Native vs 3rd-party integrations: how to decide between them
If you’re reading this article, you likely already know that customer-facing integrations are critical to your business.
They can differentiate your product and allow you to close more deals; enable clients to see more value from your product and, as a result, make them more inclined to renew; help you move upmarket—and much more.
The question isn’t if you should build product integrations—it’s how. In other words, it’s deciding between scoping, building, and maintaining API integrations in-house (what’s commonly referred to as native integrations) or using a 3rd-party solution.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. That said, we can help you navigate this decision by breaking down the pros and cons of each approach.
Before we do, let’s align on how application programming interfaces (APIs) work and dive deeper on the definitions of native and 3rd-party integrations.
How API integrations work
APIs allow software applications to communicate with one another through a specific set of rules and protocols. There are two parties involved in the exchange; a client application makes the requests and another application receives and responds to them via its server.
APIs typically come in one of two forms: simple object access protocol (SOAP) or representational state transfer (REST). The former is a protocol while the latter consists of architectural principles and is more widely adopted.
There are a few components to an API request: the endpoint (i.e. the base url and the path); the method (e.g. GET); the header, which provides additional context on the request and can include the API key for authentication; and the body, which is typically used when data needs to be sent to the API endpoint.
The API response will include the HTTP status code to signal whether the request was successful or not (and why it wasn’t) and the appropriate response (via the response header and body), assuming the request was formatted correctly.
Related: How integrations and APIs differ
What are native integrations?
Native integrations are integrations that your employees (typically developers) implement and maintain internally.
Related: How point-to-point integrations work
Pros and cons of native integrations
Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of this approach:
- Provides time and cost savings from not engaging with a 3rd-party
- Can prove sufficient if you don’t need to integrate with many products, the integrations are shallow in scope, and you have significant engineering resources available to allocate toward integration initiatives
- Minimizes security and legal risks associated with allowing 3rd-parties to collect and store sensitive data
- Requires extensive time and effort to build and maintain a single integration (let alone several). As a result, they can quickly overburden your developers and prevent them from focusing on other core product initiatives
- Difficult to scale the number of integrations you offer
- Forces you to become heavily reliant on specific developers for key integrations. If they leave, they may take important information on the integrations they’ve built with them (causing issues down the line for fixing and enhancing these integrations)
What are 3rd-party integrations?
3rd-party integrations are any your organization builds with another company. Your options typically fall in three buckets: an embedded integration platform as a service (iPaaS), a unified API solution, or an integration marketplace as a service (iMaaS).
Pros and cons of 3rd-party integrations
Here are some reasons to invest in as well as stay away from 3rd-party integrations:
Note: These pros and cons largely depend on the category of solution you use and the specific vendor you choose within that category.
- Can free up your engineers and allow them to focus on tasks that they’re uniquely suited to perform (e.g. developing new features for your product)
- May let you scale your integrations quickly (this is especially the case with unified APIs)
- Can provide features that help your team monitor, troubleshoot, and address integration issues
- Often requires technical expertise to use a 3rd-party platform, which ends up pushing your engineers to continue investing extensive time on integration initiatives
- Might fail to provide the integrations you want, or not allow you to access the objects and fields you need
- Some vendors don’t take enough measures to protect your clients’ data and keep it anonymous
Given the pros and cons of both native and 3rd-party builds, it can be difficult to decide on your approach. To make it easier, we’ve provided a direct, concise comparison below.
Related: A guide to 3rd-party integrations
3rd-party vs native integrations
Generally speaking, you should outsource your integrations if you need to implement several, quickly. On the other hand, it can make sense to implement integrations natively when there’s only a few you need to build and they don’t have demanding requirements.
Use Merge to build best-in-class product integrations—at scale
Merge, the leading unified API platform, offers all the benefits of 3rd-party integrations while avoiding their drawbacks.
The platform lets you implement hundreds of customer-facing integrations with a single API build, identify and address integration issues with ease, access both standard and custom objects and data, and much, much more.
Learn more about Merge by scheduling a demo with one of our integration experts.