How to choose a Salesforce integration tool

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"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.

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.
  3. Security integration merges authentication mechanisms to achieve a better user experience and minimize administration.
  4. 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 integration tools review provided by Salesforce consulting partner ScienceSoft.

Salesforce Connect

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
  • It is a perfect solution if you need to integrate several Salesforce instances.
  • You can integrate Salesforce with a wide variety of systems, including ERP, CRM and marketing automation software.
  • Salesforce Connect provides both on-demand and real-time connection to external data sources.
  • You can manage a large data amount without copying it to Salesforce.
  • Point and click UI reduces configuration effort.
  • You can see data stored both inside and outside Salesforce on a single CRM page.
  • No coding at Salesforce side is required.
  • Salesforce Connect is available in both Salesforce Classic and Lightning Experience.
Salesforce Connect Minuses
  • Systems to integrate must have integration points for Open Data Protocol. As Open Data Protocol is a standardized one, most incumbent software systems support it (if you have a custom one, check that it does too).
  • To connect Salesforce to systems that don’t use Open Data Protocol, you’ll need to develop a custom adapter with the Apex Connector Framework (requires development experience).
  • The solution is focused only on the Salesforce side of the integration.
  • By default, external object records are read-only (you can’t change them) and require configuration to become editable.
  • Salesforce Connect is available for an extra cost in Enterprise, Performance and Unlimited Editions. Lightning Connect is priced per data source and subscription pricing starts at $4,000 per month.
Resume: Salesforce Connect will suit an integration project aimed at empowering Salesforce users to manage external data sources through the CRM UI. It is a good but costly solution to quickly integrate Salesforce with Salesforce as well as Salesforce with other systems even with a limited to no IT team (only a Salesforce CRM Admin is required).

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
  • A simplified app building process doesn’t require in-depth IT expertise and can be done by an in-house IT team. The building process rests on the use of Force.com APIs and development tools (Force.com Canvas, Heroku), as well as configurable drag-and-drop components (Process Builder).
  • App Cloud tools and APIs allow developing complex integration solutions, like process integration (yet, such projects will require programming experience).
  • Out-of-the-box support for 14 languages and most worldwide currencies allows connecting related data without errors.
  • Platform apps are automatically and safely upgraded (and tested!) with no custom data or customizations affected. The apps are upgraded 3 times a year together with the Salesforce platform.
  • Uses open APIs based on industry standards like REST and SOAP.
  • Several integration toolkits are available to simplify coding in most programming languages
Salesforce App Cloud Minuses
  • To cover all needed integration scenarios, solutions built on App Cloud should be complemented with middleware apps provided by Salesforce partners on AppExchange (we will review them below). This makes the architecture of an integration solution more sophisticated and implies extra fees for AppExchange apps.
  • Even if the integration is managed in-house, there are extra fees for development facilities. Pricing for Salesforce App Cloud starts at $100 per user per month (should be paid only for the users - IT team members).
  • Despite a simplified building process, one still needs tech experience to develop an integration solution.

 

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:

AppExchange Pluses
  • There are multiple apps to choose.
  • AppExchange Apps are built 100% natively on App Cloud and share an integrated model for secure data and identity management.
  • Apps are ready-made: you need only to install and configure them.
  • Some apps are free.
  • AppExchange Apps are provided by certified Salesforce partners that have experience with the platform.
  • Each app goes through a security review, so your company’s data is protected.
  • You can use AppExchange Apps as a foundation for a more sophisticated solution. The vendor, your Salesforce consultant or your in-house IT team can customize it with App Cloud developer tools.
AppExchange Minuses
  • Integration apps on AppExchange are designed for particular integrations. Hence, if a company requires multiple integrations, it should browse for and sort out apps for every single integration. Those apps will need further configuration (managed by different vendors if you don’t have an experienced IT team in-house). That would be therefore wrong to think that ready-made AppExchange apps will remove all hassles of a complex integration project.
  • Pre-built apps can be difficult to customize for their black box nature.
  • Fees charged by AppExchange vendors.

 

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
  • It suits Salesforce integrations with cloud and on-premises enterprise software and databases.
  • It’s ideal for specific use cases (for example, connecting Salesforce to custom or highly customized enterprise software).
  • A preferable option for interconnecting multiple systems in sophisticated ways (for example, connecting several CRM instances, POSes and an ERP to get a 360-degree customer view).
  • Suits both data and process level integrations.
Custom solution minuses
  • Internal IT team is unlikely to succeed in coding a custom integration solution without the input of experienced Salesforce business analysts and developers. 
  • Quality Salesforce consulting services will take time and will raise project costs.
  • To ensure a smooth sync despite updates of Salesforce.com, you’ll need to turn to the vendor for support and maintenance of the integration solution. Otherwise, critical business processes may be at risk.

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.

About ScienceSoft

Darya Yermashkevich

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.

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