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4/8/2009
09:48 AM
David Linthicum
David Linthicum
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SaaS Integration: Here's the Challenge

Most enterprises that use SaaS don't account for integration until the app has already been adopted, and then they attempt to retrofit a strategy and technology into the mix, which is always painful. Here are a few suggestions for a better approach.

Remember SaaS integration? It was all the rage when SaaS started to rise, but has since fallen off the radar screen. That is, unless you're using SaaS.

This Computer World article, by Robert L. Mitchell highlights the need for SaaS integration.

"It's the SaaS twist: Add too many applications, and you might to find yourself back in the bad old days, when the various applications in the corporate infrastructure wouldn't talk to one another."

Actually, I would argue that most on-premise applications still don't talk to one another, even though my integration book, and a bunch of pretty good integration technologies have been around for some time.The fact is that integration is often an afterthought, and there's no exception in the use of SaaS. I've found that most enterprises that use SaaS don't account for integration until the SaaS application has already been adopted, and then they attempt to retrofit an integration strategy and technology into the mix, which is always painful.

Mitchell offers three helpful tips:

1. Develop an overall integration strategy that includes SaaS. 2. Take time to fully understand business process requirements before starting integration work. 3. Hire an information architect with a deep understanding of the business process requirements as well as the technology issues."

Can't argue with any of those, but let me add a few more suggestions. First, keep in mind that integration is a sub-pattern of enterprise architecture, thus it needs to be defined within the context of enterprise architecture. This means that we don't attempt integration without a complete understanding of the IT assets. Not accounting for the current architecture, SaaS or no, is the most common mistake that I see.

Second, make sure to account for all application semantics, services, and then processes when looking at the source and target systems you're attempting to link. The reality is that the battle for integration success is largely around your ability to have a complete semantic understanding.

Finally, you'll need to create a second, more-detailed strategy around the specific issues with SaaS integration. The fact is that you're dealing with points of integration that you don't control, thus you'll have to leverage specialized technology and governance solutions. The biggest issue is that these interfaces typically change, and you need to build in mechanisms to deal with that change.

Integration within the world of SaaS is like integration in the enterprise; it's often an afterthought and poorly planned. However, using SaaS successfully is largely dependent upon a well-defined integration strategy. It's a fact: Information that's stored and controlled by a SaaS application is typically critical to core enterprise business systems, and thus needs to be linked. As time progresses the amount of information that exists outside of the enterprise will grow exponentially; thus there is the need to sync this information back into the enterprise. With a bit of planning, this is a fairly simplistic and painless process. If you choose not to plan, your SaaS strategy will surely fail.Most enterprises that use SaaS don't account for integration until the app has already been adopted, and then they attempt to retrofit a strategy and technology into the mix, which is always painful. Here are a few suggestions for a better approach.

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