Cloud Business Applications – How to Avoid Data Silos
Read about Cloud Business Applications and Data Integration in this guest blog by our great partners at eOne!
It’s no secret that cloud is king when it comes to business applications. If you have evaluated an ERP, CRM, Document Management, Corporate Performance Manager (CPM), or any other business application in the last few years, chances are they were all cloud.
Cloud applications are fantastic! They allow us to scale our businesses, access them for anywhere, add users easily, not manage any IT infrastructure, and we get to do all that by just paying an easy monthly fee. There is a cloud app for everything, which is great but can create a pretty big problem… data silos. Having so many different applications in different cloud environments can make it difficult to gather data together in a way that is useful for making business decisions. This is why having a cloud strategy needs to go hand in hand with having an integration strategy.
What is Integration as a Platform?
Integration or connecting disparate systems together can be complex. Extract, transform, and load (ETL) tools help us take data from one source, change it so it can be in the correct format, and push it to the destination sources. There are lots of these tools out there and most of them are for a specific purpose. This tool integrates Dynamics GP and Concur, that tool integrated Salesforce and Zendesk, and that tool over there integrates data from NetSuite to Dynamics 365 Sales. The problem is, most people are using five or more cloud applications and to end up with as many integration tools would be insanity. An Integration as a Platform strategy will streamline operations and mitigate that insanity.
Integration as a platform simply means that you choose an integration tool that can serve as a foundation for all future integrations for your cloud applications (and on-premise for that matter). As your business grows your technology needs will evolve and choosing a tool that can support your growth from the start is essential.
What to look for in an integration platform?
Flexibility is the most important factor in choosing an integration tool. Whatever you choose needs to be able to grow with you and work with your business systems in a number of different ways. For instance, an integration tool may have pre-built connectors to systems like Dynamics 365 Business Central or Sales, Salesforce, or Zendesk. If you aren’t using any system they have pre-built connectors than you would want to be able to connect to your system using a RESTful API. Do not choose a tool that will box you in!
- Ease of Use
If Cheryl in Accounting or Mike in Sales has to learn C#, Java, or VBA to create an integration, chances are that isn’t going to be very successful. While you want to have the option to use coding for integrations, the tool should be simple and easy enough for an end-user to navigate. No-code tools are a great way to get users buy-in and eliminate a lot of manual processes.
- Support and Resources
An Integration Platform will become as important to your business as your ERP or CRM system. You need to choose one that has a wide user base, excellent support, and a lot of resources available to you. You should also work with a trusted business partner, like your ERP or CRM partner, to determine what the right fit for you is. These people know your business and user base intimately and they will be able to help you make the right decision.
Where to Begin?
Taking on a data integration project can be an overwhelming task. I always suggest that you start by polling your internal users. What manual processes are the most time consuming for them? What insight do they need that they can’t get? From there, develop a working document of all your applications and what interacts together, what doesn’t, and what needs to, in the future. Then, engage your partner to find a solution. A good partner will come in with a software agnostic approach and help you develop a plan to find the right tool!