At emergency medicine management firm The Schumacher Group, Salesforce.com is integrated with other software through data exchange. But in Schumacher's case, Salesforce.com is the primary source of data rather than a consumer of it, notes CIO Doug Menefee.
Placement staff members use it to track physicians and other healthcare providers' contact information and availability, as well as information on candidates they are trying to recruit. The hiring and assignment data are then uploaded nightly to an SQL database that the company's Oracle PeopleSoft resource management software uses to validate contractors' licenses, insurance coverage and specialties.
As these two deployments show, integration is easiest if the SaaS application can do its job alone, then batch-update other systems with its results.
Calling all core apps
Although integration solely via API is easy, this approach limits the ability to integrate SaaS applications into broader enterprise processes. And as on-demand CRM applications do interact with core systems, the integration issue will be harder to avoid, notes Chris Barbin, CEO of the SaaS consultancy Appirio.
He sees CIOs now beginning to realise this: "A lot of existing Salesforce .com customers are looking to migrate off Siebel, Clarify and Vantive," Barbin says, turning from using Salesforce.com as a contact manager and sales reporting tool to using it as an extension of the core enterprise apps. "That's a big issue because now you have to integrate Salesforce.com into your financial system and your master customer data," he says.
Integration limits in an on-demand CRM app can truly hinder your options. Research firm Common Sense Advisory found this out the hard way: It licensed Salesforce.com's professional edition and later wanted to integrate it with Constant Contact, QuickBooks and MySQL.
"We called customer support about the API, which, it turns out, is available only with the Enterprise or Unlimited (Salesforce.com) editions," says Don DePalma, president of the firm. Those editions cost $1,500 to $2,400 per user per year, compared to the roughly $700 that Common Sense had been paying. He ended up dropping Salesforce.com.
On the other hand, where SaaS applications are accessible via their own APIs, the fact that SaaS applications are unchangeable benefits IT, notes EFI's Do. It is harder to do in-house hacks that later complicate maintenance, upgrades and support. "SaaS forces you to be disciplined; you have to use the APIs to do your integration," he says.