Integrating Cloud Software Applications
Should companies purchase pre-integrated applications or integrate best in class solutions?
An interesting article in Campus Technology, Cloud Computing in Education: A Practitioner’s View describes an implementation involving Datatel ERP, Salesforce CRM, and connecting technology provided by Cast Iron Systems. This raises two often debated questions:
- Integrate best in class applications or purchase an all-in-one solution?
- Use a third party integration platform or a vendor specific platform?
Integrate Best in Class or Use an All-In-One ERP Software Solution
Salesforce.com led the way in defining the importance of using a partnership model (Appexchange), while SAP is approaching the market by providing a deeper and broader solution with less reliance on third parties. Both approaches have proven difficult. For Salesforce, building a best-in-breed partner sandbox has been challenging. Small customers benefit from several add-on solutions that support customer management, but branching out to complex applications such as finance and ERP is proving difficult, if not impossible. For SAP, the problem is getting a completely, fully featured model to market in a timely manner. The ByDesign platform has been in development for years and is still not as feature rich as many other ERP solutions.
These problems, make the solution adopted by Westmont College an interesting case study. In this solution, tailored solutions are integrated by a third party, Cast Iron Systems. Cast Iron serves as an integrator and clearinghouse for connecting cloud applications.
Software upgrade complexities
The job of the integrator is not an easy one – because if one system changes or upgrades then the integration may break. This is complicated by the fact that some SaaS/cloud providers dictate when upgrades occur – making the integrator’s job dependent on a third party timeline. (Note, the integrator may require vendor upgrades to comply with their existing interface to eliminate some issues related to upgrades) Further, many mid-range solutions need to be customized for particular industries or vertical markets, so the number of integrations required to reach critical mass can be overwhelming.
The cost of this complexity will be passed on to the customer through the fees charged by the integrator. These fees are often sizable – in the area of thousands of dollars per month.
Cloud development platforms for integrated solutions
Many all-in-one cloud vendors have developed platforms that third parties can use to create add-on applications to their core solution. In some cases, these platforms require that the application run on a single cloud – the one provided by the partner. Thus, ISVs cannot develop cloud applications that are independent of the provider. Another pitfall is caused by platforms that utilize unfamiliar development tools that are proprietary to the SaaS or cloud vendor. Finally, the core data structure may limit the ability to build applications. Building an application that requires financial data on top of a database optimized for customer management could prove to be challenging.
The keys to success for a cloud development platform:
- Do not lock vendors into a single operational environment
- Provide a familiar development platform
- Deliver access to relevant data and data structures
According to Gartner, 75% of cloud deployments will need to connect to on-premise applications. When considering a solution where your business has the need for multiple applications, there are different strategies:
- All-in-one vendor: make sure that the vendor can deliver the applications that matter to you in a timely manner.
- SaaS specialty vendor: make sure that the vendor has a development platform that can attract and support the types of applications that meet your current and future needs.