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Connecting Software

Why Use an Integration Platform for CRM Needs?

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The need to integrate software goes back… way back! But now there is such a multitude of software, platforms, and options that it almost drives you crazy.  

You might get to a point in which you have a mix of cloud and on-premises, a mix of state-of-the-art software with very old legacy software… and how do you integrate all this? How do you integrate so that the software integration drives your customer relationship management forward? Could an integration platform be the answer? 

What is an integration platform? 

The classic way a developer would tackle an integration problem would be to use the software's API. Let's say you would like to integrate Microsoft Dynamics with some other application – Dropbox, a database or some client application. Then the developer would look at the Microsoft Dynamics' API and at the Microsoft SharePoint's API. 

There are 2 major problems with this approach:  

  • The first problem is that each API has its own steep learning curve. The developer needs to study the documentation and then he will, for sure, make several mistakes when he first starts using it.
  • The second problem is that the API will change over time. API updates tend to happen quite often for well-known software from big vendors. The vendor is just trying to improve the API, but the truth of the matter is that the developers then need to review and change the code they had using that API.

An integration platform is a solution for both these problems. Instead of using the API directly, you put a thin layer between the developers and the API. This is the integration platform, which is sometimes also referred to as a data integration platform. This layer needs to be thin enough to have everything fast and efficient, but thick enough so that the developers never touch the API itself.  

The integration platform is targeted at software developers. They were the ones that used to code using the API. The idea is that they move on to use the integration platform so that they can get rid of the two problems above. 

Can you give me an example of an integration platform? 

A good example of an integration platform is Connect Bridge by Connecting Software. This platform has been around since 2014. 

Connect Bridge makes the developer work simpler and more efficient in a very clever way. The trick is that developers interact with this integration platform by using SQL statements. SQL is an ANSI standard that has been around since 1987 (as an international standard) and that virtually all programmers know. 

Connect Bridge translates the SQL statements the developer writes into API calls. The translation is done by the connector to the system you want to integrate. For example, if you are connecting to Microsoft Dynamics, you get the Microsoft Dynamics connector and that does the translation for you. The list of available connectors is long and new ones can be created as well. Having a diversity of connectors is important because most integration projects involve cross-platform integration and therefore require 2 or more connectors. 

Connect Bridge also makes the developer work less error-prone. It comes with a Query tool where the developers can test their SQL statements (INSERT, SELECT, DELETE, UPDATE). Once they have done all the testing they want, they put it into their code. This is really simple for the developer because it is done the same way as they access any database.  

Once the integration code is done, they have a working solution that is error-free and that will require zero maintenance. All the maintenance effort is on the side of the integration platform, Connect Bridge.  

Connect Bridge integration platform

You should also consider that the developer will continue to program in whatever language they are more comfortable with (PHP, C#, Python, Ruby…). This again helps to make the integration process more efficient and cost-effective. 

Why do I need an integration platform?  

The good thing about solving your integration problems with an integration platform is that forward and backward compatibility is (or should be) ensured. You can upgrade the original system you were integrating with (for example, move on to the next version of Microsoft Dynamics), Microsoft can launch new versions of their API… and you won’t have to worry about it. Your solution will still work!  

To know if an integration platform is something you need, you should have a look at the specific platform you are considering. Some features can make a huge difference in terms of ROI. 

For example, the Connect Bridge platform we discussed earlier also handles security and authentication, which can take up a considerable amount of time if the developers are doing it from scratch. 

To get a sense of the features of the platform and to see if fits your company, I would recommend asking for a demo of the integration platform when you are analysing prices (by the way, analysing prices is something you should really do as prices vary wildly for integration platforms). The next step, ideally, would be trying it out yourself if there is a free trial available. For example, for Connect Bridge you can do that. 

Do I need an integration platform as a service? 

This depends on the kind of technological environment your company is in. If your whole environment is on the cloud, then using an integration platform as a service (also sometimes referred to as a cloud integration platform) would make sense. 

If your environment is on-premises or if it is mixed (on-premises + cloud) then the best solution is to look for an integration platform that can work on-premises and then can evolve to the cloud.  

For example, for the integration platform Connect Bridge that we discussed earlier, there is no limitation on the environment where you can use it. You can run it on 

  • An Azure-built SaaS platform managed by Connecting software
  • On-premises or on your own cloud servers or virtual machines (self-hosted)

This means that you can do an on-premises integration today and then move it to the cloud in the future with no effort (and no cost). This is important to consider when making the purchase decision. 

Takeaway 

Using an enterprise integration platform is a more modern way of tackling integration projects. It allows for faster development of the integration solution, ensures that the solution has fewer errors and is easier to maintain. In short, using an integration platform means better ROI for your integration project. 

And there is more good news: this is also possible with Microsoft Dynamics and Microsoft SharePoint! As a matter of fact, you can connect to any Microsoft software, to Salesforce, and to many others. You just need to get Connect Bridge, which is the base integration platform and pick the right connector. 

If you want to know what connectors are currently available at Connect Bridge, the place to go is https://www.connecting-software.com/connect-bridge-connectors/.

Connectors

If you want to know which are the newest connectors in this vast collection, have a look at Connect Bridges Dynamics 365 Finance & Operations and Dynamics 365 Business Central connectors. 

It also important to know that there are some ready-made products that use Connect Bridge and that are totally out-of-the-box solutions. For example, CB Exchange Server Sync allows you to choose custom one-way or two-way synchronization of calendars, email folders, tasks, contacts, public folders with no coding at all. 

By Ana Neto, Connecting Software, a producer of integration and synchronization solutions.

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