Intelligent Enterprise published an excellent article about SaaS integration over the weekend. It explores the challenges of SaaS integration and, frankly, it's the best article I've seen on the topic.
Reporter Mary Hayes Weier asked CIOs about the integration problems they've encountered with SaaS and how they solved these problems. What she discovered is that the difficulties of integration can quickly devour any simplification or cost savings you may have gained by switching to a SaaS solution.
There are a number of lessons for potential SaaS customers or even those who want to expand their use of SaaS. You'll want to read this lengthy feature, because it's full of caveats and helpful tips, but here are three key takeaways I found:
- The SaaS ground rules are still being written. If a SaaS vendor doesn't offer what you want in terms of integration, push a bit harder. Other CIOs have found vendors are willing to negotiate and may meet you halfway.
- Connecting to SaaS isn't always (or even usually) easy and there are a lot of unexpected variables. As the article points out, in-house developers can do custom integration code, but they'll still have to learn the SaaS' API -- and as it turns out, even though they're Web-based, each one is to some degree proprietary. You'll need to take that into account, particularly if you're using more than one SaaS vendor. And while the technology component of integration may be harder, more parties are involved, and this complicates things.
- You can buy your way out of these integration headaches -- and sometimes, you should. The main article includes at least one integration horror story that left the involved CIO convinced he never wanted to handle SaaS integration internally again. As it turns out, you might not need to - if you're willing to hire outside help. In an accompanying article, "SaaS Integration Specialists Find Their Niches," Weier explains the three options for those who don't want to do custom code to connect with SaaS. You can sign up with an integration-as-a-service provider (yes, another SaaS), such as Boomi; try CastIron's SaaS appliance; or hire a consultant or third party who specializes in SaaS integration, such as Bluewolf. There are more than 40 such business partners in existence, so you may need to do some serious digging to find the right partner.
So, SaaS integration is a real problem, and it can be challenging. But it's also important to note that, despite the problems, the CIOs interviewed seemed happy with the results and even planned to expand their use of SaaS vendors.