What is software integration? Here’s what you need to know
As organizations adopt an ever-growing number of applications, they’ll need them to work together effectively.
The key way to facilitate this is by integrating the applications and building data flows that work across them.
We’ll break down how this can work in practice by breaking down several examples. We’ll also share the tools you can use to build these integrations and the specific benefits that come from building them. But first, let’s align on the definition of software integration.
Software integration definition
It’s the process of connecting software, typically using APIs, in order to facilitate a seamless exchange of data. These connections can be built across your internal systems or between your product and the applications your clients use.
Related: What is SaaS integration?
Software integration examples
Let’s break down common integration examples for internal and customer-facing scenarios.
Software integration examples for internal applications
Here are just a few ways to integrate your internal systems:
Create employees in your HRIS seamlessly and quickly
Once a candidate signs their offer letter, you’ll want to add them to your human resources information system (HRIS) as soon as possible to kickstart their onboarding process.
To help facilitate this, you can connect your HRIS with your ATS and build a workflow where once a candidate is marked as hired in your applicant tracking system (ATS), they’re automatically added as an employee in your HRIS. In addition, you can sync specific fields for that employee to ensure that all the pertinent information gets captured in your HRIS.
Automatically enrich new leads
As your team collects leads, you’ll need to determine which are a good fit for your organization. Moreover, you’ll need to determine the right messaging, campaigns and/or nurture sequences for each lead in order to nurture them successfully.
With this in mind, you can connect your marketing automation platform (e.g. HubSpot) with a data enrichment tool (e.g. Clearbit) and build the following data flow: Any time a new lead comes in, the data enrichment tool performs an email lookup to determine various insights on the lead, such as their employer’s size, industry, location, etc. These insights are then added to the lead's profile in the marketing automation tool.
Share tickets with the appropriate teams in your business communications platform
To help your employees become aware of time-sensitive tasks on time and begin executing them successfully, you can integrate your ticketing tool (e.g. Zendesk) with the application your employees are already working in—your business communications platform (e.g. Slack).
More specifically, you can build a workflow where any time a new ticket gets created or updated, the appropriate channel gets notified. The notification can include details on the ticket, all but ensuring your team has all of the context they need to begin executing the task.
Software integration examples that are customer-facing
Here are some popular ways to leverage customer-facing integrations (i.e. product integrations):
Help clients provision and deprovision users in your product with ease
Forcing clients to manually add or remove users isn’t just time consuming—it can lead to costly human errors. For example, an employee can be provisioned with the wrong set of permissions, allowing them to access actions and/or information that isn’t meant for them. In addition, employees who leave may not get deprovisioned, leading them to potentially use the data in your product in ways that compromise your business and/or your client's.
To help minimize these issues, you can integrate with clients’ HRIS systems and build a sync where any time an employee gets added to a client’s HRIS solution, they’re also added in your product with the appropriate role (which depends on the auto-assigning logic the clients sets up in your product). Similarly, if the employee is removed from the HRIS, they’re also removed from your product immediately.
Create tickets based on activities that occur in your product
Let’s assume that your product helps organizations monitor and detect a wide range of security vulnerabilities.
To help your clients identify these vulnerabilities on time and work to resolve them with little delay, you can connect your product with clients’ ticketing systems.
Once connected, you can build a sync where any time a specific kind of issue gets detected, a corresponding ticket gets created in the ticketing system. The ticket can also include relevant context from your product to help your clients take the right set of actions from the get-go.
Provide AI-powered search functionality in your product with integration data
As users work in your product, they’re likely to benefit from accessing specific search functionality, whether that’s to find documents or information.
To help ensure that you not only provide a search bar but also one that yields highly-relevant and powerful responses, you can use product integration data.
For example, Assembly, which offers a variety of HR solutions, integrated their product with their clients’ file storage applications. Using the documents and the information provided in them, they were able to release an intelligent search experience—which they’ve dubbed “Dora AI”.
Using the file storage integrations, Dora AI can provide direct answers to employees’ questions and share the specific documents these answers came from. This not only helps employees get accurate answers with ease but it also gives them confidence in the responses.
Software integration benefits
Let’s break down the benefits for each type of software integration.
