You love your apps. They make your life so much easier. At work, there’s an application or a software solution for everything. The problem is: how do you get your data syncing between all the different tools you use?
This becomes especially tricky if different teams at your company rely on different applications and tools. How often have you wasted time importing or exporting a CSV file for another department? It's as novelist John Brunner famously said: "It's supposed to be automatic, but actually you have to push this button."
Integrating disjointed software solutions is one of the most common challenges companies are currently facing. Most applications are not connected with each other, resulting in little islands of data.
Luckily, there's a wide range of possible solutions when it comes to better integrating your company's tools, applications, and data. In this piece, we'll cover the basics of how software integrations work, and more importantly, how they can make your life a whole lot easier.
What is software integration?
Whether you're starting a business or are a member of the IT team at a big company, when we talk about software integration it’s easy to get lost in the terminology.
Integration refers to the process of combining two pieces of software in order to solve the problem of isolated data. To get started, you’ll need to find the answers to these questions:
1. What type of software will you integrate?
Though big companies often create in-house software, they are increasingly adopting Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. This type of tool enables them to manage particular business processes without hassle.
Smaller businesses usually go directly for SaaS, preferring cloud-based applications that can scale with their business.
Regardless of the size of your business, if you are working with in-house software and you need to integrate, you might need a team of engineers to help out with the necessary software architecture to integrate. Does that sound too complex or out of budget? Don’t worry, there are some pre-built enterprise integration software you can consider.
Cloud-based business applications (those SaaS solutions we talked about) make life a bit easier. Most of them make their Application Programming Interface (API) public, which expands your possibilities to integrate.
2. Which integration software do you need?
First, let’s talk about APIs ...
Imagine your applications as cities. The API of each app is a series of directions to access that city. Some applications use APIs to create a direct highway between cities. Those are our first type of integration software: native or in-app integrations.
Native integrations are created by the engineers behind applications to shift their own data to another app. This is great because you can create an integration within the environment of the app you are using. You don’t even have to open a new tab to get started.
The problem is that building direct highways takes a lot of time and effort, and most software providers only offer native integrations with a few apps. Unless you have a synchronization solution like Operations Hub. For all the other apps you use, you'll need an Integration Platforms as a Service (iPaaS).
iPaaS are fully dedicated to finding the best way to connect disparate software. They are basically the glue that keeps your entire software stack together.
When there are multiple tools inside a company, an iPaaS becomes necessary. Teams working with different databases are rarely aligned towards the same goal. An iPaaS has the mission to make the customer data consistent for everyone who has access to it.
If your business works with several apps, you are probably already searching for the perfect iPaaS for you. But before you make that decision, consider one more thing: Do you need a one-way or a two-way integration?
Most iPaaS offer a one-way integration. That means pushing data from app A to app B, like Zapier does. If what you need is a two-way integration to keep your different databases in sync, it's best to go for a built-in solution. Whenever you update something in either one of the apps, you’ll see that change available in the other one.
3. Which type of data needs integration?
When we talk about data, we can be referring to numbers, people, companies, products ... you name it! To set up an integration, you need to identify which part of your two or more databases make sense to combine.
Since data comes in any shape or form, each one of your applications will categorize it using their own terms. For instance, your CRM has a database with information about the "contacts" and "companies" you are working with. On the other hand, your accountancy app has a database full of "clients," "banking" and "expenses."
You can't mix apples with oranges. But that doesn't mean that different applications cannot complement each other. Identifying similar data in each application gives you a complete view of how your integration should be like.
Let’s use the example of contact data. If you store the information about a person called Jane Doe in your CRM’s contact list, it is likely that you are talking about the same Mrs. Doe categorized as a client in your accountancy app. We've identified the same element in the two apps: it's a customer! Why not use integration to enrich Jane’s info in both databases and have it automatically in sync?
You could see in both apps Jane’s latest contact information, know how much she spends with you, who manages her account and much more. If you add other apps to the integration, such as your customer support tool or your lead generation app, the result would be a 360-degree view of your customer.
By now you’ve figured out that software integration is a very broad term and that there are several types of integration software available. Hopefully, we’ve provided the context for you to be able to answer the questions above. You know now:
What type of software will you integrate?
It can be either in-house software or a third-party business application (SaaS).
Which integration software do you need?
If you are using in-house software, you’ll need an ad-hoc solution. You can see if there's an enterprise integration software that suits your needs, but you might need help from a team of engineers.
If you are working with business applications that share their API, you can use native integrations or an iPaaS.
You probably don’t need to integrate every single element of your databases - there must be a logic behind it. Never try to mix apples with oranges.
With some preparation ahead, software integration doesn’t have to be a hassle. Make sure you detect your business’ particular needs and the options you have available. Ultimately, integration won’t only bring your applications closer together, but also your team.
Originally published Mar 31, 2020 10:00:45 AM, updated April 21 2021