Each team likely relies on a unique set of business application software.
Among other applications, your sales reps rely on your CRM, electronic signature platform, and sales engagement platform; your marketers rely on your marketing automation platform, event management software, and (also) your CRM; and your finance team relies on your ERP system, procurement tool, and payroll system—and so on.
While your teams likely use these applications in invaluable ways, without the proper integrations in place, their utility isn’t fully realized. Key data points will continue to go missing in your applications, preventing employees from not only accessing the insights they need but also acting on them promptly.
To better understand how you can connect your software, we’ll share specific integration processes you can set up as well as different types of integration software to choose from. But first, let’s align on the term’s definition.
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What is software integration?
Software integration is the process of connecting one software application with another, typically through their application programming interfaces (APIs). Once connected, the applications can share data and provide updates to one another in, or near, real-time.
Software integration examples
To help illustrate the definition above, let’s review a few common use cases.
1. Sync new employees between your HRIS and ITSM tool
Once your team manages to successfully recruit a target candidate, you’ll want to kickstart their onboarding process soon after.
To support this aim, you can integrate your HRIS with your IT service management tool. You can then set up a workflow where any new hire added in the HRIS automatically leads them to also get added to the ITSM tool. From there, IT can begin to create the appropriate onboarding tickets for the new hire as well as carry them out—all before the new hire’s first day.
1. Once a new employee gets added to Namely, the workflow gets triggered.
2. If the user already exists in ServiceNow, the workflow ends; if the user doesn’t exist, they get added (you can decide which fields to add from their profile in Namely).
Popular ServiceNow integrations
2. Sync event registrants between your CRM and event management platform
Once a lead registers for an event, your sales reps may want to follow-up with them soon after the event (or even in advance).
1. Once a new order for an event comes in, the workflow gets triggered.
2. If the attendee already exists as an account in Salesforce, the workflow ends; if the attendee doesn’t already exist, they’re added as an account, and the information they provided in the order form gets mapped to the appropriate fields in their account page.
3. Sync new clients between your CRM and customer support software
As opportunities close and prospects become clients, your support team will need to be ready to onboard them.
With this in mind, you can connect a CRM like Salesforce with a customer support software like Zendesk and implement a workflow that operates as follows:
1. Once an account gets created in Salesforce, the workflow gets triggered.
2. If the account already exists as an organization in Zendesk, the workflow ends; if the organization doesn’t exist, it gets added along with the corresponding fields provided in the account.
Why do we need software integration?
Here are just a few reasons to keep in mind:
- Productivity increases. Once employees can access real-time data within the apps they already use, they can make informed decisions faster.
For reps, this can be reaching out to prospects quickly with a compelling message; for marketers, this can be adding leads to the appropriate nurture campaign immediately; for accounts receivable specialists, this can be delivering invoices as soon as possible, and so on.
- Employee and client experiences are enhanced. Employees can avoid the arduous task of re-entering data across applications as well as moving between applications just to find information. They can reallocate the time savings gained towards more thoughtful, strategic work they’re more likely to enjoy and that’s more likely to impact the business.
Clients are also set to benefit, as the strategic work that employees can now focus more on is likely to bring greater returns to the customer experience. Moreover, research confirms that happier employees will ultimately work in ways that elevate customer satisfaction.
- Relationships between employees improve. Once your integrations break down data silos—when data is locked in specific applications—, employees no longer have to request data from colleagues; if they still did, it could lead to frustrating outcomes, such as delays in delivering on employees’ requests.
Instead, employees can now access the same set of information, allowing them to stay aligned and work together more effectively to achieve meaningful business outcomes.
- The functionality of your applications amplifies. As your applications collect more data, its users can leverage them in additional high-impact ways.
