If your company doesn’t deal with integration on an on-going basis, I suspect it can be hard to find your way in the integration market.
After all, it’s no small task. Friday, I talked about how you can learn a lot from free reports available online. But even focusing on reports by major IT research firms, such as Forrester and Gartner, can be overwhelming.
For instance, the last free Gartner Magic Quadrant for Data Integration included more than 10 main players, with about 66 additional vendors that offer a variety of ways to solve integration problems. Just clarifying the difference between each of these could take a long time.
If you need a solution that will allow you to handle multiple integration projects, as well as a list of pre-configured connectors (a sort of plug-in-and-play approach to integration), then that time will be well spent.
But what if you basically have one big integration headache, such as connecting your ERP or CRM tool to various data sets or applications?
Here are a five more tips for finding out your options quickly:
1. Call the vendor. Vendors know integration is a major challenge for their clients, and more are starting to address it. Also, there’s a good chance you’re not the only one who’s asked. Beware the special services, if you can: You want to avoid paying for custom code, which can break or fail as software and systems change.
Instead, ask if there’s a pre-built connector and if they provide ongoing support. Alternatively, ask how other customers have solved this problem and if you can talk with one of them customer.
2. Ask Twitter. Companies are so busy trying to sell themselves on social networks, they forget what a great tool these sites can be for problem solving. If someone in your IT department has a good Twitter network, you may be able to just tweet for help. You can also use hash tags or the specific names of the products you want to integrate.
Integration vendors are great about using Twitter, so you may hear from them as well. Make them answer a few key questions so the exchange can help you decide if it’s worth a longer call.
3. Try LinkedIn. LinkedIn is actually a great way to find other professionals who’ve encountered the same problem. There are also professional groups devoted to integration on LinkedIn that may be willing to help.
I actually used a keyword search on LinkedIn to find a small list of people (we’re talking five total) who had to handle a specific integration problem.
Of course, you’ll want to be careful about from whom you accept advice. You should also be respectful about how you ask. Nobody likes a freeloader, and not everyone is happy to give free advice. Be selective about your requests and consider whether it’s worth offering a small consultation fee.
4. Use the Right Keywords. I am not trying to be glib. I know firsthand how challenging it can be to get past the vague vendor links and use the right keywords when seeking integration solutions. I use the name of any solution you might want to integrate with words like:
Sometimes, vendors use words like “Snaps” or “Beans,” but these keywords will still cover those oddball marketing terms.
Also, you may want to put integration as a service on that list, if you’re OK with cloud services.
Another small trick: Go into the blog search and news search, rather than just perusing the main results page. Blogs are where you’ll find some of the most detailed answers to your problems. News searches are a great way to find announcements of new releases, capabilities or products that are relevant to your integration challenge.
5. Check a vendor’s developer community. There are online marketplaces where developers can submit pre-built integration flows or APIs and sell them. If you have a niche problem, that might be a good option. A few marketplaces you can check:
Mulesoft’s API Hub, an API registry.
Programmable Web, another online registry for integration API and mashups.