Integration Options

By Madeline Weiss  |  Posted 2011-02-25 Print this article Print

A report commissioned by SIM's Advanced Practices Council looks at a pressing integration challenge.

David and Lee are convinced that long-term success with SaaS hinges on how well SaaS applications can be integrated into the organization’s technology architecture, making strategic data and information available throughout the organization and integrating process activities with distributed technology.  Their report describes current viable options for integrating SaaS with legacy systems.


Many firms adopt Single-Sign-On (SSO) as their first level of integration between SaaS applications or between SaaS and on-premise functionality. SSO introduces a “hub” into the architecture that monitors a user’s session, authenticates the user for each of the integrated applications (the “spokes”), and passes simple data structures between the applications. 

Integration as a Service (IaaS)

Integration platforms enable an organization to integrate applications either through traditional, in-house integration platforms, which have been used in the traditional environments, or through Integration-as-a-Service (IaaS) platforms that are hosted in the cloud.  Having recognized the growth of SaaS, traditional integration platform vendors have enhanced their toolkits with pre-built interfaces to many of the most popular SaaS solutions. For example, webMethods and TIBCO both have Salesforce.com adapters included along with those for traditional vendors (SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, etc.).

IaaS vendors have perhaps stronger support for SaaS applications than traditional or legacy offerings. Some of the leading traditional players, such as IBM and Informatica, have extended their offerings into the IaaS category, while other players such as Adeptia and Boomi have been designed from their inception to be a service provided though the Internet. The advantages of IaaS are similar to those firms enjoy when they adopt SaaS: minimal upfront costs, fixed monthly service fees, rapid deployment requiring less in-house IT skills, and all of the economies of scale from multi-tenant applications.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

SaaS providers have created Platform as a Service (PaaS) by opening their architectures to outside developers and encouraging them to build additional capabilities. Clients are able to select specific functionality, perhaps from multiple vendors, to be delivered as a service through the PaaS platform. 

Current PaaS leaders are Salesforce.com’s AppExchange and Force.com platform, and Netsuite’s SuiteCloud. Both environments have attracted developers who have successfully launched applications, broadening the original application’s reach. Traditional vendors, including SAP with its Community Network, are considering opening their infrastructure to enable a broader network of developers to solve business solutions.

Although current PaaS offerings have, in general, less robust functionality than top-tier ERP players, their cost structure is so dramatically different from the traditional approach that organizations are adopting the less sophisticated applications because of the cost benefits. Additionally, because of the open nature of these platforms, development can happen quickly and the functionality can be expanded if users demand it. 

The researchers observe an emerging application ecosystem for large organizations.  Working together, major SaaS players are developing integrated suites that they predict will rival the sophistication of ERP vendors without the costs of an on-premise installation.

Selecting the Appropriate Integration Approach

The authors predict, based on their research, that those organizations that have deep experience with in-house integration projects and a high percentage of functionality supported with traditionally installed applications, including custom coded solutions, are more likely to use in-house tools to integrate new SaaS applications into their environment.  However, organizations that rely more heavily on SaaS offerings are more likely to select IaaS platforms for their integration needs.  Because they have already become comfortable with having their IT resources in the cloud, they will continue to adopt such solutions.


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