What is cloud integration? Here’s everything you need to know

A guide to cloud integration

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are investing aggressively in software as a service (SaaS) applications.

Based on the latest data, a small business has an average of 102 SaaS apps on hand, a figure that grows to 137 for medium-sized businesses, and balloons all the way to 288 for enterprise organizations.

This rise in 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 use of a 3rd-party tool, or in-house resources, to integrate your SaaS applications and legacy systems. Once connected, data can be easily kept in sync across these apps and systems.

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.

Related: What is point-to-point integration? We’ll cover everything you need to know

Examples of cloud integration

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.

A data sync between Salesforce and ServiceNow that allows you create an incident automatically when a case gets added to the CRM.
A data sync between Salesforce and ServiceNow that allows you create an incident automatically when a case gets added to the CRM.

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).

A data flow between Marketo and Salesforce that keeps leads in sync.
A data flow between Marketo and Salesforce that keeps leads in sync.

Related: 3 software integration examples

Account for new contacts 

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.

An integration flow where new users in Zendesk lead to new contacts in NetSuite.
An integration flow where new users in Zendesk lead to new contacts in NetSuite.

Related: What is cloud-to-cloud application integration?

The benefits of cloud integration

With this definition and use cases in mind, we’ll explore several reasons why it’s worth adopting cloud integration:

1. It allows your organization to make the most of its 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. It enables your team to 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.

Related: What is a legacy system? Here’s what it really means

3. It removes 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. It makes your processes more efficient

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. It minimizes 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, by using cloud integration to streamline data entry-related tasks, issues like the ones highlighted above can be avoided.

Challenges in implementing cloud integration

Unfortunately, performing cloud integration is easier said than done. You’ll likely face the following drawbacks (in addition to others):

  • Accessibility: 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.

  • Security and governance: 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.

  • The 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.

How to integrate your apps

Here are 4 solutions to choose from:

1. Integration platform as a service

Otherwise known as an iPaaS, this platform can help you integrate any combination of apps and on-prem systems from the cloud.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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

Related: The top benefits that an iPaaS delivers

2. Native integrations

This type of cloud integration involves using the out-of-the-box integrations offered by a SaaS app.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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

Related: A complete list of reasons to use (and avoid) native integrations

3. Point-to-point integrations

As you might guess, this is when your team of engineers build the integrations themselves using custom code and open source libraries.

Pros:

  • 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 

Cons:

  • 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 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. 
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About the author
Jon Gitlin Content Strategist @ Workato
Jon Gitlin is the Managing Editor of The Connector, where you can get the latest news on Workato and uncover tips and frameworks for implementing powerful integrations and automations. In his free time, he loves to run outside, watch soccer (er...football) matches, and explore local restaurants.