Related: The top benefits of B2B integration
How to implement software integration
Once you’re bought into integrating your software, you’ll have to decide on your approach. Here are a few integration solutions to consider:
1. Point-to-point integration: Using in-house resources to connect your applications via custom code
- Allows you to avoid working with an external vendor (and all the risks and work that come with it)
- Assuming you only need to build a few integrations and the scope of build to the applications’ APIs is relatively simple, point-to-point can potentially suffice
- Can be extremely time consuming for your developers to build and maintain the connections, forcing them to forgo other business-critical tasks they’re uniquely qualified to perform
- Leaves you heavily reliant on select builders; as they leave, your organization’s ability to maintain and troubleshoot integrations worsens
2. Native integration: Using an application provider’s built-in integrations
- The application provider will likely provide high-quality support (as they are heavily incentivized to do so)
- Comes at no additional cost to your current subscription, or at a low price point
- Many, if not most, of the applications you need to connect with aren’t made available
- The provider’s ability to maintain and improve the integrations may not meet expectations over time—as their engineers have other competing priorities
3. Enterprise service bus (ESB) middleware: A centralized infrastructure, known as a “communication bus”, that apps can connect to; once connected, the bus delivers and sends data between the applications
- Allows you connect several applications
- Effective at connecting with legacy, on-premise software that doesn’t provide APIs
- The architecture behind the tool is fairly complex, making it difficult to add additional application integrations over time
- The bus can be a single point of failure—in other words, if it goes down, so do all of your integrations
4. Integration platform as a service (iPaaS): A cloud-based platform that lets you integrate applications and implement data flows between them
- The vendor likely offers a variety of data protection measures and governance controls, ensuring that your sensitive data stays safe
- Offers pre-built connections to widely-used applications, allowing you to implement integrations faster and more easily
- Requires technical expertise to use the integration tool, thereby preventing the majority of your employees from becoming builders
- Doesn’t let you build automations on top of your integrations
There’s a 5th option that includes all of the pros mentioned above and also addresses the drawbacks of each: an enterprise automation platform.
The platform offers a low-code/no-code UX, allowing lines of business, in addition to IT, to use the platform in ways that address their unique business needs. The platform also provides:
- The ability to implement end-to-end automations that can transform your business processes, whether it’s quote to cash, lead routing, incident management, etc.
- Customizable platform bots that can bring automations directly to the place your employees work—your business communications platform (e.g. Slack)
- Enterprise-grade governance and security, through features like role-based access control and enterprise key management
- Hundreds of pre-built connectors for software as a service (SaaS) applications and on-prem systems, plus hundreds of thousands of automation templates so that your team can build integrations and automations quickly and easily
Software integration FAQ
In case you still have any questions on software or system integration, we’ve answered several more below.
What are some common types of system integration?
System integration can be applied in a number of ways. Some popular methods include:
- Application integration: the process of having on-prem or cloud-based applications communicate with one another (typically via their APIs) to either keep data in sync or enable automations
- Data integration: the process of extracting data from internal and external systems, cleansing it, transforming it, and then loading it into a data warehouse; analysts and management can then pull the data into analytics tools where they can identify trends and key insights
- Legacy system integration: the process of integrating a legacy system with a modern, cloud-based application, either by using APIs, files, or a database connector
- B2B integration: the process of an organization connecting its applications, data, or workflows with a 3rd-party
How do you design a software integration strategy?
The process involves taking a series of steps:
1. Define your business goals. This can be anything from time savings to error reductions to lower costs to innovation.
2. Align on your use cases. As covered in the previous question, there are multiple types of software integration. You should pick out the approach(es) that makes the most sense based on your business needs.
3. Prioritize your non-functional requirements. Identify your integrations’ non-functional requirements in a variety of areas, such as availability, scalability, governance, and security.
4. Decide on the delivery model, governance, and skills. Your answer to this question should largely be driven by the goals you’ve set in step one. For example, if you’re prioritizing efficiency and cost savings, you can have IT or a solution integrator (SI) implement and maintain the integrations. However, if your goal is to transform your processes, you’ll likely need lines of business to get involved.
5. Invest in the integration solution that does the best job of addressing your answers in the previous steps. For instance, if your goal for implementing software integrations is innovation and, as a result, you’d like lines of business to get involved, you should look for an integration solution that offers a low-code/no-code UX.
It’s worth highlighting that no integration strategy is static. It should evolve as your business goals change, the market shifts, and so on.
What kind of software should you integrate?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, as the business priorities and tech stack at every organization is at least somewhat different. However, since the majority of your software is likely to come in the form of 3rd-party, software as a service (SaaS) applications, chances are, you’ll look to integrate these systems.