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Overcoming the challenge of effective SaaS integration
Mon, 4th Sep 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications are proving increasingly popular within organisations of all sizes, However, some strike challenges when it comes to integration with existing IT systems.

Many find that, while SaaS offerings can support particular processes or the requirements of functional teams, getting them to work effectively as part of an overall technology infrastructure is a different story.

The rise of SaaS

The appeal of SaaS stems from the flexibility it offers. Rather than purchasing, configuring, and managing hardware and software in an on-premise data center, services are secured as required from an external provider, allowing an organisation to 'dial up' and 'dial down' their IT resources as business demands change.

A SaaS strategy also delivers benefits from an expenditure viewpoint, as large, upfront capital investments are replaced by an ongoing operational expense in the form of a subscription. Should a SaaS service no longer be required, an organisation can simply cease usage.

The ease with which SaaS resources can be acquired also means groups within an organisation can circumvent traditional IT requisition processes.

Dubbed 'shadow IT', this can involve groups procuring technology resources without going through the IT department, which can quickly fulfil a short-term requirement but can also lead to complexity and security issues further down the track.

The integration challenge

SaaS usage can also create challenges when it comes to integration with existing on-premise IT systems, as data and processing silos can be created that make it difficult to share information across an organisation.

These problems can be exacerbated by the fact that many legacy systems were developed well before SaaS and cloud-based platforms entered mainstream usage.

Creating linkages between the two can, therefore, be a complex task and one that requires constant management to ensure any changes made in one place don't have a knock-on effect somewhere else.

Such challenges can result in the promised benefits of SaaS not being truly realised, as instead of streamlining workflows and improving efficiencies, additional complexity is introduced that slows processes and frustrates staff.

Effective SaaS strategies

There's a tendency in many companies to think that adopting a SaaS strategy is to simply take an on-premise system and shift it to a cloud platform, however, there's much more to it than that. A simple 'lift and shift' exercise is little more than moving resources from one data center to another.

SaaS represents a new approach to how an organisation uses technology, and existing ways of working will need to change to embrace innovation, thus ensuring that expected benefits are attained.

Traditionally, IT roadmaps have involved a multi-step process that included software development and hardware purchase followed by design, rollout, and management, something that is fundamentally different with SaaS.

Instead of taking months - or even years - to deploy a new system, SaaS makes it possible to go from having an idea on a whiteboard to full production within three weeks. It's a matter trying things out, failing fast, making changes, and moving forward.

It's also important to start with the business process you are trying to improve, rather than the SaaS services that are available. Look for problems that need to be solved and then match the appropriate technology to them - not the other way around.

The role of APIs

Once the decision for SaaS adoption has been made, begin with a thorough assessment of existing applications throughout the organisation. Consider whether each should remain in place, shift to a cloud platform, or be linked to a new SaaS application or resource.

Here, the role of APIs becomes key, as they will allow the features and functions of legacy applications to be linked to new cloud-based resources as required and in a dependable fashion.

Of course, SaaS is more than just creating a set of APIs and opening them to the world. They need to be carefully designed so they provide secure access to resources that will help improve business processes and extract maximum value from the new SaaS components.

SaaS is a transformational technological trend and, by taking the time to plan its adoption thoroughly, organisations can expect to enjoy significant business benefits.