Benefits of Software integration for internal use cases
Here are just a few of the top benefits:
Removes data silos
Since employees can access the data they need within the applications they’re already using, they no longer have to ask their colleagues for it or assume it doesn’t exist (since it isn’t in their systems). In addition, employees can access the same set of information, regardless of the application they use, ensuring your team members work together effectively.
Prevents human errors
Manually copying and pasting data across applications is naturally an error-prone process. Sometimes these errors can have minimal impact on the business, but in many cases it has a lasting effect. For instance, a recruiter can accidentally input the wrong salary for a candidate in the ATS solution, leading the candidate to receive an offer letter that has an inflated salary.
Improves the employee experience
App hopping and data entry aren’t just error-prone tasks; they disrupt employee productivity, as they’re time consuming to perform and take employees out of their “flow”. This, combined with the fact that app hopping and data entry are, naturally, unpleasant tasks to perform, can lead to unproductive, uninspired, and bored employees.
Since software integrations can sync data across the connected applications automatically, your employees can focus more on the strategic, thoughtful work they were hired to perform.
Related: The top benefits of API integration
Benefits of software integration for customer-facing use cases
Let’s take a look at the benefits of offering product integrations:
Improves your retention rate
By allowing clients to build integrations with your product, you’re able to deliver more value to them in several ways.
This can be automatically adding or removing users, enriching your in-product analytics, upleveling your AI capabilities, etc. Over time, these improvements should translate to higher customer retention across your client base.
Raises your close rates
As prospects evaluate your product against your rivals, they likely have a host of criteria to guide their decision.
Near the top of that list is, according to Gartner’s research, seamless product integrations. Therefore, if you can differentiate your product via your integrations, you’re more likely to stand out and close new business.
Increases your total addressable market (TAM)
Organizations across different regions, sizes, and industries often use a unique set of applications within a given category of software.
If you can offer integrations that cater to your target markets’ wants and needs, you can—similar to the previous benefit—stand out and get traction more easily.
Tactics for developing your software integration strategy
You’ll need to take specific steps to form and fine tune your integration strategy, whether that’s for customer-facing or internal integrations.
Let’s cover some of these steps for both integration scenarios.
Tactics for forming your customer-facing integration strategy
- Mine customer and prospect demand for specific integrations. While your customer-facing teams can collect anecdotal feedback and add it to your internal systems, it’s likely more scalable and easier for your team if you asked for feedback via surveys. Once the responses come back, your team can prioritize the integrations and add them to your roadmap.
- Analyze your integrations’ adoption and impact over time. Your product integrations aren’t a “set it and forget it” type of task; each integration requires constant maintenance and management over time. With that in mind, you’ll need to ensure that each integration offers a high enough return to justify your team’s time and/or investment in tooling to provide it. To help you do just that, you can reassess each integration every 6 months to gauge its current ROI, momentum in adoption, and feedback from clients.
- Review your competitors’ integrations. Understanding the specific integrations your competitors provide and the integration overlap across them can help you pinpoint any gaps in your integrations and reassess your priorities. Fortunately, performing competitive analysis is fairly easy; simply review your competitors’ integration marketplaces to see which integrations they offer and plan to release soon.
Tactics for forming your internal integration strategy
- Determine your specific goals from integrations. Internal integrations can deliver a broad range of benefits, and, based on the benefits you’re prioritizing, you’ll be better suited to determine who and how you can build them. For instance, if you’re focused on innovation and a fast time-to-value, you should open up integration development to a wide range of builders who have expertise in specific tools and processes (e.g. lead routing).
- Assess the potential ROI from each integration opportunity. Not all integrations are created equal. You should assess the KPIs each integration aims to influence and, based on the affected team’s input, determine the extent to which the integration will improve those KPIs.
- Take stock of your internal resources. Certain internal integrations can be easier to build and maintain than others, depending (among other factors) on the internal resources that are available. For instance, if you have a large marketing operations team that has the bandwidth and expertise to support go-to-market integrations, that may need to be prioritized over, say, HR integrations if your HR team has limited bandwidth to participate.
Software integration tools
Once you’ve decided to build integrations with a 3rd-party tool—as opposed to building integrations natively, or through your engineers—, you can consider the following tools for internal and customer-facing scenarios.
