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December 3rd, 2008

Most folks familiar with the SaaS industry would agree that integration is a leading (if not the #1) barrier to SaaS adoption.  Many of us worked in the enterprise space prior to SaaS and endured the pain of integration for years.  We had all hoped that SaaS would somehow be different.  And so it’s no surprise that as an industry, we want to believe that APIs are the magic that will finally, once and for all, eliminate the headaches of integration.  I’ve actually heard it said by folks in the industry that once all apps are “webapps,” integration will no longer be an issue.  Unfortunately, it’s not true. 

To be sure, well constructed APIs are essential to enabling integration.  An API opens secure access to application data through a predictable interface.  You know when you call the API what to expect, what data gets returned, in what format etc.  Sticking with my favorite analogy, it’s an electrical outlet in a wall.  Until you plug something into it, it just sits there.

That’s actually the good news and unfortunately where the analogy ends.  Even though there are web services “standards,” everyone implements the standards in a different way.  Things like authentication, session management, protocols, meta data browsing, and exposing customizations are rarely implemented the same way from application to application.  Hence all the “outlets” look different, require different plugs and run at different voltages.

But even if all APIs were standardized, there would still be a need for integration.  Why?  APIs are only one end of the equation – they do not complete the end-to-end integration process between applications.  Two apps with APIs still need a cord with plugs to connect them together. 

For example, APIs don’t handle the transformation of data between applications (required because every app describes data in a different format, even when multiple apps are describing the same thing such as a Customer).  They don’t handle the validation, business logic and error processing of the data as it moves between apps.  And they don’t handle the interaction with the API of another application that’s being integrated.  Even two apps built on the same PaaS platform are not natively integrated with one another.  That probably bears repeating…  Even two apps built on the same PaaS platform are not natively integrated with one another. 

But can’t SaaS ISVs just code direct integration between their apps and save us all the hassle?  Sounds great on the surface.  Unfortunately, most users customize their particular tenant of a SaaS application.  Hard coding an integration process cannot account for customizations made to tenants on one end of the “wire” or the other.  You would need to code a separate instance of the integration process for every combination of customized tenants – raising maintenance costs exponentially.  And hard coding in general leads to maintenance issues as APIs and schemas (file and record formats) change regularly.  Integration processes become brittle and will invariably break.  Sound familiar?

Fortunately, we don’t need to repeat the integration mistakes of the past as we scale the SaaS industry.  SaaS integration solutions exist that eliminate this complexity and remove integration as a barrier to SaaS adoption and scalability.  With Boomi, we have thought about the integration challenge deeply from the perspective of the SaaS industry.  We didn’t just ask how we could integrate SaaS applications but how we could use the inherent advantages of SaaS technology itself to integrate SaaS applications and eliminate the challenges typically associated with integration. 

Launched well over a year ago now, AtomSphere was built from the ground up as a pure SaaS platform for integration.  With AtomSphere, we natively handle the challenges associated with integrating SaaS applications such as multi-tenancy, customizations, changing APIs etc.  We abstract all of this complexity away from users so they can focus on easily connecting their apps.  And SaaS ISVs can now build their own connectors and on board to AtomSphere in a totally self-service model.  Once connected they have instant interoperability with every other app in the AtomSphere network.

If you’re an end customer, I encourage you to ask questions when selecting your SaaS applications.  Go beyond “we’ve got an API” to understand exactly how your provider intends to achieve your integration requirements.  If you’re a SaaS ISV and not already connected to AtomSphere, click here to check out how to get on board.