The proportion of application software spend that goes towards cloud-based solutions is projected to rise by roughly 8 percentage points through 2025.
This rise in SaaS adoption should be seen as exciting, as it allows organizations to increasingly enjoy the scalability, accessibility, and security these apps provide. However, the aggressive shift to the cloud has also introduced a new hurdle: data silos.
As employees invest in new apps, colleagues across other functions aren’t necessarily made aware of the apps or the data each collects. This leads to various negative outcomes, where valuable insights aren’t widely available, employees have to constantly re-enter data across apps, and employees have to move between apps just to find information.
To mitigate these negative consequences, you can adopt cloud integration.
We’ll break down everything you need to know about this type of integration, including what it is, how it helps, and what your options are in implementing it.
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What is cloud integration?
It’s the process of connecting your cloud applications to one another or with systems that live on-premises. Once connected, data can be synced across applications and additional use cases, like automation and API-based composition, can be implemented.
Cloud integration includes data integration, where data moves seamlessly between applications, as well as application integration—which allows apps to issue requests and commands to one another that trigger simple workflows.
Cloud integration examples
To help make this concept more tangible, let’s explore some common use cases:
Keep cases and issues in sync
As your customer success managers (CSMs) work with clients, they might uncover issues that require participation from other teams—such as support or engineering.
You can empower CSMs to notify colleagues of any issues with ease by using cloud integration.
For example, you can integrate the application your CSMs use (your CRM) with the application your support team uses (your ITSM tool) and implement a data synchronization where any time a case gets created in the former, an issue gets added to the latter. This enables support reps to become aware of relevant issues quickly and move forward in resolving them as soon as possible.
Add leads to your CRM automatically
To ensure your sales reps and marketers are aligned and working in lockstep, they’ll need access to the same set of information.
You can help facilitate this need by integrating the platform your marketers use to manage leads (a marketing automation platform) with the platform your sales reps use (a CRM). Once connected, you can implement a data flow where any time a new lead gets added to the marketing automation platform, it also gets added in the CRM (assuming it didn’t exist already).
Related: 3 software integration examples
Create new contacts across applications
The users within your customer accounts are all but certain to change over time, whether it’s because of employee turnover, promotions, etc. Your ERP system needs to account for these shifts for all sorts of reasons, such as sending invoices to the right stakeholder.
To ensure your contact list stays accurate across clients, you can integrate the other apps your teams use to manage customers, like an ITSM tool, with your ERP system. From there, you can set up a flow where any time a new contact gets created in the ITSM tool, the same action takes place in the ERP system.
Notify key stakeholders when contracts are fully executed
Different teams across your organization are likely using an e-signature platform in a number of ways, whether that’s bringing in talent, clients, or new vendors.
Regardless of the use case, when any contract is fully executed, key stakeholders at your organization need to be made aware quickly; otherwise, they won’t be able to take the appropriate next steps on time.
1. Once a contract is signed by all parties, the workflow gets triggered.
2. A customized message gets posted in a specific Slack channel; within the message, employees can find all of the key details on the contract, and they can even access the signed document with the click of a button.
Escalate issues seamlessly
In many cases, your support team will run into an issue that they themselves can’t solve. To help them escalate such issues to the team that can address it, like engineering, you can connect your ITSM tool (e.g. Jira) with a platform like GitHub and design the following process:
1. Once a new issue gets created in Jira and your team clarifies—within the system—that it needs to be escalated, the workflow gets triggered.
2. An issue in GitHub gets added, which includes key details on the issue from Jira.
3. The issue in Jira gets updated with a note that the escalated issue has been created (and it can include a link to the escalated issue).
The benefits of cloud integration
Cloud integration can help your teams work more efficiently, make less errors, and get more value from the tools they’re already using.
Let’s take a closer look at its benefits:
1. Make the most of your SaaS apps
As your organization invests in more cloud applications over time, you’re likely collecting a wider range of information on employees, clients, and prospects.
You can fully leverage the growing volume and types of cloud data that’s collected by integrating them with one another as well as with apps that live on-premises.
For example, by integrating a CRM like Salesforce with tools across marketing, support, sales, finance, and even IT, a much larger set of employees can access client and prospect data and use it in ways that benefit their work and the organization.
2. Avoid replacing legacy systems
In many cases, your team will want to hold onto its legacy systems.
