The five tenets of SaaS integration

The success of software as a service rests on IT

Contrary to what SaaS (software as a service) vendors claim -- namely, that their wares are pay-and-play -- SaaS requires intervention from IT.

Yes, three or four years ago, SaaS was rudimentary CRM, not much more than a contact database in the sky, says Simon Peel, senior vice president of marketing and strategy at Cast Iron Systems. But that picture has changed dramatically.

In fact, many SaaS solutions have become mission-critical. And as the model has moved from the departmental silo to full-fledged enterprise app, seamless integration with other mission-critical apps -- such as ERP, CRM, contract management, and supply chain management -- has proved key. In short, it's not just about importing names to Outlook anymore.

Here are the five tenets of SaaS integration, further proof of the lasting importance of IT.

1. Integration takes the hand of a professional

Not to pick on anyone, but sales force administrators have a simple world to live in compared with hard-core IT folks.

Yes, a sales operator can switch on a CRM app just as SaaS vendors promise. But there is a lot more going on when it comes to implementing a fully integrated SaaS solution effectively.

The first thing you want to plug in to your SaaS solution is the master data record of names, addresses, and phone numbers. That way, when a salesperson calls a prospect, he or she won't get a wrong number because data in your Oracle database wasn't synched with RightNow.

And it only gets more complex than that. What if a salesperson pushes the order button, but the SaaS CRM application isn't linked to the warehouse system?

Peel tells me of a major financial services company that uses 10 temporary employees to take data from one application and rekey it into another. If one of those temps doesn't show up for the day, some orders will not be placed. Here someone needs to understand the workflow and all the business processes from quote to cash -- and how to thread them together seamlessly.

2. Multiple parts mean multiple skills are needed

When a sales manger asks for an extract of data on customers or needs billing info and shipping, that's when the IT team will say, "We knew you'd need to come to us in the end."

Yes, you may be able to extract and import a CSV file into an Excel spreadsheet, but what happens when you need it again and again? That's when integration becomes an urgent problem that requires skills beyond the scope of a single person.

The Oracle guy may know the Oracle applications, but do they know how to write code that sends information up to a Web service hosted by the SaaS vendor?

You need somebody who knows both of those things, Peel says. And this is where having a versatile set of skills in the form of the IT department down the hall comes in handy. After all, if you want to perform bidirectional synchronization in real time and you want it immediately, who you gonna call?

3. Shortages translate to SaaS-IT codependency

Ariel Kelman, senior director of platform and product marketing at Salesforce.com, is quick to flip the "SaaS needs IT" idea on its head.

"IT needs SaaS," Kelman says, adding that every CIO he talks to complains that they don't have enough time, people, or hardware infrastructure -- a good reason why they are starting to look at SaaS.

Kelman does admit that Salesforce APIs are at the lowest level of how every customer integrates and on top of that sits "some type of middleware solution."

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