Can your SaaS platforms support data and workflow integration or are they data silos in the cloud?
PaaS platforms that enable application development.
Enterprises are maturing their use of strategic SaaS/PaaS platforms and also experimenting with innovative SaaS solutions that deliver new capabilities. I went searching for research on how many SaaS platforms enterprises were utilizing and found that companies, on average are using between five and nine SaaS platforms and the number is expected to grow to thirty over the next three years.
How will the CIO integrate data and workflow across multiple SaaS platforms?
Every SaaS platform captures content and data, enables workflow and collaboration around its core capabilities, and provides some out of the box reporting capabilities. Ideally, these features should be "good enough" to unlock its core value, but a key question is whether the platform is "sufficiently open" to enable integration once usage hits critical mass and the platform becomes more business critical.
"We have API's" - But Are APIs Sufficient?
When you investigate a SaaS solution's integration capabilities, the canned answer you'll get from a sales rep or that you will likely see on the website is about APIs, SDKs, App Stores and Developer Programs. The more marketing around these capabilities, the more third party apps available, and the more developers there are in the program the more likely these integration tools and the skills required to leverage them can be used to achieve a desired enhancement or integration. If these integration capabilities are not prominently featured on the vendor's website and if there is little evidence of how, where, and how much they are used, then you should consider investing due diligence effort and ideally prototyping to determine whether the platform "scales" and both its data and capabilities can be easily integrated.
But APIs, SDKs, etc. are all tools for developers and require engineering efforts to leverage. In addition APIs are proprietary so there is a learning curve to every one that is needed to fulfill integration needs. What if I am trying to implement a more simplified "out of the box" data integration? Specifically -
- What if I am trying to connect a self service BI tool - is there an ODBC connection that enables me to easily connect and is the underlying data model easy to understand and leverage?
- Can I easily connect an enterprise ETL or data quality tool so that I can move data in and out of the platform?
- Do they have built in web and mobile widgets that enable me to plug in their functionality into other platforms?
- Do they plug into IFTTT platforms such as IFTTT or Zapier, Tray.io or similar platforms?
SaaS Integration A Key Concern and Opportunity
The better SaaS solutions will have mature APIs that have had significant customer usage. The better ones will enable direct integration with other platforms and simple tools for business users to connect workflows and data. The ones to watch are thinking three steps ahead and building on-ramps for your organization's future digital transformation priorities, IOT strategies and other integration needs
But the real question - are you evaluating platforms on integration capabilities? Are you investing in integration where it is necessary or provides value? Are you training developers on the capabilities of the platforms and fostering a culture of experimentation?
Or will your SaaS platforms be big data silos in the cloud?