After all, a legacy system might still offer value that’s hard to find elsewhere. And, perhaps more important, the cost of transitioning away from it can rise to tens of millions of dollars.
Whichever situation you’re in (maybe it’s both), cloud integration can help.That’s because integrating your cloud apps with legacy systems allows your team to access the data from the latter in the former. This lets your team view the data in an app they are likely more comfortable using and can do more in. For example, your team can integrate your legacy system with a cloud-based data warehouse like Snowflake, where you can analyze your data more comprehensively.
3. Remove data silos
Data silos, or when information is only available in certain applications, lead to all kinds of issues.
Employees will have to request access to data from their colleagues, and the time delay this creates can harm the data’s value to the business—for example, data from an inbound lead is significantly more valuable when it’s delivered to reps quickly. Even worse, employees may not be aware that the data exists (since it’s not in the systems they have access to), preventing them from using it altogether.
Cloud integration can prevent and tear down existing silos, as data can easily move between applications in, or near, real-time.
4. Build more efficient processes
Using cloud integration, you can set up data flows that replace data entry. This not only optimizes your processes but also lends itself to an improved employee experience: Instead of forcing employees to move between applications to find information or perform data entry, they can focus more of their time on thoughtful, business-critical work.
5. Minimize human errors
While entering data manually merely seems unpleasant and unproductive, research has found that it often leads to mistakes as well.
Some of these mistakes can come at a significant cost to the business: a client can get invoiced by the wrong amount; a new hire can receive access to the wrong set of applications; a prospect can get added to the wrong nurture campaign—and the list goes on.
Fortunately, integrated cloud services help streamline data entry-related tasks, thereby preventing issues like those highlighted above.
Common cloud integration challenges
Unfortunately, performing cloud integration is easier said than done. You’ll likely face the following drawbacks (in addition to others):
1. Difficult to implement
Many cloud integration platforms require a certain level of technical expertise to use, leading to only a handful of individuals who can integrate your cloud and on-premises applications. As a result, these builders will likely feel overwhelmed and your integration backlog will only grow.
2. Security and compliance risks
A cloud integration solution likely works with highly-sensitive and business-critical data. Therefore, if your organization fails to uphold the proper governance measures, a colleague can intentionally (or unintentionally) use that data in ways that violate data protection and privacy regulations—leading to costly fines; and, perhaps more important, this would lead to an erosion of trust between your organization and your clients, employees, prospects, and investors.
3. Hard to pinpoint the best course of action
Even if you’ve managed to integrate your cloud applications successfully and your employees can access the data they need within the applications they’re already using, they may not know what to do next.
For instance, if a rep sees a new lead in your CRM, they might not know how to engage them effectively. They might find themselves wondering about the nurture sequence to add them to, the messaging to use in their outreach, etc., and by the time they decide on the proper course(s) of action, that lead will have likely gone cold.
4. A crowded market
The integration industry is filled with all kinds of categories of tools; moreover, the majority of tools within a given category use similar, if not identical, messaging, making it all but impossible to pinpoint the solution that’s right for you. To that end, we’ll take a closer look at your options in the following section to help you make a more informed decision.
Cloud integration best practices
To help you reap the benefits of cloud integration, while avoiding some of the challenges highlighted above, you can implement the following best practices:
1. Steer clear of building integration logic within your cloud applications
Implementing integration logic inside of apps is problematic for a few reasons: It requires an extremely specialized set of skills, which can mean that you’ll struggle to find such individuals; and, even when you do, they’ll come at a high cost to your business. In addition, if and when your organization moves away from one of these applications, all of the integration logic you’ve built goes away with it.
2. Leverage internal API endpoints for popular data
Your organization likely has certain types of data that get used across multiple teams frequently.
Whatever these data points are, you can use a 3rd-party middleware tool to create internal API endpoints that allow your teams to access each of them.
This creates a layer of abstraction from your source and destination applications’ APIs, which—like the previous best practice—minimizes your dependence on specific applications.
3. Build near real-time data flows with APIs
In many cases, the faster your data moves across applications, the better your process performs for everyone involved.
Here are just a few scenarios (which we went over earlier) that prove this point:
With this in mind, you should look to build near real-time integrations with APIs; and, if possible, use webhooks so that the data can move in real-time.
