Does it have to take so long?

ClockOne thing that always strikes us about rolling out integrations is the difference between the time taken to prepare the integration and the time taken to deploy the integration. Our engineering team may estimate a few days to build the integration but the overall effort required often stretches beyond that estimate.

For many of our rollouts, we start with a template. For a purely templated integration, we can prepare the underlying sync setup in an hour or two. Underpinning the template is the fact that we’ve done many integrations with both systems, we have feature-rich system connectors in our library and a great working knowledge of how the systems work.

So… why does the project need consulting time to get from our Project Engineers to syncing data?

 

Prerequisites

There are some things that we need before we even get started. This usually means arranging connectivity details, user/api accounts, possibly creating some cross-reference fields, etc. It should also not be overlooked that Dan really works better with a good cup of coffee. If we’re deploying into a client’s Azure environment, we need it to be setup according the specification provided.

We provide the specs for all of these as part of our project initiation, but it often takes a few project calls to confirm that prereqs have been delivered so that we can begin work in earnest.

Taking advantage of the templates

If you’ve read some of the explanatory content on the website, you’ll know we love banging on about our templates. For sure, they help us make a massive leap on Day 1 of setting up an integration. They’re still only a starting point. Most systems have had some changes made since they were deployed. At the very least, option sets are likely to have been changed to meet business requirements. More commonly a few extra fields have been added to one system and need to be reflected in the other.

Often there are differences between the systems that require some flexible thinking to solve data problems. Some applications provide users with complete flexibility to make any sort of change, setup any sort of data entity, etc. On the other hand, other apps have limited customisation options, perhaps just a putting new fields on a form. As part of the integration design we need to come up with an approach to keep these different data structures in sync between the two systems.

Testing

Seamless makes changes to data and we want to be completely confident that the changes we’re making are as expected. When we transition from our workbench to a target environment, invariably we find things that are different. A round of testing will pick these up and allow us to make the necessary changes to ensure data integrity.

Additionally, a test cycle often results in evolution of the sync requirements. Users see data in situ and that sparks ideas which require changes to the sync spec.

Environments

The gold standard is an organisation who is running a complete set of test environments that are a mirror of their production environments. All we’d need is a different set of credentials for each environment and everything else would be like-for-like. It would also be great if everyone’s favourite sports team could win every match they play and that the ending of Game of Thrones was universally acclaimed.

Test environments might be behind production because of that hot fix that was quickly applied. Or we’re in the midst of a broader change project and test environments are ahead of production. Perhaps the environments are functionally similar but the test environment data doesn’t reflect a real-world data set. If the systems are not SaaS apps, it may be that connectivity for the systems is totally different.

Ultimately there needs to be confidence that testing results in the test environment are a meaningful representation of what will occur in the production environment.

Do you really need to use an integration service to sync your SaaS data?

Laptop

Many popular SaaS applications include a handful of vendor built integration options. Vendors want to make it easy for new users to become embedded in their applications. They also want to embed their apps into your enterprise, making it less likely that you will consider moving onto other options.

 

If you can get an integration as part of your monthly fee, why would you look to Recursyv Seamless?

 

Why should you consider vendor integrations?

  • Vendor integrations are often built into the existing monthly charge. They’re a value-add option for the vendor to make signing up more attractive.
  • They’re often ready to use “out of the box”. Capture a few details and you could be ready to go.
  • They will be supported by the vendor over time. If the vendor changes their platform, they’re likely to evolve the integration in-line with platform changes.

 

Why should you consider an integration specialist?

Vendor integrations are likely to be limited in their functional scope

They are likely to support standard fields and sync with pre-determined fields in the other system. This may be great for getting started, but it doesn’t allow much flexibility. Most of our integrations have required some additional configuration before they meet the overall business requirement. These changes run along an entire spectrum of complexity. They could be straightforward as adding a single extra field. They could be as complex as syncing custom tables, syncing subsets of data based on custom filtering, etc.

Vendor integrations are likely to limit flexibility over time

As your business evolves, you’ll want to ensure that the systems supporting your business evolve with it. This might mean additional data fields, additional data sources (or endpoints) or even simply new options for option sets. Vendor integrations will not be setup to support your constantly evolving business requirement.

