"Interconnect back-office systems to up business efficiency" – this could be a motto at the start of every integration article. By now you probably know possible benefits of software synergy. Without further ado and with the ROI of your integration project in mind, let’s focus on integration tools in and outside Salesforce to find those that fit you best.
First, a bit of integration theory for us to be on the same page.
Salesforce integration basics
The software tools your company uses not only serve different purposes, but also work differently. They are written in different languages (Java, .NET, PHP) and have their specifics in data storage, business logic, visual presentation and security.
A Salesforce integration solution is a piece of software that establishes and manages communication between Salesforce CRM and other systems, using APIs to interpret messages that systems exchange. The choice of a Salesforce integration tool depends on the number of systems to integrate and their specifics, as well as the number of integration levels to cover.
There are 4 integration levels: 2 basic ones (data and process integration) and 2 additional ones (security and user interface integration) that often accompany one of the basic levels.
- Data integration ensures that the integrated systems exchange information on demand and instantly. It helps achieve data consistency and increases team efficiency. Data integration should rest on proper information management techniques, such as master data management or data flow design. A data integration solution uses APIs (SOAP or REST) to deliver data from one system to another, as well as to update Salesforce objects, perform searches, maintain passwords, and more.
- Process integration connects apps and systems at the workflow level to implement business processes end to end. Related integration scenarios will require a complex solution that can orchestrate interactions among systems, report on and manage process state.
- Security integration merges authentication mechanisms to achieve a better user experience and minimize administration.
- User interface (UI) integration combines the UIs of two or more systems. It gives users a single point of entry into multiple applications this way enhancing user experience.
Having picked integration levels, now, straight ahead to Salesforce integration tools.
Salesforce Connect (Lightning Connect) is a framework that enables you to view, search and modify data stored outside of your Salesforce CRM, say, in an ERP system or in a collaboration system. Salesforce Connect treats external files (customer orders in ERP or marketing templates in SharePoint) as Salesforce external objects allowing you to find them in global search, add them to record feeds and use them in all Salesforce apps (for example, link customer orders to the customer profile in CRM). All this happens without copying external records in Salesforce (no time lost on copying/downloading and sorting out file versions, no more payments for exceeded data limit!).
Summing up the pros and cons:
|Salesforce Connect Pluses
||Salesforce Connect Minuses
Integration delivered in-house on Salesforce App Cloud
Salesforce App Cloud (Force.com) is a platform for app development that also allows creating custom integration apps and connect external data sources to them. This strong enterprise platform powers Salesforce products and processes over 4 billion transactions per day (50% via API), has over 5.5 million apps and over 2.6 million developers building on it.
Let’s count the pluses and minuses:
|Salesforce App Cloud Pluses
||Salesforce App Cloud Minuses
Resume: In-house development with Salesforce App Cloud is a fine option for medium-scale integration projects that include connecting Salesforce to Salesforce and other systems at data and process levels (though with limitations and focus on Salesforce users). The project will take medium investments, medium timeframe and a limited to medium IT team (2-3 in-house IT specialists).
Ready-made integration apps on Salesforce AppExchange
On Salesforce AppExchange, you can find more than 1,680 integration tools for Salesforce provided by platform partners. Those include certified middleware solutions and specific Salesforce CRM connectors that companies often require (like Salesforce to SharePoint integration that we’ve recently reviewed). To help you navigate this abundance, AppExchange provides a convenient search, user reviews and an app rating.
Now on to pros and cons:
Resume: A ready-made AppExchange solution will suit a simple (Salesforce-to-one) integration project at little to medium costs with a limited in-house team. Integration can happen at both data and workflow levels.
Custom integration solution by Salesforce consultants
“Custom” doesn’t mean that developers will start working from scratch. They will also utilize developer tools and APIs provided by Salesforce, like Heroku and Force.com APIs for coding an integration app, as well as Force.com Canvas and Visualforce for building a sophisticated UI. A custom integration solution is therefore as secure, high-performing and maintainable as native Salesforce apps. In addition, CRM consultants will design an integration tool exactly in line with your needs and do all necessary tweaks in your Salesforce CRM and third-party systems to connect them at both data and process levels.
As you've probably guessed, pros and cons follow:
|Custom solution pluses
||Custom solution minuses
Resume: Custom Salesforce integration solution should be the choice for complex integration projects that involve several apps and many integration points. Also, a custom solution will include required changes in third-party systems to improve user experience. This is a preferable option for Salesforce integrations with custom systems when the in-house IT team is limited.
Sorting out Salesforce integration tools
As you can see, the tool and approach choice depends a lot on a particular case – integration scale and complexity, available IT resources, budget and time. Hope this guide will make the choice easier. Feel free to comment below if you know any Salesforce integration options missing here.
Darya Yermashkevich is a CRM Technology Observer at ScienceSoft, an IT consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. Darya started off as a business blogger researching into web portal solutions, HRM, ITSM, and CRM technologies. Now she shares her hands-on experience based on real-life CRM analysis, as well as insights into the CRM industry in her business writing with a particular focus on customer experience and advanced use of the CRM software.