Software integration tools for internal use cases
Here are some popular options to consider:
Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) solution
An iPaaS is a cloud-based solution that lets you integration cloud and on-prem applications and develop data flows that work across them.
These tools offer versatility, as many vendors also provide an embedded offering, API management features, and file-based integration capabilities. Their integrations are also fairly reliable, as API-based connections are generally resilient.
However, nearly all iPaaS solutions require significant technical expertise to use. This often results in your engineers having to become familiar with the solution and use it on behalf of the rest of the organization.
Robotic process automation (RPA) software
RPA tools use software scripts, or “bots”, to mimic human tasks at the UI level. This can be copying and pasting data between applications, validating data based on publicly-available information, scraping information from PDFs and adding it to a specific location, etc.
RPA tools are useful in that they don’t require APIs; their bots simply work at the UI-level. That said, since UIs change frequently, the bots are prone to breaking. Moreover, the bots can be difficult to build, oversee, and fix, which makes the tool difficult to use long-term.
Software integration tools for customer-facing use cases
As you look to build product integrations, you’re likely looking at the following 3rd-party applications:
Embedded iPaaS solution
An embedded iPaaS is simply an iPaaS that can be embedded into a client’s product.
Like an iPaaS, the tool often requires technical expertise to use, which inherently limits the number of builders it supports. In addition, it only lets you build one integration at a time, which can prevent you from scaling on the platform (you may need to build dozens, if not hundreds, of integrations). And finally, the platform lacks the integration management capabilities you need to quickly diagnose and address issues.
Unified API platforms
A unified API solution (also known as a universal API solution) lets you build to a single API to access a whole category of integrations.
In addition, using Merge—the leading unified API platform—, you can access hundreds of integrations, sync a broad set of data via Merge’s Common Models, handle integrations with ease using Merge’s fully-searchable logs and automated issue detection, and much more.
Learn more about Merge by scheduling a demo with one of our integration experts.
Software integration FAQ
In case you have more questions on software integration, we’ve tackled several commonly-asked ones below.
What is the software integration process?
The process is inherently different for every business and integration build, but there are a few common steps you’ll likely want to take.
- Outline the goals of the software integration. Once you know what you’re hoping to accomplish from a given integration project, you’ll be better positioned to design the build; this includes everything from identifying the applications that need to be involved to the endpoints that need to be accessed to the integration method that needs to be used.
- Develop a detailed implementation plan. The plan can include details like who’s participating in the project, what their role entails, potential obstacles (and how you can overcome each), the timeline for reaching various milestones, and more. This plan can not only keep everyone aligned from the get-go but it can also help your team assess their progress over time and stay accountable.
- Implement an error handling process for the integration. Every integration will break. When it does, you’ll need to have an error handling process in place that can help your team identify the issue, diagnose it, and resolve it as quickly as possible. It’s also worth outlining the error handling process in your implementation plan and/or in other internal documentation. That way, your team can quickly get up to speed on an error handling process or be reminded of it if they forget how it works.
- Test the integration before pushing it to production. Each test evaluates a different aspect of the integration’s performance, so it’s worth performing several. Common integration tests you’ll likely want to perform include scale testing, load testing, and security testing.
- Continuously monitor the integration to pinpoint areas of improvement. Your integrations will likely perform in unexpected and, perhaps, undesirable ways once they’re live. To assess each integration’s performance effectively, you can task specific engineers with monitoring the integration soon after it’s live. And once it appears stable, they can go on to set specific, recurring reminders to review the integration—such as once a month.
How do you decide between building a software integration in-house and outsourcing it to a 3rd-party?
It depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the build, the integration’s value to your business, the resources at your disposal, and the other integrations you need to implement and maintain.
Generally speaking, the more straightforward the build is, the more critical it is to your business, and the more resources you have to build and maintain it, the more inclined you should be to implement and maintain it in-house.
What are the different types of software integration?
You have several methods to choose from; the “best approach” for a given integration scenario depends on the integration’s performance requirements and the applications that are involved.
Your options include APIs, webhooks, screen scraping, files, database sharing, and message queues.