Vendor integrations will often be limited to point-to-point integrations with other popular applications

Vendors will provide tools to sync their system with another system, drawn from a small selection of popular systems. It is unlikely that you will be able to connect more than one other system. You may be limited to only the most popular SaaS apps. Single point-to-point integrations may help get over the initial hurdle of keeping two systems broadly in sync, but there is no room for growth as you need to sync with more systems (billing, support, back-end platforms, etc.)

Vendors may not be quick to support changing endpoints

Imagine you’re using Vendor A’s app and their integration offering to Vendor B’s app. When Vendor B makes changes to their API, it is unlikely to be Vendor A’s immediate priority will be to update their integration. You may find yourself waiting an unpredictable amount of time before Vendor A gets a chance to update their integration. If not enough customers are using the integration, Vendor A may decide it is not worth the investment to update the integration. An integration vendor will be focused on keeping their endpoint libraries up-to-date and are likely to have the changes prepared in advance of the API change.

Vendor integrations typically include limited monitoring and recovery features

Unless you notice missing data, you may never know that your integration is not working properly. By the time you do, it’s often too late. A specialist solution will typically include various monitoring options. These should be able to confirm that the integration is running and to report on integration errors. Additionally, an integration provider will have options for recovering and redeploying integrations quickly.

 

Specialists live and breathe their area of focus. As an integration specialist, we’re regularly encountering unusual integration requirements and using those to constantly evolve our Seamless feature set. Like typical SaaS apps, as the Seamless service improves, those improvements are offered to all users.

Within Recursyv, our primary focus is about getting systems syncing quickly, easily and flexibly. Once integrations move from our engineering and project teams to our operations team, we’re solely focused on ensuring that those integrations continue to run, day-in and day-out.

We proactively monitor integrations for technical and data issues and address them as soon as they’re raised. Often our alerting will flag up SaaS app availability problems before they’re noticed by users.

 

 

How to choose?

In short, it is all about what you need an integration to do for you. There is, of course, a place for using vendor provided integration tools. They will often meet basic requirements where there is limited need for flexibility and control. Specialist integration providers will introduce flexibility, additional data endpoints and control features that vendor solutions are unlikely to offer.

When considering your own approach, there are some questions you should consider

  • What are the different apps you need to sync with? Does the vendor you’re considering offer integration endpoints for those apps?
  • What level of flexibility / customisation do you need when matching data items across different systems? Do you have custom fields, tables, option set values, etc.? Are these likely to change over time?
  • How often do you need data to refresh?
  • Are you likely to want to introduce additional data endpoints over time?

 

Ending the enduring legacy of data silos

Silos

“I understand what data syncing is, but why is it useful?” is something we hear all too often. Here’s how we try and explain it.

It should be that every time your business interacts with a customer, a piece of information is generated. This could be a phone call note, an invoice or a request for help from your customer. All common scenarios and, in most cases, all handled by different systems.

As our user community has grown, we’ve found that one way to consider the usefulness of syncing data is to think about all the places where a business interacts with customers.

  • The sales team are often using a CRM system (Dynamics, Salesforce, HubSpot, etc.)
  • The marketing team may be using email marketing (MailChimp, etc.)
  • The customer support team are typically using a helpdesk system (Zendesk, ServiceNow, etc.)
  • The finance team are likely to be using an accounting package to send and monitor invoices, debtors, etc. (Xero, etc.)
  • There may be collaboration software in use across the business, either to manage projects or just to maintain open communication channels (Jira, Slack, etc.)

That list just describes generic functions that most businesses have. It is quite likely that there will be some specialised software to support the primary function of your business. This could be point-of-sale software, manufacturing/control software, project management software, e-commerce, etc.

That’s a lot of places where there may be references to customers. When your sales team ring up a customer, they’ll want to know whether the customer has any outstanding complaints. When your accounts team need to follow-up with a query, they’ll want to know who is best to ring and ask. When your support team are working on open helpdesk tickets, it’s useful to know that the sales team have a big proposal submitted awaiting a decision.

This is where data syncing comes to the rescue. When I’m explaining the business value of Seamless, I often ask people to tell me all the different engagements their business may have with their own customers. I then ask what underlying system that interaction is recorded on. Typically, as we talk through these engagements, it becomes very evident how standalone silos of information are being built across the business.

Seamless is about making disparate silos of data disappear into the background. Staff across an organisation should all see the same information about customers (or orders or helpdesk incidents or … ) no matter which IT system they’re currently using.

 

Paying more for less – the false economy of data re-entry

Office“We can just solve the problem with a few cheap data entry clerks.”

