Small Firms Take on Big SaaS Integration Woes - InformationWeek
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6/26/2007
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David Linthicum
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Small Firms Take on Big SaaS Integration Woes

Indeed, as SMBs first moved into SaaS, they looked at SaaS-delivered applications as something new and interesting, and managed it as a silo. With increased use of SaaS, and as the business matures, there's a need to link SaaS-based apps with the rest of the enterprise. That type of integration is hard, but many SMBs now see the need. So, how do you integrate your SaaS applications with your other enterprise applications?...

As highlighted in this article by Computer Weekly, SMBs using SaaS face a complex integration challenge. "According to research firm Saugatuck Technology, as more companies use SaaS, the need to integrate those applications with the rest of a company's systems grows. In fact, 17 percent of SMBs are using more than one application delivered via SaaS, according to the Westport, Conn.-based firm's findings."

Indeed, as SMBs first moved into SaaS, they looked at SaaS-delivered applications as something new and interesting, and managed it as a silo. With increased use of SaaS, and as the business matures, there's a need to link SaaS-based apps with the rest of the enterprise. That type of integration is hard, but many SMBs now see the need."In the early days of SaaS, a lot of applications were standalone and running in silos," said Liz Herbert, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "People just weren't focused on the challenge of integration. They were focused on customization. Now we're seeing SaaS used more broadly."

So, how do you integrate your SaaS applications with your other enterprise applications? It's a matter of planning, spending, and managing. When planning to integrate your SaaS applications, certain things need take place. First, you need to define the information you need to integrate, what it is, who owns it, and how it's accessed. While most SaaS vendors have APIs or Web services to support integration, many of these interfaces are not well thought out or are limited in some way. Next, you need to define the interfaces and information on the enterprise applications side, answering many of the same questions. This means you should have a semantic- and interface-level understanding of the integration domain, including all systems connected, SaaS and non-SaaS. Once you understand what you're integrating, now it's time to spend some money on integration solutions. While there are many in the market that support SaaS, typically your SaaS provider will point to a few that are known to work. That's the best place to start, and then work back to your enterprise systems. The integration vendor should support the interfaces of all integrated systems out of the box, and there should be little or no customization or programming required. Managing your integration solution will take the majority of the project's time and effort, and thus you need to consider how the integration solution will operate over time, including the skills required, management consoles, and links to existing management environments, such as those supporting network and enterprise application management and control. Integration is expensive and complex, and most SMBs did not plan for this ongoing expense when they implemented SaaS. However, without integration, information contained in a SaaS application won't find its way back into critical enterprise systems, and the SaaS application won't have as much value.

Application integration and service oriented architecture expert David Linthicum heads the product development, implementation and strategy consulting firm The Linthicum Group. Write him at david@linthicumgroup.com.Indeed, as SMBs first moved into SaaS, they looked at SaaS-delivered applications as something new and interesting, and managed it as a silo. With increased use of SaaS, and as the business matures, there's a need to link SaaS-based apps with the rest of the enterprise. That type of integration is hard, but many SMBs now see the need. So, how do you integrate your SaaS applications with your other enterprise applications?...

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