Cloud integration solutions
Finally, once you’re ready to implement cloud integration, you’ll have 5 solutions to choose from:
1. Integration platform as a service
Otherwise known as an iPaaS, this type of integration tool can help you integrate any combination of apps and on-prem systems from the cloud.
- Often meets the data privacy and security standards set forth by statutes and regulations like GDPR and HIPPA
- Offers pre-built connectors that can expedite your team’s integration-building process
- Provides a single location to build and troubleshoot integrations
- Requires a certain level of technical expertise to use—preventing most of your team from leveraging it
- Various vendors share similar messaging, making it hard to distinguish one from the other and pick the right option for your organization
- Doesn’t let you build end-to-end workflow automations
2. Native integration
This type of cloud integration involves using the out-of-the-box integrations offered by a SaaS app.
- Often provided at a low cost (or at no additional charge) with your subscription
- The organization is incentivized to help your team pick and make the most of their native integrations (which can translate to high quality service)
- Several of the native integrations might meet your needs
- The integrations may be limited in breadth and in functionality
- The provider may not have the engineering resources needed to enhance the integrations over time, or troubleshoot issues quickly when they crop up
- Doesn’t let you build end-to-end workflow automations
3. Point-to-point integration
As you might guess, point-to-point integrations (i.e. in-house integrations) involve your team of engineers building the integrations themselves via custom code and open source libraries.
- Minimizes the risks (e.g. security breaches) involved in using a 3rd-party system
- The integrations can be built and maintained effectively—assuming you have the right engineering resources
- Support can be more easily accessible
- Can be extremely resource-intensive to build and maintain
- Difficult, if not impossible, to scale across your apps and on-prem systems
- Once the select few employees who understand the integrations leave, your organization might not be equipped to fix or improve on the integrations
- Doesn’t let you build end-to-end workflow automations
4. Enterprise service bus (ESB)
It’s an architecture that consists of rules for how applications can connect to a communication bus middleware. Once an application connects to the bus, the latter can transform its data and share it with any of the other applications it’s connected to.
- Provides a central location (the communication bus) for building, monitoring, and troubleshooting integrations
- Numerous applications can be connected over the bus, allowing the solution to scale more effectively than other approaches (namely point to point integration)
- Can standardize the messaging between services
- Requires technical expertise to use, thereby preventing the team at large from leveraging it
- Should the bus experience any issues, your entire suite of integrations are left vulnerable
- Doesn’t let you build end-to-end workflow automations
5. Enterprise automation platform
This type of platform allows you to integrate your apps, on-prem systems, databases, file servers, etc. AND automate your business processes end-to-end without requiring a single line of code.
This neatly addresses the drawbacks of the other options, but its utility stretches even further. Here’s what you can expect from an enterprise automation platform:
- The team at large will feel empowered to build the integrations and automations themselves. This, in turn, significantly limits backlogs and allows domain experts to build more valuable integrations and automations.
- Your organization can engage in enterprise-wide digital transformation, as functions will fundamentally transform the core processes they rely on—from quote to cash to employee onboarding to incident management.
- You can utilize enterprise chatbots that allow your employees to perform more intelligent workflow automations, and do so without leaving their business communications platform.
- You can create, manage, and deliver application programming interface (API) endpoints.
Want to learn more about an enterprise automation platform?
You can schedule a demo with an automation expert at Workato, the leader in enterprise automation, to see the platform in action.
Cloud integration FAQ
In case you have any more questions on cloud integration, we’ve addressed several below.
What are the requirements of cloud integration?
The only requirement is that at least one of the applications involved lives in the cloud. Aside from that, your requirements will depend on the applications you’re integrating, the use cases you’re looking to enable, the business goals behind your use cases, among other factors.
What does a cloud integration specialist do?
An internal or outsourced cloud integration specialist can help organizations identify integration opportunities, design specific integrations, implement them, and even maintain them over time.
What are cloud integration services?
They are a specific set of integration services provided by a 3rd-party organization. Though it depends on the vendor, they may be able to help you ideate, design, implement, and maintain data integrations, application integrations, B2B integrations, IoT integrations, among other use cases.
What are the different types of cloud integration?
There are three types of cloud integration: cloud-to-cloud, where cloud applications are connected to one another; cloud-to-on-premises, where cloud applications are connected on-premises systems; and a combination of the two—cloud applications are connected to one another and to on-prem systems.