Software is expensive! Between licensing costs, implementation, and system maintenance, the software your team needs to do their jobs will no doubt be a notable part of your yearly budget. With all that cost in mind, most companies take shortcuts and absorb inefficiencies along the way. Anything nonessential has a tendency to be deprioritized. But in the current climate, some of the most common shortcuts are coming back to bite us. So let’s talk about integrations.
Integrating systems is a great way to get data flowing between tools, opening up the door to cool automations, giving you access to enhanced reporting, and enabling your team to streamline their process flow by doing most or all of their work in one tool. But if your systems are old (I’m looking at you on-prem command screen databases), integration is easier said than done. And because even relatively easy integrations can be significant cost drivers, they’re often passed over in preference of team members swiveling from system to system. That’s fine when you’re in the office, working off of your two monitors, and are sitting inside of the same network as your server, but that doesn’t work as well when everyone is working on tiny laptop screens and scattered to the four corners of the earth.
Now is the perfect time to invest in integration, especially with key systems. By integrating your ERP with Salesforce, you can give your team access to a more complete view of your customers without leaving their CRM. Past purchase history, warranty information, even inventory and more, can flow directly down to a customer’s record in the CRM. That means your sales team knows what products your customers may benefit from, and your support team doesn’t have to track down information to figure out how to help a customer calling in. Integrating with your data warehouse can give your BI team access to more analytics to give you better forecasts. And all of this without having to log into a VPN and deal with the loss of speed. When you start integrating your systems, you’ll quickly realize the possibilities are endless.
When you start planning your integration strategy, here are a few things you’ll want to think about -- and note that this is not an exhaustive list, it's always advisable to consult with experts before investing in an integration:
Be sure to make a strong case for why you’re integrating. What are the inefficiencies, gaps, or process automations you’re hoping to address? Making a strong case for integrating will help you control costs while getting to the finish point faster and more efficiently.
Don't just think about your immediate needs, but project out a few years. If you only have one external system you’re ever going to integrate, this is less relevant, but chances are you have or will be building a collection of critical point solutions to support your business. Understanding which systems will need to be integrated, when, and for what purpose may help dictate your integration strategy.
Understanding what kinds of systems you’re integrating and where they’re hosted is critical to the successful implementation of any integration. Cloud systems have different capabilities and standards for connecting than on premise systems.
There are a lot of different approaches for integrating systems, each has its own benefits and drawbacks, and sometimes it's necessary to mix and match integration strategies to get the full robust capabilities you want to achieve. Integration strategies broadly fall into two buckets: point-to-point and ETL/middleware. Point integrations tend to be better for smaller integrations or integrations which are not focused on data, such as getting real-time quotes from an external quoting platform.
ETL based integrations, leveraging tools such as Jitterbit, Informatica, or Mulesoft, tend to be better for larger integrations, integrating with multiple systems, or integrating with older systems which don't organize data in a way that’s easily consumable by a modern database like Salesforce. They also have the benefit of pre-built connectors for a number of different systems which can streamline the integration process, and tend to be easier to maintain with point-and-click capabilities, reducing your long term IT spend.
Understanding who is going to complete the task of integrating your systems is also critical. Pre-built connectors and productized integrations are typically easy to self-implement, and if you have a strong development team, even more custom and complex integrations may very well be in your wheelhouse, but be sure to consider all the initiatives your team is addressing. Sometimes, even if you have the team to get the work done, it’s better to bring in outside support. A Salesforce Implementation Partner brings a full team and years of experience in the Salesforce ecosystem to the table, and SI teams can typically get you up and running faster than your in-house team, getting you to the finish line quicker without compromising your other projects.
If you’re looking to make life easier for your team, drive down inefficiencies, and put yourself in a position to absorb the changes of current and future stay-at-home orders and the post-pandemic rush, developing and beginning to build out a strong integration strategy is critical. It will continue to show you benefits long after the pandemic is over and we’re all back to our normal rhythm while helping your team get to that point with a little more of their sanity intact.