SaaS integration costly and challenging

The ease of integrating SaaS applications may be overstated, which is why internal IT needs to be proactive in preventing the deployment from turning into a costly, complex and ultimately unsuccessful mistake.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Integrating generic software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools to existing IT infrastructure is both costly and complex, but IT departments should not abdicate their responsibilities to SaaS providers as it could negate the benefits public cloud services originally bring.

Sabharinath Bala, research manager of enterprise applications at IDC Asia-Pacific, said companies increasingly prefer a hybrid IT environment which combines existing on-premise software with SaaS applications. To facilitate integration, these SaaS vendors would offer a number of connectors or adaptors in their software to traditional applications, he noted.

In reality, though, not all protocols and standards are supported by existing software and this creates "grey areas" that make integration a pain and concern for IT professionals, he pointed out.

Access control and monitoring, for instance, is one of these grey areas. The conventional access control functions are centralized and support for control and monitoring are sometimes not extended to SaaS apps, which would be a problem for IT departments as they would not know who has access to its corporate systems, Bala said.

Ganesan Periakarruppan, ICT industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan, added that the development language and application programming interface (API) for SaaS may differ by vendors, and making sure these apps communicate with existing software is a headache.

"While some SaaS vendors claim their applications are easily integrated with on-premise apps, the general feedback from the industry has been negative, saying that even if it happens, the process flow tends to break along the way. The integration is not seamless compared to both [groups of] applications operating separately, [and] application security is compromised when integrated," Periakarruppan noted.

IT departments need to be proactive
Despite the challenges posed by integration processes, internal IT teams need to take up the responsibility in planning and pacing the SaaS deployment roadmap, Bala stressed.

Additionally, their focus should not be on the immediate cost of integration, but on the long-term benefits and profitability when their software systems work seamlessly, he said.

After all, a poorly-planned integration could result in siloed apps that do not communicate with each other, which wipes out the benefits of using SaaS. Relying on SaaS vendors to provide integration management will create a long-term dependence on the service provider, and this would also eliminate public cloud services' cost advantages over traditional software, the analyst stated.

Middleman services emerging
To address integration challenges, both analysts noted the emergence of integration-as-a-service which has been gaining traction among companies. Integration-as-a-service are services that take care of the system and data integration functionalities when deploying SaaS apps, the analysts explained.

"Essentially, these services help in connecting on-premise and SaaS applications without the need for any appliances or software coding, and are usually hosted and managed by an external vendor," Bala said.

Some vendors that offer integration-as-a-service include Dell-owned Boomi, Informatica, and CloudSwitch.

Frost & Sullivan's Periakarruppan did note these on-demand services do not come cheap, but are worthwhile investments considering how SaaS apps help companies better cope with workers using their personal mobile devices for work.

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