The challenges of on-demand integration

Integrating in-house applications with those provided on demand by a third party can be complex if issues such as data duplication are to be avoided, says Teresa Jones

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Integrating in-house applications with those provided on demand by a third party can be complex if issues such as data duplication are to be avoided, says Teresa Jones

An increasing number of applications are being provided on an "on-demand" basis - particularly customer relationship management software such as Salesforce.com, Rightnow, and Siebel Ondemand - but businesses have been slow to use them.

One of the main reasons why such applications have not been adopted by many organisations to date has been the perception that it may be difficult to integrate in-house applications with those hosted by the provider. Is this perception still valid?

Integration between different applications essentially requires a good understanding of "source" and "target" applications, as well as any technology layers that may be in the middle, such as enterprise application integration (EAI) tools and application programming interfaces (APIs).

The challenge is to make sure that applications are integrated to avoid issues such as duplication of data entry into more than one system, or to ensure that a more complete picture of an entity (such as a customer) is available than that which might be stored within the on-demand application.

One Salesforce.com user, a semiconductor company with 60,000 customers, has integrated its SAP system (which is still regarded as the master data repository for the company) with Salesforce.com. The company needed both customer and product data to be available via the "front-office" salesforce automation system, where new leads can be added and kept separate from existing customers, available as read-only records within Salesforce.com.

This integration has still been quite complex, using the web services programming interface in Salesforce.com, the customer's existing integration product Webmethods, and SAP's Abap programs and integration technology.

The overall integration process is managed by IBM Tivoli's Maestro job scheduling, since the integration is only needed on a nightly basis. Integrating on a more "real-time" basis is certainly likely to be still more complicated, in spite of advances in technologies.

Rightnow CRM can also be integrated, and it too uses a web services-based integration method and has an XML API. It can therefore be integrated to many web services-compliant platforms including Java, .net and Perl, allowing integration to occur at the application layer (ie via the API) rather than at the database layer.

The biggest issue with on-demand applications arises if you need to integrate them with much older technology. Time and money will be needed to integrate them with today's web services-based applications.

However, many of the more recent integration tools, for example the enterprise service bus, can still facilitate the integration of old and new applications via the web services paradigm.

The one point that still needs to be made is that the problem of integration will not go away in an on-demand world.

Teresa Jones is an analyst at Butler Group

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