Data is the essential basis for targeted marketing and efficient sales - software integration is often indispensable if you want to create a complete, consistent and central data basis. In a successful company, different departments work closely and efficiently together to provide (potential) customers with targeted, relevant information and the best possible service. The employees need a common foundation on which the company's success can be driven forward. Software integrations enable the necessary consolidation and can provide clarity, an efficient way of working and an optimised customer experience.
For example, if you use a HubSpot platform such as the CMS Hub, Marketing Hub, Sales Hub or Service Hub, various software integrations are possible to create a central and sound data basis. Read more about this on our Integration Services website.
A headless content management system also enables the integration of different software to display the content on your website. By decoupling the front-end and back-end, content can be retrieved and displayed from different peripheral systems or third-party systems. This enables a special flexibility and efficiency for your content maintenance. Read more about this in our free whitepaper:
Whether CMS, CRM, sales software or other software or tool: With the appropriate know-how, many integrations are possible that can make our daily work more pleasant and efficient. After initial additional costs, software integrations often pay off quickly and significantly improve the cooperation of different teams.
Table of content:
- What is Software Integration?
1.1. Definition and basics
1.2. Historical context and development
- The relevance of software integration for enterprises
2.1. Increased efficiency and process automation
2.2. Data consistency and information flow
2.3. Improving the customer and employee experience
2.4. Agility and scalability
- Main types of software integration
3.1. Point-to-point integration
3.2. Process-based integration
3.3. Middleware-based integration
3.4. Cloud-based integration
- Software integration challenges
4.1. Technical and compatibility issues
4.2. Security aspects
4.3. Cost management
- Case studies from practice
5.1. Integration of CRM and ERP
5.2. Cloud strategies
5.3. Linking legacy systems and modern solutions
WHAT IS SOFTWARE INTEGRATION?
Definition and fundamentals
The term "software integration" describes the process of linking different software applications, systems or components to ensure flawless data exchange. The aim is therefore to achieve optimal cooperation between different parts of a software ecosystem at a central point.
In times of Big Data and rapidly advancing digitalisation, the integration of different software is becoming increasingly important. An enormous amount and variety of data needs to be stored and processed so that companies can use it profitably.
Software integration can be relevant in various business areas: marketing, sales, human resources management, customer service, etc. Whether ERP software, BI software, HR software, DMS/ECM software or CRM software - depending on the company and the existing set up of the IT infrastructure, there are many starting points for possible integrations that simplify processes and consolidate data.
In short, integration is necessary to master the data, optimise business processes and offer (potential) customers an optimal customer experience.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND DEVELOPMENT
A few years ago, the amount of data collected in many companies was much smaller than it is today. As a rule, the data can no longer be maintained manually.
Worldwide, the volume of digital data generated/replicated annually is increasing enormously. This is partly because many companies have realised that data is the gold of our age. The analysis of data enables companies to better understand their prospects and customers and to offer tailored content to meet or exceed customer expectations.
The range of software has grown with the diversity of businesses, their specialisations and specific needs, as well as the ever-changing needs of customers.
When computer technology was still in its infancy, systems were operated independently and data was manually transferred between the different systems. This was enormously time-consuming and error-prone.
This was followed by so-called batch integration, where batch processing systems could move data between different applications at regular intervals. There was still a large time delay and manual configuration was necessary. In the 1980s and 1990s, middleware technologies emerged that simplified integration. They enabled faster communication between software and the transformation of data formats.
With the introduction of web services protocols, integration over the internet became easier. Communication between applications, regardless of their programming language or platform, was now possible. This was followed in the 2000s by RESTful APIs, which used the existing HTTP infrastructure to provide simple interfaces for integration. With the development of cloud computing services, the integration of cloud applications and on-premises systems became more important. They enable integration services and APIs for seamless data exchange.
