SaaS Integration Horror Stories from the Real World

Loraine Lawson

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 20, 2008 5:29 PM Simon Peel Simon Peel  says:
Hi Loraine - great article! You mentioned Cast Iron's SaaS appliance but I wanted to let your readers know that Cast Iron also has an integration-as-a-service offering called the Cast Iron Cloud. Customers who have a majority of their applications in the cloud tend to go with our Cast Iron Cloud and those who have the majority of their applications on-premise typically go with our appliance. solution. For more information, readers can go to www.castiron.com or http://www.castiron.com/integration-solutions/other-solutions/cloud.html.Best regards, Simon Peel Reply
Oct 21, 2008 9:37 AM Matthieu Hug Matthieu Hug  says:
HelloSaaS integration is indeed the #1 issue for SaaS large adoption. Not only because it's important to avoid duplicate manual inputs from one system into another; but also because integrating SaaS application with the proper "integration as service" platform is the key to be less dependent on a particular SaaS vendor.What is a "proper integration platform"? The experience of traditional IT shows that integration requires everything BUT a technical approach. Integration is where your IT becomes agile or unmanageable.For that reason, at RunMyProcess (http://www.runmyprocess.com) we propose a very business oriented approach to "integration", through the first business process management system available 100% in a SaaS mode. The key benefit is that it extends SaaS beyond mere application integration, including as well human workflows with partners and access to business services (client scoring, parcel follow up, etc). With more than 350 pre-connected services, it is a key to a fast and evolutive integration of an "extended" IT envrionement.Regards Reply
Oct 21, 2008 11:40 AM Francis Carden Francis Carden  says:
There are products that address this issue. Companies like OpenSpan (I am the founder) can effectively create API's into SAAS applications where no API's exist (or where the API's do not meet your needs). Integrating SAAS applications then is just as easy as integrating MS Office, mainframes and custom or off-the-shelf windows applications. You just have to look! Reply
Oct 27, 2008 5:24 PM Jeff Kaplan Jeff Kaplan  says:
"Horror Stories" is a relative term. The time necessary to integrate legacy applications has historically been months or years compared to SaaS applications which can take only days or weeks. Integrating legacy applications can also require armies of consultants which can result in 3-10x the cost of the original software perpetual license fee compared to integration costs for SaaS applications which typically amount to only a fraction of the overall subscription fee. Reply

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