Cloud // Software as a Service
01:30 PM

SaaS Integration: Real-World Problems, And How CIOs Are Solving Them

Installing SaaS applications is easy. It's integrating them that can drive up the cost and complexity SaaS is supposed to avoid.

SaaS integration can be more complex in some ways than on-site software integration, since more parties are involved in providing data, even if the project is technically less intricate. Steven John, CIO at adhesive manufacturer H.B. Fuller, says one way to reduce complexity is with standard IT discipline, such as using a single middleware provider.

H.B. Fuller uses Workday for HR and Salesforce for CRM and sales automation, and John is considering moving more applications over to SaaS. He expects to do much of the work in-house. Along the way, he's looking to consolidate from the several middleware platforms H.B. Fuller has been using, including WebSphere and Tibco, to Microsoft BizTalk. "If you're going to move down the path of SaaS, you need to make sure your own house is in order," John says. "With a single middleware approach, integration won't be as big of a barrier, as it'll provide consistency and speed to the implementation."

John is asking SaaS vendors lots of questions related to middleware, such as whether they have developed plug-ins for a specific middleware package and whether they have direct experience implementing that middleware. "If they say no to either, it's a strike against them," he says.

John is also creating a team on his IT staff charged with developing a strategy around SaaS integration and middleware. It's a recognition that the SaaS architecture demands new skills and relationships; it's not just a bolt-on tool. "If there's not that internal discipline, things can go wrong and those SaaS relationships aren't going to work," he says.

Steve John, CIO, H.B. Fuller

H.B. Fuller CIO John: Beware of too much middleware

SaaS customers often rave about the simplicity of upgrades, since new features can just be turned on at the vendor's data center. Integrating services and apps can mess with that tidy package. When SaaS vendors work with other software and SaaS providers on integration, it's important to pay attention to whether versions have been integrated, John has learned.

For example, when H.B. Fuller signed on with Workday, it demonstrated instances in which other customers had integrated with Automatic Data Processing payroll services, which H.B. Fuller also uses. John later learned those customers were using an older version of ADP, not the version H.B. Fuller was using. "So where we thought it would be simple, there were some complications," he says. "If I were to step on [Workday's] shoes, it would be to say that ADP is one of the largest payroll vendors, and you need to stay up to speed on that."

Customers also need to factor in network performance, as SaaS integrations could dramatically change the amount of data on the move. GreenPages Technology Solutions, a SaaS integrator, discovered this itself several years ago when it signed on with a software service, says CTO Michael Healy, who declined to name the provider. The vendor assured it no additional bandwidth was needed. But when GreenPages integrated the software service with its CRM system, it had to add bandwidth for the communications between the systems. SaaS is young enough that many vendors don't have the experience to anticipate needed network infrastructure upgrades. "Because applications are so easy to start and spin up, they'll do the integration as an afterthought," Healy says. "When we're brought into a SaaS deal, we start with the question, 'What's your pipe?'"

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