Ready, Set, Integrate! When and How to Implement Custom Integrations
Serving as an IT leader at a complex organization can feel a lot like herding cats. Your stakeholders are always looking for new digital solutions to do their jobs more effectively. And just when you get one up and running, it’s time to tackle a new one.
On any given day, you might need to support Human Resources as they roll out a mobile-first payroll platform, the Business Office as they introduce a nifty new budgeting tool and the Marketing department as they pilot a more user-friendly events management program. And if you’re like most IT professionals we talk to, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
To effectively support your organization as a whole, there will be times you need to make each disparate system function as part of a robust, interconnected network. As you may know, that’s where integration comes in.
Before you dive into creating custom solutions or hiring a vendor, it’s best to take a hard look at your business objectives. Knowing what your stakeholders are trying to accomplish is key to approaching integration thoughtfully and effectively.
What Do Your Stakeholders Really Need? Evaluate Integration Requests in Light of Your Business Goals
In a perfect world, every technology platform would integrate seamlessly and easily with all the others. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And the truth is, integrations are often complicated, expensive, and time-consuming.
So when you’re evaluating your stakeholders’ integration requests — or determining which programs need to be linked for the good of your organization — keep this in mind: Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.
To that end, don’t jump right in and start making every possible integration a reality. First, ask questions like:
- Why are you submitting this request? What are the business goals you’re trying to achieve?
- What are the use cases this integration will support?
- Are you currently able to get the information or functionality you’re requesting in another way? If so, how much effort does your current methodology require?
- Is everything you’re requesting truly essential to meeting your business objectives? If not, which elements are optional versus mandatory?
- What are your future goals? Will this solution support your long-term plans?
Stakeholders may not realize the ramifications of every IT request they make. Once you lay out the time and cost involved, they may decide to scale back their expectations.
One more thought here: you have valuable expertise to offer your stakeholders when it comes to selecting tools and technologies that are truly top-shelf. Since some tools integrate more seamlessly than others, ask for the opportunity to provide input and guidance to stakeholders early on in their selection process. Help them choose a tool from the outset based on how well it will link up with existing organizational technology.
Is Custom Integration Necessary? Explore Cost-Effective Solutions that are Readily Available
Once you’ve worked with your stakeholders to determine exactly what they need, it’s time to explore whether there are existing solutions that can deliver the outcome they desire.
Sometimes, the right approach isn’t a complicated integration at all. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, you might discover that the following options are sufficient.
Themed Link and/or iFrame
Say your marketing team intends to use SurveyMonkey to gather user research from several audience subsets. They want users to have a seamless experience and feel like they’re still on your site throughout the survey. But they plan to use the data as a standalone resource and don’t need it to automatically flow into any of your other systems.
In this scenario, a themed link with a branded landing page — or an iFrame that provides a window to an external site — would meet the marketing team’s needs. A full-blown integration isn’t necessary since you could achieve the stated business objectives in a simpler way.
Script embeds are pre-made integrations that have been simplified into a snippet of code. The external script is already integrated with another system. You can take advantage of its functionality simply by embedding it into your own code or content as you see fit.
A script embed might generate an iFrame that connects the user to an external host site. Or it might access data and process it so that you can make use of it. Google Analytics and Hotjar heatmaps are great examples of simple yet useful script embeds that bring your data to life. They are great tools that can help your marketing team optimize your website or otherwise reach stated business objectives.
Out-of-the-Box API Integrations
API integrations should follow REST architectural standards for optimal performance. When an API adheres to REST guidelines, you know the data will be available in a standard format, and authentication and data transactions will be efficient and reliable.
The popular CRM Salesforce is an example of a system that uses REST API integration standards. Since organizations use Salesforce to manage their customer relationships, they need data to flow from their website into the Salesforce database to keep prospect records current and assign leads for follow-up. Some organizations might also want data to flow from the customer management system back to the website to offer a personalized experience. All of this can be achieved through existing, REST-oriented API integrations provided by Salesforce or shared in libraries of open source code.
Standard API integrations could be sufficient for your needs, and you should explore their capability before investing in a more costly solution.
Time to Move Forward with an Advanced Solution? Consider Engaging the Help of an Expert
Sometimes there’s no getting around it. Your business needs require capabilities and functionality you can’t deliver on your own. If and when you reach that point, seek help from an experienced vendor. Turning to an agency partner provides peace of mind that you won’t miss any important details along the way.
We recently saw the benefits of creating a custom integration for one of our clients with the third-party service, LearnWorlds. They wanted to develop an eye-catching dashboard that would show users at-a-glance information about coursework they had completed. This required their Drupal-built website to continually refresh and display data from their digital learning software.
To develop the right solution for this client, we started by interviewing all the key stakeholders to understand their needs. Then we investigated existing API integration options before ultimately creating a solution that gave the client the advanced capabilities they were after.
Similarly, a good vendor can help you:
- Define and understand the API requirements for the integration you’re trying to achieve
- Evaluate the stability and security of existing API integration options
- Plan data flow between systems
- Comb existing libraries of open source integrations (Drupal has many to choose from!) to cut down on the cost of creating an integration from scratch
- Automate workflows to make integrations function seamlessly
- Optimize each integration to maintain and preserve website speed and performance
- Put effective data authentication measures and mechanisms in place
- Build-in recommendations for future support should issues arise down the road
As an IT leader, it’s important for you to do your due diligence when responding to varied requests from your stakeholders. Sometimes there’s a cost-effective, simple solution that will do the trick. But if you believe an advanced integration is an answer to meeting your stakeholders’ needs and driving your business forward, we’d love to help. Let’s chat.