What is a bidirectional sync? Here’s what you should know

As you look to build data syncs, either with your internal systems or between your product and clients’ applications, you may need data updates to occur across all of the connected systems; in other words, you may need to implement bidirectional syncs.

To help you suss out the scenarios that suit bidirectional syncs best, we’ll cover common examples. We’ll also break down the benefits of two-way, or bidirectional syncs, to help you gauge whether it’s a fit for your business needs.  

But first, let’s define a bidirectional sync, otherwise known a two-way API integration.

Definition of a bidirectional sync 

It’s the process of synchronizing data between two applications in both directions. This means that changes made in one application are automatically reflected in the other, and vice versa. 

Illustration of a bidirectional sync

Unlike a unidirectional, or one-way, sync, where data flows in only one direction, bidirectional sync ensures that both systems maintain an up-to-date and consistent state.

Related: What is SaaS integration?

Common bidirectional synchronization use cases

Let’s review some bidirectional synchronization examples for both internal (first two examples) and customer-facing (last two examples) scenarios. 

Keep lead data consistent between your marketing automation tool and your CRM

Once a lead is passed on to a sales rep, your marketing team will want to know how that lead is followed-up with and whether they’re moving closer toward becoming a client. It’s only then that marketing can take appropriate, timely action on their end. For instance, if a lead ends up being marked as "closed-lost" for a particular reason, marketing can add them to a specific closed-lost campaign in the hopes of convincing them to reconsider their decision.

Similarly, the more context sales has on the marketing activities/resources that resonated with their leads (e.g. the ebooks they download), the better positioned sales is to respond to their leads effectively. 

To help each team gather all of the critical insights they need from their cross-functional partners over time, you can integrate the tool your marketing team relies on (your marketing automation platform) with the solution sales uses (your CRM) and sync leads, along with a variety of fields, bidirectionally between the two solutions.

Enable your engineering and customer-facing employees to collaborate effectively

Whenever a customer-facing employee, like a support agent or a customer success manager (CSM), comes across an issue that they themselves can’t solve (e.g. product bug), they’ll likely need to file a ticket for their engineering team. 

However, the customer-facing employee won’t just want to submit the ticket and move on with their day. Since the affected client(s) may ask them for updates, the customer-facing employee will want to track the ticket as engineering works on it. 

To help facilitate this, you can connect your customer-facing employee’s ticketing tool (e.g. Zendesk) with engineering’s (e.g. GitHub) and build a two-way sync where any time a ticket and its associated fields are updated in one application, the ticket in the other application is updated accordingly.

Assign employees with the appropriate set of training over time

Say you offer a learning management system (LMS) that helps employers design, assign, and analyze a variety of employee training. This can include sexual harassment, security, product-specific trainings, among others.

To ensure that your product is able to assign the right training to the right employee on time, it’ll need to collect key information from your clients’ HRIS systems, such as employees’ start dates, job titles, and addresses. 

At the same time, when your clients’ employees complete—or fail to complete—their assigned training, there should be an easy way for clients to add this information to their HRIS solutions so that they’re able to keep tabs on their employees' progress.  

To help you accomplish both workflows described above, you can simply integrate your LMS with clients’ HRIS solutions and sync employees, specific employee fields, and training-related fields between the applications.

Help clients source, route, and nurture leads

Now, let’s imagine that you offer a solution that can help clients identify new leads. 

To ensure that your recommended leads are found and acted on, you offer integrations with clients’ CRM and marketing automation platforms (this ensures that any leads that are accepted by the client get added to the client's marketing automation solution and/or CRM automatically). Moreover, to give your product the feedback it needs to refine its recommendations over time, your product also collects data on the leads it recommended from these applications. Namely, whether the leads closed and, if they did, how much they closed for.

Related: Examples of syncing data

The benefits of bidirectional syncs

Here are just a few benefits to keep in mind:

  • Data consistency: By automatically updating each system with the latest changes from the other, the risk of data discrepancies that can lead to errors and misinformed decisions are reduced.
  • Increased productivity: Individuals don't have to waste time manually updating information in multiple locations, which can be both time-consuming and prone to errors.
  • Improved collaboration: All members of a team should have access to the latest versions of documents or project files, which should enhance teamwork and productivity.
  • Enhanced user experience: For users who operate multiple devices, bidirectional sync offers a smooth and consistent experience. Whether they are switching from a desktop to a mobile device, or vice versa, they can pick up right where they left off without any data mismatches.
  • Provides a data backup: If one system fails or data is lost, the synchronized counterpart can act as a backup, reducing the risk of total data loss.
  • Flexibility and scalability: As businesses grow and their data needs evolve, bidirectional sync provides the flexibility to integrate new systems and scale up operations without disrupting existing data workflows.
  • Conflict resolution: Integration middleware solutions that offer bidirectional syncs may come equipped with conflict resolution mechanisms. This means that if the same data is modified in two different systems at the same time, the solution can resolve these conflicts according to predefined rules, ensuring data integrity.
  • Real-time updates: Using webhooks, bidirectional syncs can occur in real-time—ensuring your employees can access the data they need, when they need it. 
  • Customization and control: Integration middleware solutions may also offer customization options, allowing organizations to set rules and parameters on how data is synced, including frequency, data types, and priority settings.

Best practices when building bidirectional syncs

Before you start building bidirectional syncs, consider incorporating the following best practices:

  • Build out logging and alerting processes. Integration issues will, undoubtedly, happen. Whenever they take place, your team needs to be able to pinpoint the issue quickly, understand its cause, and work on resolving it as soon as possible. Through tools like Splunk, Datadog, and Postman, you can build out an error-handling process that enables your team to do just that.
  • Develop comprehensive internal documentation on the bidirectional sync. To help future engineers understand the integration—so that they can fix and/or improve it in the future, should you leave the company—you can share the goal of the sync, how often it runs, who it affects, the code you’ve built, etc.

Performing this work in-house is extremely resource intensive, complex, and takes your engineers away from the work they’re uniquely suited to perform (i.e. building out and improving your core product). With all that said, you should look to outsource a significant share of your product integrations to a 3rd-party tool, such as a unified API solution.

Offer bidirectional syncs with your product through Merge

In the context of customer-facing integrations, you’ll likely need to offer clients a wide range of integrations that support bidirectional syncs. 

To meet these needs over time, you can leverage Merge, the leading unified API solution. 

Learn how Merge lets you offer hundreds of integrations that support bidirectional syncs and can help you maintain and manage your integrations with ease by scheduling a demo with one of our integration experts.