Furthermore, companies started to use specialised platforms for API management and software integration through API management and Integration-as-a-Service (iPaaS). Microservices and container orchestration are widely used in modern application architectures. The latter enables easy deployment and scaling of microservices. In addition, low-code and no-code integration are gaining importance, as even employees without extensive programming skills can create such integrations. Thanks to technological progress and platforms that are becoming more user-friendly and intuitive, comprehensive software integration can sometimes be done quite easily in visual development environments and partly prefabricated integration offerings.
THE RELEVANCE OF SOFTWARE INTEGRATION FOR COMPANIES
Efficiency increase and process automation
Software integration can be used to automate tasks and processes. Work steps that were previously done manually can be carried out automatically, saving significant time and reducing human error. Thanks to this process optimisation, employees can concentrate on strategic activities and no longer have to deal with cumbersome data maintenance. In addition, the automatic generation and maintenance of leads is possible thanks to smart software integration. The integration of marketing automation software and CRM systems into a central platform ensures improved cooperation between marketing and sales teams. Information on leads, customers and marketing campaigns is easily accessible for all teams. The sales process can be significantly accelerated, which can lead to an increase in revenue.
For example, the B2B division of Babbel (DE), a popular language learning app, tripled its average deal size within a year by automating sales and marketing processes via HubSpot. Similarly, one of the leading manufacturers of heating, industrial and cooling systems Viessmann was able to increase its lead generation by 200% (DE) thanks to the integration of marketing automation.
Data consistency and information flow
The integration of different applications and the central storage and maintenance of data improves data accuracy. Employees can process information in one system, which gives all employees a common basis to work from and make informed decisions. Automated workflows or sequences update data as necessary - depending on the actions or interaction of users and (potential) customers. The data is synchronised in real time between different systems.
Integrations make it possible to combine customer data from different sources. Thanks to a complete data set, marketing and sales teams can get to know their (potential) customers better and better understand their needs and expectations.
The result is a comprehensive customer profile that not only makes targeted and personalised marketing campaigns and sales strategies possible, but actually requires them in order to ensure the long-term success of the company.
Furthermore, a centralised data source makes it easier to maintain consistency and data integrity, as changes and updates are made in a single location. Data management is greatly simplified and data security is also easier to ensure as security policies and access controls can be managed centrally. Furthermore, there is better scalability and data quality standards and policies are easier to enforce in a consolidated system.
Improving the customer and employee experience
Software integrations can provide users with a seamless, user-friendly and consistent customer experience. The goal should be that (potential) customers can easily switch between different platforms and services. On the business side, response times can be greatly reduced by managing data and processes more efficiently. This means that customer enquiries and problems can be dealt with more quickly, which in turn increases customer satisfaction.
For example, users could be offered different sources of information at a glance, which are linked in the background and combine all important data in one system. In the following image, 5 sources of information can be seen: 1. the W4 Academy, 2. informative blog posts that may already be able to answer the user's question, 3. a ChatBot that can offer workflow and AI-supported answers, 4. a pop-up for newsletter registration and 5. the company's website text that appears when scrolling.
The user can choose his preferred source of information and the marketing and sales team receives all relevant user data centralised in one system. Requests can be easily shared without the user having to enter the request or information multiple times.
By integrating customer data into different software applications, companies can provide personalised offers, recommendations and support. This shows that the company truly engages with the customer as an individual and values its customers - another plus point in terms of customer satisfaction. The integration of software also offers the possibility for customers to retrieve information independently or to perform simple tasks themselves, such as tracking an order from the warehouse to delivery at the doorstep. This aspect can provide additional relief for employees.
The integration of monitoring and error detection systems enables companies to identify and fix problems at an early stage, before they can affect customers. Such systems offer employees more security and support them in quality assurance.
