The benefits of SaaS for businesses are quite obvious. With SaaS software you can use everything through a web browser, there is no server room, mainframe, or desktop software to install. This is all seamlessly managed and taken care of remotely by the software provider.
The cost-benefit analysis of SaaS is simple: success in today’s fast-paced technology market is vitally linked to how fast a company can integrate new business applications into their infrastructure. And the magic of SaaS is that onboarding can be made almost effortlessly by a click of a few buttons to sign up with a credit card, and then downloading the API keys.
But at the same time, SaaS integrations, or the process of allowing new applications to communicate with each other, has not always been an easy nut to crack. There are the obvious concerns about security, backup and storage, and how to fit these apps into existing legacy systems, to name a few.
But at the end of the day, SaaS integrations are powerful differentiators in today’s market. And the faster and easier the integrations are, the better! In looking ahead to 2017, there are some key trends and challenges that companies should be paying attention to as they build out their SaaS integration strategy. In this first part, we look at several major SaaS integration trends that CIOs and other business leaders should have on their radar in the year ahead.
The whole notion of application integration and data management today is synonymous with the cloud. By and large, businesses now rely upon a multitude of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications that are delivered over the web. Unlike the old days of onsite servers and expensive proprietary software licenses, now any business unit with a credit card can connect to a cloud-hosted SaaS service in less than 5 minutes for a fraction of the cost and no setup headaches.
But this is not to say that SaaS integrations are always as easy as flipping a switch or, in this case, swiping a credit card. That’s the ultimate hope, but now with thousands of SaaS on the market, companies must navigate the API highway and find the quickest solutions for their SaaS integration challenges.
The misperception is that SaaS APIs are the magic solution for cross-connecting software services. Such is not the case, mostly they’re frequently proprietary, long and complicated. At the end of the day, companies need to be savvy about what it takes to successfully leverage SaaS platforms in ways that increase their bottom line.
CIOs need to figure out how to bring all these new devices, applications, and data sources together in a way that allows them to be seamlessly integrated, analyzed in real time, and mined for insights. And they need to do it quickly because the potential of these disruptive technologies is tied to revenue growth and there’s a need to achieve results in a narrow window of time.
As far as SaaS integrations are concerned, the faster and easier they are the better!
iPaaS Markets Will Continue to Grow Rapidly
iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) is an acronym in the cloud lectionary that may not be as familiar as the more conventional terms like SaaS, but it’s every bit as powerful. iPaaS tools are cloud-based platforms that provide integration support for application and data projects that involve both cloud and on-premise resources.
The market is growing by leaps and bounds. Gartner states that the market expanded more than 50% in 2015 and all indications are that it will soon become an enterprise-wide movement.
Internet of Everything
IoT has certainly garnered lots of attention over the past several years, taking the place even of Big Data for the most talked about trend in IT.
The upshot of IoE is services. As IoT manufacturers seek ways to deepen their relationships with customers, a key goal will to become more strategic and provide ongoing solutions tailored to evolving customer needs. Services will be a critical element to selling solutions.
In 2017 we should expect to see the growing IoT/IoE trend of turning objects into services, or what is popularly called the “Everything as a Service”.
The real takeaway for CIOs and CEOs is to decide how to leverage the latest trends in IoE cloud-based applications and bring these all together in a seamless manner. Integration is a critical part of this process. Having proper strategies in place will be critical for determining the speed at which companies can analyze and mine data from so many new cloud-based apps and devices.
Software AI & Automation
Ever since IBM’s supercomputer “Watson” beat the best human champions on Jeopardy, artificial intelligence has become a hot topic – along with supporting technologies like machine learning and robotics. The benefits of AI are particularly apparent in the new wave of smart assistants like Siri, Facebook Messenger, or “Slackbots” which can do everything from scheduling appointments to helping complete your profile to answering questions.
Another form of AI that is becoming pervasive across industries is software bots. These are software applications that run automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet and are usually good at performing repetitive tasks at very high speeds. Software bots can now be found everywhere, from food ordering to online trading to website monitoring.
It’s only a matter of time before AI becomes mainstream in SaaS products. In the year ahead, we can expect to see an increase in more “out of the box” APIs that developers can use to make messaging and integration between various devices and applications more streamlined.
Rise of the Micro SaaS Business
The irony is that while it’s becoming more difficult to build a scalable SaaS business (due to the customer base and tech infrastructure), there is a perfect opportunity for what has become known as the “Micro SaaS Business.” This is a small SaaS business usually owned and bootstrapped by one person with 2-3 freelancers on the team and little or no desire for VC capital.