Every time I hear this phrase, I am stunned. Introducing a process which involves re-keying data from one system to another is, pretty much without fail, a bad idea. Often it seems enticingly cheap – pick up a few students or offshore the data problem and there’s one less thing to worry about.

Data rekeying is a false economy, in this post we’ll explore some of the reasons why rekeying will come back to haunt you.

Continue reading

When is integration not integration?

Ice CreamIntegration, like ice cream, comes in many flavours. And like ice cream, some are better suited to your needs than others. On a hot summer’s day, a refreshing sorbet might be your preference. If you’re throwing the ice cream on top of a warm apple pie however, Madagascan vanilla (obviously!). Sometimes you’ll see a kiosk advertising ice cream, but really they’re flogging some vile frozen chemical cream-like product which is neither good for man nor beast.

So … (need to stop thinking about ice cream) when is integration not integration?

There are many ways you can expose data from one system when working in another. Different requirements will drive different approaches. In this post, we share some of the common ways to share data between systems.
Continue reading

Why is integration so often an afterthought?

HeartOn their own a heart, lungs and a liver would be pretty useless. But when you join them up using the vascular system (arteries, veins, capillaries), all of sudden the sum becomes greater than the whole. Each of our organs has a “specialist role” and when they perform to role, the work they do is invaluable. The heart pumps blood, the lungs oxygenate blood, the liver helps you recover from a big night out.

In this admittedly sketchy analogy, IT systems are no different. Each IT system in your business has a specialist role which it (hopefully) does very well. Most businesses will have a financial system (invoices, accounting, etc.). Some will have point-of-sales systems (POS), some have a sales or contact management system (CRM), most will have an email system. Many, possibly even most, will have a core line-of-business system which helps manage or control the primary business function of the company.

All too often there is no vascular system connecting all of these disparate applications together. Each system operates using its own data set “knowing” things which it is not “sharing” with other systems. Has Customer A paid us in full? Does Customer B have any open queries? These are pieces of information which users across the business could, and should, use to make more informed decisions.

Why are businesses not building their vascular systems?
Why do so many businesses not focus on linking up their IT applications?

 

Is there a fear that integration is too expensive?

Possibly. Traditionally the software that connects up applications – known as middleware – was expensive. It required specialist infrastructure and a lot of work just to get the application talking to the middleware.

Two market forces have arisen to challenge this. Firstly, in the era of cloud applications, the only infrastructure required to run modern infrastructure is often a data connection. Secondly, the advent of common APIs means that connecting to many applications has become much simpler.

Is there a fear that integration is too complicated?

Possibly. Connecting system A to system B requires some degree of planning. It cannot be denied that there will be some work to line up data fields in either system and to ensure that business processes on either side will still operate with data being added/updated.

Using templated connectors and a proven, rigorous, analysis means that the complications can be minimised. Most businesses are not in the business of running complicated IT projects. Using integration templates, supported by repeatable analysis for non-standard data, means the complications can be quickly resolved.

Is there a fear that integration will take too long?

Possibly. For a myriad of reasons, IT projects have a reputation for taking longer than expected. Most companies are not in the business of running long IT projects, they take energy and focus away from day-to-day operations.

Using a well designed toolset which has a demonstrable ability to rapidly deploy integrations removes a lot of the risk. Templates for many common applications, coupled with underlying foundation connectors for common integration scenarios, mean that any development is fast-tracked before it even begins.

Does it have to be expensive, complicated or time consuming?

Of course not. Although admittedly, if the answer were yes that would be a pretty surprising take for this post!

For all too long, sophisticated integration has been the preserve of large enterprises enterprises who could justify the cost, and associated complications, with managing traditional options. Cloud options and the uniquity of APIs has drastically reduced the cost profile of setting up and operating integrations. Complications can be controlled by using a reliable toolset. And the time to deliver can be accelerated by using re-usable components.

With the introduction of reliable, cloud based infrastructure-as-a-service options, coupled with well designed tooling, sophisticated integration is accessible to companies of all sizes.

Getting fresh information into Freshdesk

Seamless has been listed in the Freshdesk Marketplace

Freshdesk

Recursyv’s Freshdesk application connector has been listed in Freshdesk’s integration library. The listing details our connector plugin allowing you to quickly deliver Freshdesk integration to any other application.