Agility and scalability
Through software and system integration, as explained in more detail earlier, an increase in efficiency can take place. Manual data entry is reduced, human errors are minimised and the available resources are better utilised. These aspects and automated processes free up employees so that tasks can be completed more quickly and flexibly. In addition, thanks to integration, they can access important data in real time and do not have to go through the hassle of gathering it. This immediate availability of up-to-date information helps to answer customer enquiries quickly and solve problems quickly.
Another advantage is that integrated systems can be easily adapted and expanded to meet changing requirements, making companies more adaptable to market changes, which is becoming increasingly important in our fast-moving times. This makes it easier to react to rapid company growth or to establish new business areas. New software and tools can be seamlessly integrated into existing systems.
MAIN TYPES OF SOFTWARE INTEGRATION
As the name already suggests, in point-to-point integration specific applications or systems are directly connected to each other. There is no central middleware or platform through which data or information is exchanged. Individual connections/interfaces between the applications provide the flow of information. As soon as several applications come into play, however, it quickly becomes confusing, too complex and difficult to manage. As a result, scalability is limited and an enormous amount of effort is required for bug fixes or updates. In addition, there is no central instance that monitors or controls the data exchange between the systems. This is a clear negative in terms of security. Weaknesses in one of the integrated systems can even easily affect the entire integration and endanger it significantly.
A typical application example is the direct data exchange between databases using SQL queries or database connectivity tools. Applications where APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are made available can also function as point-to-point integration. Here, other applications can access other systems via HTTP or RESTful APIs. Furthermore, user-defined scripts, webhooks or special adapters or connectors can be used for direct data exchange between applications.
As the name suggests, process-based integration refers to the linking of business processes and systems. The goal is the seamless flow of information of data and tasks between different applications. Different departments in the company can thus work together more easily and efficiently. Process-based integration includes, for example, the automation of tasks and activities as well as workflows or orchestrations that are responsible for the flow control of tasks and data between different applications. Often, this requires data mapping and transformation to ensure correct processing of the data in the target system. The advantages of this type of integration are that it enables the generation of notifications and feedback, they are usually well scalable as well as flexible and the state of business processes is traceable.
In middleware-based integration, software acts as a mediator between different applications and systems. The mediating instance ensures smooth communication and optimal data exchange between the different applications across different technologies and platforms.
In the process, the middleware often provides mechanisms for data backup, monitoring and security of transactions and processes. It enables consolidation of different data from different systems, is usually well scalable and offers process automation. In addition, event-driven integration can be implemented with middleware. This means that, for example, an event such as the completion of an order can act as a trigger for the activation of an integration process.
Middleware solutions are flexible and adaptable, making them ideal for future technology changes. Further advantages of this type of integration are...
- Cost savings e.g. through the streamlining & automation of business processes
- Increased efficiency through a smooth exchange of data and information
- faster time-to-market possible (through the rapid integration of new applications)
- excellent flexibility and scalability
- often offers enhanced security features (central access control & encryption)
- redundancy reduction & improved data consistency
- promotes good collaboration between different departments and teams
and much more.
In this type of integration, the connection between different applications and data sources takes place via a cloud platform. Cloud services and technologies serve as central components. Examples of integration platforms and services over the internet are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure Integration Services, Google Cloud Pub/Sub and many others.
These services are becoming increasingly popular because they offer maximum flexibility and are often more cost-effective than building and maintaining your own integration infrastructures. Deployment is usually quite simple as user-friendly tools and interfaces are offered. Furthermore, the following advantages of cloud-based integrations are attractive:
- Real-time data transfers
- authorised users have access from anywhere
- strict security and compliance requirements
- Reduced maintenance burden (much of which is often taken care of by cloud providers)
- Redundancy and failover features
- Location independence (promotes expansion into new markets)
- high innovation speed of cloud integration providers
- and much more.
CHALLENGES IN SOFTWARE INTEGRATION
Technical and compatibility problems
It could happen that the interfaces of the software components to be integrated are not compatible with the existing system. Here, a comprehensive check is worthwhile in advance!
