SaaS Integration: The Horror

Posted by Michael Neubarth
Michael Neubarth
Michael Neubarth is Vice President of Marketing for and founder and Director of eMatrix Media Comm...
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on Monday, 02 April 2012 in Comparz Blog

While SaaS has allowed businesses to quickly and inexpensively deploy applications, it is bringing with it a new twist on an old problem—integration. 

Flashback to July 1, 2003, where Christopher Koch in “A Critical Look at IBM's On-Demand Computing Marketing Campaign” on wrote: 

“A CEO watching a football game or a golf tournament on TV today is reminded during the commercial breaks of something about his IT infrastructure. He’s reminded that it’s a mess.” 

"The bearer of this bad news is IBM,” explained Koch, and the message of the TV ads is that, “Your IT is broken, and you need IBM, the biggest technology company in the world, to fix it.”

Fast forward, where we see that each new round of technology over the past two decades—from Business Process Reengineering to Internet Computing to e-Business On Demand to Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)—was supposed to solve the problem and deliver agility through easy integration. But it never happened.

Enter the cloud and SaaS, which emerged as the latest and best hope for achieving agility by enabling companies to offload to an external provider all the headaches of deploying and managing computer systems.

But it appears that the age-old problem has again reared its ugly head. As Herman Mehling wrote, “The number one cloud and SaaS challenge for many developers and organizations might just surprise you. It's not security, lack of standards, or even reliability, but... dramatic drum roll... integration.”

Indeed, there is a rising chorus of analysts warning about a new wave of gnarly integration problems being ushered in by SaaS. Among them is Loraine Lawson, who wrote, “I just can't help but think organizations may be repeating in the cloud the same integration mistakes they made with on-premise databases and computer systems years ago.” 

Ravi Kalakota calls the SaaS integration problem the “cloud in-the-corner syndrome” and writes: “CIOs have seen this ‘cloud in the corner’ and data silo problem too many times in the past. They know how this movie is likely to unfold. Data quality and integration issues — aggregating data from the myriad sources and services within an organization.”

What some analysts are promoting is that SaaS vendors will solve the integration problem on their end via what is called iPaaS (integration platform as a service). Says Herman Mehling, “New iPaaS offerings aim to relieve the pain of SaaS and cloud integration, which has been so onerous that many organizations have pulled the plug on SaaS projects.”

However, iPaaS is only one apraoch. As Gartner analyst Benoit Lheureux relates, “A recurring theme with users integrating multiple SaaS applications is whether to put the integration solution ‘center of gravity’ on-premise – or in the cloud. And whether to implement the solution themselves – or with the help of an external provider.”

What users tend to be getting from analysts are perplexing lists of SaaS integration providers and possibilities. As Hollis Tibbetts writes of Gartner’s prescriptions for SaaS integration, “They present a bewildering array of options (not all of which are available to organizations, many which will not be available for a long time) and then just leave people potentially hanging in a state of confusion.”

SaaS integration seems to be shaping up as a replay of IT business as usual—requiring expensive service engagements performed by third-party systems integrators. This can be seen in the arms race taking place as large vendors like IBM, Cisco, Google, Dell, HP, and others gobble up the promising new vendors that have arisen to provide SaaS integration—Cast Iron Systems, Boomi, Informatica, SnapLogic, Jitterbit, et al. 

Looking at the landscape taking shape, Steve Jones warns that, “SaaS is actually a bigger challenge for integration and information management than the old ERP challenge, but most companies are entering it with the same wild-eyed wonder that companies entered the ERP/CRM decade of the 90s.
As the old saw says, the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

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Tags: SaaS
Michael Neubarth is Vice President of Marketing for and founder and Director of eMatrix Media Communications. Michael has a comprehensive marketing, communications, PR, analytical, and editorial background, including strategic marketing, communications, and market intelligence roles at IBM, FatWire Software, and Brodeur Worldwide, and as an analyst at Meta Group covering advanced technologies. His experience includes roles as editor-in-chief of Internet World, NetGuide, and Windows magazines, and expert contributor to Michael is a well-known writer on information technology, digital marketing, and social media issues, and his articles and blogs are cited widely online.


Marty Zigman Tuesday, 03 April 2012

Thank you Michael for the article. Indeed, the opportunities presented by the Cloud are being diminished by the integration challenges. I wrote an article about this which is counter to the prevailing "Best of Breed" wisdom which directly addresses what you give up when you don't select a fully integrated ERP/CRM solution.

In my mind, has done a great job serving their own interests and developing a whole ecosystem that lures the customer in but really fails to produce the vision economically compared to alternative fully-integrated approaches as presented by NetSuite.

Marty Zigman

Andrew Lampitt
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Andrew Lampitt Thursday, 05 April 2012

Michael, you hit the nail on the head. Traditional enterprise application integration problems that were never really figured out in the first place in an elegant, affordable, powerful way are becoming even more complex with SaaS applications (let alone when we add NoSQL to the mix). Industry analyst Ventana's Dave Menninger points out in his latest research that integration is top of mind for NoSQL customers (batch ETL and EAI won't work). And industry analyst Neil Raden says 'data virtualization is the map, ontology is the journey.' That's why at zAgile, we have taken a different approach for maximum interoperability, traceability, and federated search. Learn more at

Sanjiva Nath
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Sanjiva Nath Thursday, 05 April 2012

Some key characteristics of SaaS apps that compound integration challenges are 1) they share many intersecting points with each other with respect to functionality 2) they do not offer any consistent architecture or interface for integration 3) they span multiple teams and processes within an organization 4) Big Data systems make batch movement of data typically unreasonable since the data is so vast and that is compounded with multiple flavors of big data most lacking metadata 5) there is no cost-effective, contextual relevance in any standard integration approaches, i.e., you have to hard-wire how every data element is related to each other if you want a global view. This shows up in the current approaches which tend to focus on point-to-point integrations and lot of custom development and maintenance headaches. We (zAgile) are taking the approach of a central cloud-hosted ontology-based repository that can semantically reconcile information from SaaS apps using consistent interfaces but also serve each app the same unified view of information. This model-driven approach also easily allows for integration of Big data sources.

Ralph Hibbs
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Ralph Hibbs Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Michael, Great post. For your readers interested in learning more about what Gartner Analyst, Massimo Pezzini has to say about iPaaS, Dell Boomi invites them to attend a complimentary webinar we are sponsoring on April 24. Massimo Pezzini, Gartner Fellow, and Pradip Sitaram, CIO, Enterprise Business Partners will present: Integration PaaS: Enabling the Global Integrated Enterprise.

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