Freshdesk integration

One client who has already taken advantage of the connector to integrate Freshdesk with Dynamics is Feefo, the global reviews platform. Feefo’s sales and technical support teams are using different underlying applications meaning that sales (using Microsoft Dynamics) could not see open support tickets (managed within Freshdesk). Seamless is integrating ticket data from Freshdesk into Dynamics to give the sales team complete visibility of what is happening within their client base.

“We wanted to be sure that our sales teams were always fully informed before ringing customers. With Seamless we were able to quickly surface data from our helpdesk into our CRM.” – Wayne Elliot, Sales Manager, Feefo

Freshdesk offers intuitive, feature-rich, affordable customer support software. Freshdesk is part of a growing family of applications from Freshworks which covers all aspects of operating your business. This includes IT service desks, CRM, call center management, recruitment, messaging and online marketing.

Using the Seamless integration solution

Using the connector plugin requires subscribing to a Seamless integration and choosing to integrate to Freshdesk. Integrations can be configured by Recursyv or your own development team (using tooling provided by Recursyv). In most cases, the Freshdesk connector is being used to synchronise core data such as companies, contacts and tickets across systems although it is able to source and update all Freshdesk API accessible data.

Recursyv Seamless

Recursyv is focused on making application integration easy to setup and easy to operate. Recursyv’s first integration went live in early 2017 and, since then, a growing number of companies are relying on Recursyv’s Seamless integration solution to keep applications in sync.

Seamless is an application integration service that makes it easy to connect different software applications. New integrations can be quickly setup using Recursyv’s growing library of application connectors. Foundation connectors (SOAP, RESTful) are available to integrate with bespoke applications, either in the cloud or on-premise.

Seamless is provided as a managed service operated by Recursyv. The subscription fee covers access to all Recursyv connectors, initial configuration, pro-active monitoring, the ability to make reasonable configuration changes and support.

Being dynamic with Dynamics 365 Integrations

Easily integrate with Microsoft Dynamics 365 using Recursyv’s Seamless connector plugin.

Recursyv’s Dynamics 365 Seamless connector plugin is now available for use.

The Dynamics 365 connector allows users to quickly setup Microsoft Dynamics 365 integrations to other applications. Seamless is Recursyv’s application integration service. Seamless connects different applications using connector plugins to accelerate deployment of new integrations. The Dynamics 365 connector allows users to retrieve/update all data within Dynamics including bespoke entities, data fields and lookup values.

“Using the Dynamics 365 connector allowed us to quickly integrate our Dynamics deployment with existing software. Without an option to quickly integrate to Autotask, we would’ve struggled to rollout the Dynamics solution as easily as we did.” – Craig Fisher, Director, Technica Solutions

Is there a need for a new Dynamics integration option?

There is already an established market of existing integration tools which work with Dynamics 365. These have a long heritage in the Dynamics community. In some cases, these tools have some inherent limitations which have been baked in as they’ve evolved. Often, extending the use of these tools beyond their current feature set is hard to achieve.

Seamless allows developers to extend connector plugins, including the Dynamics 365 plugin, using .NET. This allows developers to take advantage of Seamless core features while also providing the flexibility to disable unwanted features and develop bespoke features to meet specific business requirements.

In some cases, existing tools require additional infrastructure and cannot be operated as cloud-only services.

Seamless is delivered entirely in the cloud and requires no additional infrastructure. It is able to connect cloud and on-premises systems to enable true hybrid architectures.

What about tools provided alongside Dynamics 365?
Dynamics 365 enables users to write Azure aware custom plug-ins enabling data to be written to/from an Azure Service Bus. This approach has some structural limitations in that it is based on a trigger driven activity (i.e. when x happens, do y). This approach imposes some limitations on error handling (when a post to Azure fails) and underlying implications on system load within Dynamics.

Seamless is architected as a polling service, this allows it to be more robust in guaranteeing message delivery as well as in configuring its impact on Dynamics system load.

Azure aware Dynamics plugins are predicated on using an Azure Service Bus, requiring additional development to read/write data at the other end of the integration. It also requires the user to establish and manage their own Azure environment requiring them to learn a new technical stack.

Seamless is provided as a managed service connecting two more applications. Plugins already exist for a number of other applications and new plugins for bespoke use can be quickly developed using Seamless plugin framework.