In addition, the different versions of applications should be taken into account to avoid version conflicts. If different versions of libraries, frameworks or platforms are used, problems can arise with execution and interaction. It could also happen that data is in different formats, is incorrect or cannot be synchronised. There could also be performance issues with the overall system. This could be due to inefficient database queries, increased network load or other factors. All these aspects must be carefully checked in advance so that the integration effort is not wasted.
Our tips: Take the time during integration to create comprehensive documentation of the integrated software components and interfaces to facilitate later maintainability and troubleshooting. It is also advisable to carry out full-scale testing and develop appropriate test environments and procedures to ensure the correct functionality of all components. This can be costly at first, but is definitely worthwhile in the long run.
Often, well-known platforms already offer a variety of integrations with detailed guides for implementation.
Safety and security aspects
In terms of security, attention should be paid to the following points:
- Authentication and authorisation: Ensure that only authorised users and applications can access the integrated systems.
- Data integrity: Appropriate security mechanisms must be implemented to prevent data manipulation or corruption. Encryption is recommended here.
- The confidentiality of sensitive data should always be secured. Encryption and secure communication protocols are required.
- Interfaces between systems must also be designed securely.
- APIs should be secured against attacks such as API spoofing or brute force attacks.
- Logging and monitoring for security-related activities is recommended (e.g. to detect potential attacks).
- Regular updates and patches are necessary for a solid patch management that closes security gaps.
- Even if all integrations are excellently implemented, a disaster recovery plan should always be in place.
- Employees should be made aware of and trained in the security aspects of the integration.
These points represent a selection of some important aspects of integration security. Depending on the existing systems, requirements, applications and other circumstances, the security requirements can vary greatly. Here, it must be decided on a case-by-case basis which security aspects are relevant and need to be implemented. Are you planning an integration and would like advice on the security aspects of your integration? Our team of developers will be happy to support you.
Whether an integration makes economic sense depends on various factors. In any case, it is worthwhile to carry out a cost-benefit analysis in advance in order to be able to make an informed decision and avoid unnecessary costs. The following questions should be considered in such an analysis:
- What costs will the company incur with the integration? (Software & development costs as well as costs for training, support, hardware upgrades and ongoing operating costs).
- What benefits should the integration bring? (Clearly define the goal in order to be able to evaluate the achievement of the goal)
- When will the return on investment (ROI) be achieved? (this clarifies whether the investment makes economic sense)
- What is the time frame for implementing the integration?
- What risks can be associated with the integration and do you want to take them? (e.g. technical risks, security risks and business risks)
- What are the alternatives to integration and does integration win the comparison? (e.g. using SaaS platforms or redesigning business processes).
- What are the long-term implications of integration? (e.g. scalability of the solution, future maintenance costs and adaptability).
- What metrics are meaningful for actually monitoring the benefits and progress of the integration?
Of course, other aspects may be relevant to the analysis, depending on the application and the characteristics of the company. However, it is essential to conduct such an analysis to ensure that software integration is in line with business objectives.
CASE STUDIES FROM THE FIELD
Integration of CRM and ERP
The integration of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) needs to be particularly well thought out and implemented as it involves fundamentally different data - on the one hand customer data and on the other corporate data such as finance, inventory and supply chains. This integration is therefore relevant across departments and can be a real benefit if data integrity and security are ensured.
For example, HubSpot All-in-One CRM integrates with Odoo ERP, allowing companies to set up real-time, bi-directional synchronisation between these two tools in no time. HubSpot properties can be linked or "matched" with predefined or user-defined Odoo properties. The benefits are many: for example, integration can create more accurate quotes and better forecasts, as well as avoid duplication of effort by keeping salespeople up to date on the company's inventory and costs. You can also read more on the topic HERE.
There are now many different variants of cloud integrations to seamlessly connect cloud-based services, applications and platforms.
Often, classic data integration is performed, where data from different sources and systems is collected, consolidated and synchronized in the cloud to provide a centralized as well as comprehensive overview for decision-making.