A micro SaaS will often sell a niche product for very specific needs not covered by bigger enterprise solutions, or that fills a gap not provided by an existing platform. A good example of this is Storemapper, which is an app that simply locates stores and now garners revenue of over $250K per year.
Emergence of DaaS
The big challenge of SaaS integration today is how to seamlessly incorporate massive amounts of data, change that data into marketable insights, and then distribute it across increasingly complicated supply chains.
Enter the Data-as-a-Service company. The basic idea of DaaS is to provide companies with a large volume and wide-variety of cloud-based data at a fraction of the cost to enable smarter day-to-day and overall strategic choices.
The big data and technology services market is forecast to gain 23.1% annual growth over the next several years, and will fill a major gap for companies looking to streamline operations with more economical ways to analyze customer trends and activities. One provider in this growing market is Sisense, which provides data brokerage services to businesses by “simplifying business intelligence for complex data.”
Integrating SaaS with On-Premise Apps
One of the biggest nuts to crack in the area of integration is with connecting to on-premise applications. The major pain point is in the methods used. A prevailing assumption has been that traditional integration techniques like Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) is a good way to go for bringing cloud technologies onsite. But these methods are expensive, require specialized training, and are not often well-suited to how the cloud works.
There are a number of other major integration challenges: ensuring the data transformation works correctly from on-premise to the cloud, ensuring the same level of security and connections, and “orchestration” – or making certain the right data gets to the right location.
The ultimate pain point is not a lack of technology but of knowledge. The technology is there. We just don’t have the strategic knowledge or know how all these pieces and parts work and play with our existing infrastructure, processes, data — all the things we have to keep track of.
Costs of Integration
Integration of existing IT structures with SaaS is a complex endeavor that requires the expertise of highly skilled technicians and cloud consulting firms. Getting it right is costly at best. But getting it wrong can mean real headaches. A poorly-planned integration could result in siloed apps that do not communicate with each other, which wipes out the benefits of using SaaS.
The resulting lost revenue and productivity could be disastrous for a company. The point here is that companies need to count the cost and use methods and tools that are reliable and vetted. Integration-as-a-service (IaaS) is one model that has received wider adoption in recent years due to its lower cost approach to solving the integration conundrum.
Let’s face it, those businesses that want to adopt SaaS integration usually want it yesterday. The reality, however, is that the process is time-consuming and, if not managed properly, can lead to real productivity issues. The major challenge here is with data migration; the process will take longer than expected since transferring data requires significant bandwidth. And keep in mind that niche applications that are not as widely used will take even longer to integrate than more popular ones. Pre-migration studies that analyze migration constraints can help to ease some of the pain of this process.
The important point is that companies must plan ahead for any SaaS integration and factor any contingencies and other delays. Count on the process taking longer than expected.
There are a number of problems that can arise during the SaaS integration process. Improper integrations can wreak havoc on an organization. Imagine if sales and accounting data doesn’t sync correctly with your CRM, invoices are sent to the wrong customers, or if users start working in different systems not that they’re assigned to.
The challenges of integration are only compounded if the process is not done correctly. Lost revenue, productivity, and morale could be the negative consequences of a poorly executed integration strategy.
Some best practices for a successful integration strategy involve carefully vetting your SaaS vendors, not relying on just one methodology or approach but remaining flexible, and considering the migration of your services incrementally rather than all at once.
Keeping company data secure is the single biggest concern among stakeholders and business leaders when it comes to conducting SaaS integrations. And rightfully so! Integrating disparate software can bypass important security protocols and can lead to data residing in silos in various cloud services.
Companies may also be under a deadline to roll out their new features to the market; this could lead to vulnerabilities that even if addressed in the weeks to follow still leave open gaps that can be easily exploited by hackers.
Any SaaS integration must be able to implement strong multi-layered security controls. This will require authenticating access to an organization’s infrastructure both in the cloud and on-premise. Additionally, data must be encrypted and meet the most up-to-date security protocols (SSAE 16). Some best practices for ensuring a secure integration is to agree on a common authentication protocol, offer fine-grained access control, and also allow auditing.
How CloudGeometry can help
At CloudGeometry, we have integrated dozens of data providers, SaaS, PaaS and IaaS systems for our clients’ projects. We have many years’ experience in working with APIs of popular data providers as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and the full range of Ad Networks. These APIs are frequently updated and we have to design and build special flexible systems to quickly change the integration rules without an impact on the downstream systems.