The most recent Dynamics 365 version introduces a feature called Virtual Entities. Although Virtual Entities are great for displaying external data within the Dynamics UI, that data cannot be worked on, updated or analysed within Dynamics.

Seamless places the data into Dynamics 365 as data which can then be used for business processes, updated and synchronised back to the original data source.

Using the Seamless integration solution

The Dynamics 365 plugin is already live in a number of implementations connecting Dynamics to, among others, Autotask, Hoopla and Freshdesk.

Using the connector plugin requires subscribing to a Seamless integration and choosing to integrate to Dynamics 365. Integrations can be configured by Recursyv or your own development team (using tooling provided by Recursyv).

Recursyv Seamless

Recursyv is focused on making application integration easy to setup and easy to operate. Recursyv’s first integration went live in early 2017 and, since then, a growing number of companies are relying on Recursyv’s Seamless integration solution to keep applications in sync.

Seamless is an application integration service that makes it easy to connect different software applications. New integrations can be quickly setup using Recursyv’s growing library of application connectors. Foundation connectors (SOAP, RESTful) are available to integrate with bespoke applications, either in the cloud or on-premise.

Seamless is provided as a managed service operated by Recursyv. The subscription fee covers access to all Recursyv connectors, initial configuration, pro-active monitoring, the ability to make reasonable configuration changes and support.

Automate your Autotask integration

Seamless has been listed in the Autotask integration library

Recursyv listing

Recursyv’s Autotask <-> Dynamics 365 Seamless integration template is now listed in Autotask’s integration library. The integration template integrates Autotask and Dynamics 365 based on pre-configured data mappings. The integration template includes (1) bi-directional sync of Accounts and Contacts and, optionally, (2) Autotask –> Dynamics sync of tickets.

For more complex requirements, the Autotask connector plugin is able to connect Autotask to Seamless and, from there, to integrate it to any system using Seamless.

“Using the Autotask connector meant we were able to accelerate delivery of additional applications into our business. We used our Autotask data as our initial data set and, after populating the new system, we now keep both systems in sync with each other using Recursyv’s Seamless. It’s great that we’re able to ensure our staff work on the most up-to-date information no matter which system they need to work on.” – Craig Fisher, Director, Technica Solutions

Templated or bespoke?

The integration template listed by Autotask’s includes (1) bi-directional sync of Accounts and Contacts and, optionally, (2) Autotask –> Dynamics sync of tickets. This approach enables businesses using Dynamics for CRM to ensure that customer data is kept in-sync across both systems as well as providing Autotask ticket information as reference data within Dynamics.

Recursyv recognise that different helpdesk operations have different approaches to incident resolution, workflows and queuing. Building an implied operational structure into the template seemed like we’d be making the template harder to use rather than easier to use.

As the integration template uses the Recursyv connector plugins for Autotask and Dynamics 365, all the flexibility of these plugins remains. Users of the integration template can easily extend their use of Seamless to include additional data types (e.g. Autotask Projects), additional list values and/or bi-directional syncing of ticket information.

If you need to sync ticket information bi-directionally, or want to introduce other data types, please reach out to us and we can discuss how to set these up as part of implementing your integration.

Using the Seamless integration solution

The Autotask connector plugin is already live in implementations connecting Dynamics to Autotask. The integration template listed in the Autotask library specifically focuses on connecting Autotask to Dynamics 365. The Seamless Autotask plugin can also be used to connect Autotask to any system using the Seamless platform.

Using the connector plugin requires subscribing to a Seamless integration and choosing to integrate to Autotask. Integrations can be configured by Recursyv or your own development team (using tooling provided by Recursyv).

Recursyv Seamless

Recursyv focuses on making application integration easy to setup and easy to operate. Recursyv’s first integration went live in early 2017 and, since then, a growing number of companies are relying on Recursyv’s Seamless integration solution to keep applications in sync.

Seamless is an application integration service that makes it easy to connect different software applications. New integrations can be quickly setup using Recursyv’s growing library of application connectors. Foundation connectors (SOAP, RESTful) are available to integrate with bespoke applications, either in the cloud or on-premise.

Seamless is provided as a managed service operated by Recursyv. The subscription fee covers access to all Recursyv connectors, pro-active monitoring, the ability to make reasonable configuration changes and support.

[icon name=”phone” class=”” unprefixed_class=””]  If you’re looking to integrate Autotask with Dynamics, or any other application, please reach out and discuss with us how we can address this, quickly and affordably.