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How to overcome the challenge of integrating SaaS software

February 19, 2018

Software as a service (SaaS), a cloud-based model for running software, is growing fast according to Gartner – in excess of 20% in 2017. For SaaS vendors that’s good news, and for SaaS users that means there is a growing source of cloud business applications. The bad news is that integration with other cloud and on-premise apps is a significant problem in onboarding SaaS software, and is often under-estimated by both customers and vendors. The question is how to reduce the costs and effort of integration so that onboarding new SaaS software, and the ROI from it, can be achieved quickly.


What are the issues of migrating to a SaaS app

Implementing SaaS involves a migration project. Anyone who has worked on a data migration project knows that the major issues are data mapping and data take-on. It’s because of this that Forrester Research notes that labour costs are a major factor when it comes to migrating to an application in the cloud.

Some SaaS migrations are easier than others, Solutions that are functionally specific tend to be easier; bigger problems come with the “systems of record”, like accounting and CRM apps, which are more complex and costly to migrate.

The costs and effort of data mapping and take-on are significantly increased when the work is tackled by writing custom code to solve the problem. If you have worked on ERP migration projects, as I have done, you will know that there can and will be unanticipated requirements changes, which can make the process of custom coding more complex and time-consuming than planned. In fact, any change during or after the migration can entail major time, effort and expense if custom coding is used.

Application integration is another aspect that gets more complicated when companies start adding SaaS software to their application portfolio. As applications become composite rather than monolithic, there are more external links to integrate.

Typical high-level SaaS migration process


New normal of integrating systems

There is now a ‘new normal’ when it comes to the challenges of integrating systems.

  1. For the foreseeable future, hybrid application environments (on-premise + cloud + mobile) are going to be a fact of IT life.
  2. The reality of SaaS applications is that upgrades are more frequent than with on-premise systems.
  3. Unlike the old ERP days, business users are not going to accept having processes cast in stone, and will require a more responsive application environment.

With these challenges, IT departments probably won’t be able handle rapid change while being burdened by integrations based on hand coding.


The process of synchronizing data is also going to get more complex. Regulatory and data privacy issues are making data governance a major IT and business concern. Integration used to focus on data integrity but now needs to ensure data security as well as metadata tags – where the data came from, who made changes, etc.


An integration strategy for onboarding

Integration architecture

As a business adopts more SaaS solutions, it will need to review whether it’s integration architecture should be updated so that data can be integrated between disparate systems – the modern digital infrastructure of a dynamic enterprise.


When you onboard new software, integration should cater for types of resources that will make use of an integration capability. These resources are:

  • Developers
  • Citizen integrators (aka citizen developers)

Developers are an obvious resource as they will be responsible for most integration needs. But as various sources – analysts, and vendors – are pointing out, businesses are finding they can get some work done quicker by letting people who understand the business processes, and the capabilities and data objects of applications, to do the integration themselves. These are citizen integrators.

If you look at onboarding in terms of Gartner’s Bimodal IT approach, developers would focus on Mode 1( traditional, sequential, emphasizing safety and accuracy), and citizen integrators handle Mode 2(exploratory, nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed).

There are several reasons for organizations to consider adopting SaaS solutions when they can and moving off legacy applications: whether it’s the postmodern ERP argument, or the issue of technical debt(the concept that an organization will end up spending more in the long run more if it ignores a technical problem when it first arises). Moving apps to cloud often makes financial sense, but you need to have a plan and solutions to implement the change and to support integration.


An integration platform

One way for SaaS customers (and vendors) to take the integration challenge off their shoulders is by using a third-party integration platform. This is a platform designed to act as a single, comprehensive integration hub, regardless of the software, platform, and IT infrastructure that need to be integrated. For SaaS vendors there are also other benefits of using an integration platform.

The value of any SaaS solution is not only how well the software functions, but also how well it can provide integration with other applications in the organization. These days, it’s easy to find a SaaS provider who will sell you just about any cloud business application. The hard part is finding a qualified, experienced partner who can help you integrate your cloud initiatives with on-premise networks and legacy systems.

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