Although cloud applications have been hailed by many organizations,
a lack of tighter integration between apps continues to hold back
Application vendors continue to try and bring about the next phase
of integration to win over enterprise customers. This month, Box
unveiled Box Embed, a framework that will allow customers to access
files from within the dashboard of other cloud apps. Similarly,
Nubera launched CloudWork, an app integration service, to pair with
cloud application store.
According to a recent survey of IT pros by Dimensional Research,
67% of respondents said integrating data between applications was
their biggest concern after security and identity. Part of the
concerns around data was due to vendor lock-in and having that data
trapped in a silo.
"Until we got our apps talking to each other we'd have no easy way
of getting data out of a Google spreadsheet to turn it into a
beautiful chart or something for our customers," said Roger
Kondrat, founder of West17Media, a digital agency based in Calgary,
Alberta, whose application environment is entirely cloud-based.
Moving to an environment where the company's data flows between
cloud apps has not only created better work efficiency for
employees, but it has also created peace of mind from not being
tied into one Software as a Service platform such as
Salesforce.com, Kondrat said.
Other IT pros agree that if an organization embraces SaaS apps, it
must plan to integrate those apps with one another.
"If you've moved everything to the cloud, guess what, you might as
well have an integration tool as well," said Patrick Harding, CTO
of Ping Identity, an identity management vendor based in Denver,
Colo. "Large enterprises will have on-premises applications too, so
for them, going to cloud apps just adds to the complexity because
you have to integrate not only cloud app to cloud app, but also
those apps to SAP or Oracle."
Ping Identity has transitioned its applications to a majority of
SaaS apps over the last few years. Once they address initial
problems of security and identity, the final step for adopting
cloud apps is to make them interact with one another, which is
necessary for IT to deliver a better end-user experience.
"They are relatively painless to use without integration, but doing
so is the last mile for getting all the benefits SaaS applications
promise," Harding said.
Through the CloudWork beta program, West17Media was able to set up
approximately 30 integration points to automate a myriad of
necessary workflows and data entry points.
"We wouldn't have been able to do those integrations by ourselves
because of the time and money required," Kondrat said. "Basecamp,
our CRM, is one of the simpler-to-use apps out there, but it was
still too manual, required too many steps and too much clicking for
As a result, his employees weren't really using the licensed CRM
product at all until his organization created tighter integration
with other cloud applications, such as Dropbox, Google Apps and
The difficulty of integrating apps
The skills required and
amount of work to build integrations in-house can be too much
for even well-staffed IT departments, said Jeff Kaplan, founder of
THINKStrategies, an enterprise IT cloud consulting firm based in
"There is tremendous opportunity for third-party system integrators
because vendors have to also build a sufficient number of APIs
[application programming interfaces] and pre-configured connectors,
and have the business prowess to establish working relationships
with other vendors," he said.
Integration of cloud applications has always been easier than the
on-premises application world because of APIs and other existing
standards, but whatever vendors can do to add pre-integration into
their services will help remove any friction and barriers to
enterprise adoption, Kaplan said.
"We probably saved thousands of dollars just in man-hours alone by
using CloudWork," Kondrat said, which was important for the small
shop. "That's money we can use to try and buy other apps."
Since many IT departments don't have the time or resources to build
application integrations between SaaS apps themselves, and because
third-party integration can also be expensive, it has fallen to the
vendors to package pre-built integrations into its services. Many
of them are realizing the business value of breaking down silos and
making it as easy as possible for organizations to sign up for a
service and hook it into something else, Kaplan said.
"The functionality of what we do is important, but putting our
product where people work and use mission-critical applications is
just as important," said Greta Roberts, founder and CEO of Talent
Analytics Corp., a talent evaluation vendor based in Cambridge,
The company posted its standalone employee and performance
evaluation tool into Salesforce.com in mid-October, and Roberts
said the platform doesn't matter so much as making the integration
of its tool into other SaaS apps as effortless as possible for
Leading the change
Cloud service providers such as Bluewolf Inc., Cloud Sherpas, Cloud
Technology Partners Inc., and a myriad of others, including
Informatica Corp., are making application integration readily
available for organizations even as SaaS vendors are still working
CloudWork is a subscription service that connects data across an
initial 10 cloud apps via existing APIs, including Google Apps,
Zoho, Dropbox, Zendesk, Freshbooks, Evernote and Twitter. The
company said it's currently working with vendors featured in
GetApp, its cloud app marketplace, to rollout new integrations for
the beginning of 2013.
CloudWork comes with pre-built configurations and connectors for
common integration uses that include seamlessly sharing contact
information between email and a CRM app. Users have the ability to
tweak the recipes or create their own based on their specific
Box, the fast-growing
enterprise cloud storage- and file-syncing service with some 14
million customers, has devoted 2012 to becoming a cross-platform
file system for cloud-based enterprises. Its
OneCloud platform just added another 100 application partners and the Box
Embed platform, which launched during its partner conference at the
end of October, and is a free feature upgrade for existing
Instead of having to log into Box to access files, IT departments
can use an HTML5 iframe code to drop an instance of Box within
other applications. Then, they just need to establish a few
connections between the applications and users to ensure the
correct data is being accessed. NetSuite and SugarCRM are the first
two applications to support it, with another eight applications
offering integration at the beginning of 2013.