Application integration is also very popular: here, cloud-based applications and services are connected with the existing on-premises applications. Furthermore, it is possible to integrate SaaS applications ("Software-as-a-Service") into the existing IT infrastructure. In addition, more and more companies are using cloud integration to seamlessly link mobile apps and services with corporate resources - for example, for sales employees who work a lot with mobile devices and want to synchronize data immediately.
Companies can also collect data from a variety of networked devices and sensors, so-called IoT data ("Internet of Things"), analyze it and integrate it into their business processes thanks to cloud integration. In the e-commerce sector, cloud integrations are also very common to connect online sales platforms, payment processing services and warehouse management systems.
Of course, multi-cloud management is also possible, where different data and applications can be connected and migrated between different clouds.
Read more about the different types of cloud computing HERE.
An excerpt of advantages:
- seamless information exchange between different applications
- Data consolidation for comprehensive overview & sound basis for decision-making
- Optimal data integrity
- Scale IT infrastructure as needed (add or release resources flexibly)
- Comprehensive insights into business performance thanks to cloud-based analysis and business intelligence tools
- Enforce security policies and compliance requirements across multiple cloud services
- Rapid deployment
- Access from anywhere
- Typically more cost-effective, as only resources and services used are paid for
- Often offers powerful automation tools
- often via energy-efficient data centers and server infrastructures ("Green IT")
- and much more.
Connecting legacy systems and modern solutions
Many companies initially shy away from integrating modern software with outdated systems for various reasons, such as fear of losing data, overburdening employees or jeopardizing the security of the systems. However, experience has shown that linking older applications with newer software is often a real benefit for companies, in that not only can the many advantages of modern software be used, but the "old" investments are also preserved as a result. Often, expensive upgrades or complete new developments can be avoided and investments in older technologies can be preserved.
Furthermore, by integrating old and new technologies, existing business processes and systems can remain in place while new technologies are gradually implemented. Employees are not overburdened by this gradual introduction and interruptions and downtimes are avoided.
Companies can thus expand their systems and services step by step and do not have to start from scratch to meet growing requirements. At the same time, the costs of smaller integration projects are more manageable than completely rebuilding systems from scratch. Often, integrating new software into older software enables a faster time to market than a new set up - new functions and services can often be used much faster thanks to integration by extension.
In addition, the continued use of existing systems conserves resources and minimizes risks through the successive introduction of new software, as existing security measures can often be retained and new security solutions implemented.
For example, W4 helped BMG LABTECH with its various locations and different CRM systems to gain a complete as well as consolidated overview of customer data and new leads through a sophisticated interface development.
In the process, we set up HubSpot as a lead generation tool and developed interfaces to the CRM systems Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics in order to obtain a synchronized, complete data situation in the existing systems. Read the full success story HERE.
Companies that want to integrate their legacy systems with modern software solutions should pay attention to careful planning and implementation to ensure optimal communication between the different applications. It is advisable here to rely on a detailed integration strategy and collaboration between IT and business teams to take full advantage of this type of integration.
As the preceding remarks have made clear, software integration offers a multitude of advantages that must be exploited in order to keep pace in today's business world as well as in the future. Rapidly advancing technological developments, ubiquitous digitization, Big Data, globalization and the centralization of data make stagnation in terms of software almost impossible if you want to maintain or maximize business success. Through software integration, you can secure benefits such as improved efficiency across departments, process automation, better data consistency for informed business decisions, increased agility and scalability, and improved customer and employee experience.
Depending on the size of the company, the industry, existing systems and applications, and other circumstances, software integrations hold different challenges and benefits.
We would be happy to find out together with you whether and how exactly a software integration can be worthwhile in your company. Our sales and development team is available to answer your questions about modern technologies and software from CRM to CMS and automation tools to cloud computing and sales software. Feel free to contact us!