers you can benefit from having an integration platform that provides a single control layer for your applications and integration developers. The platform’s maker likely takes on the burden of ensuring compatibility with the applications it supports, meaning you will spend no time revising integrations because of API changes to the various SaaS applications. A single integration platform can also make monitoring and lifecycle management easier as you have a standard integration technique and a single pane of glass for managing integrations for various manufacturers. Consider the case where you decide to switch from one CRM system to another down the line. If you had used integration capabilities built into that CRM system, you would have to reintegrate all of your other SaaS applications to the new CRM system. But if you used a third-party integration platform, your workload could be much lighter because you may just have to connect the new CRM system to the platform. Depending on your future plans and how frequently you change applications, using a third-party integration platform to integrate core applications from multiple manufacturers may lower your overall lifecycle management costs.
- Custom Application Deployments – If your application’s manufacturer offers some integration capability that allows you to develop custom extensions to their application, it could be your fastest way to reach your goal, but consider downstream management time and whether the application will change before you decide to use that interface. A dedicated integration layer can add a layer of abstraction that will allow your application to work with any CRM system without having to rebuild the application from scratch.
- The Field-Level Capabilities of Integrations – If two organizations separately created connectors between two applications, they could differ wildly in their capabilities. One may ensure that additional information is captured and made available to the other application. This could create a differentiator for your business or could be a better fit for your existing sales process. So consider the capabilities of an integration offering, not just the names of the sources they supposedly connect. Support for more fields and entities means you will have more flexibility to integrate what your business users want.
- Business Agility You Require – Connectors between different applications can run the spectrum between being flexible and fixed. Usually that comes with a tradeoff of how complex they are to manage and adapt. Consider not just often you expect to add/subtract applications, change fields or add new orchestration steps between applications, but also who will be making the changes. Increasingly the task of creating and changing powerful integrations is being done by business users and not by an exclusive set of developers in the IT department.
It is likely that you will answer these questions differently when considering your CRM, ERP, or other applications. So your aggregate integration approach may end up being a well-thought out mix of approaches. You may rely on an out-of-the-box integration from your marketing automation system to connect to your social media platform because the fields you need integrated are few and won’t change, but use a third-party platform for integrations to connect your marketing automation and CRM systems because of the need to continuously update fields and workflows based on those systems.
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