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When multi-SaaS integration is a repeat offender

As legacy applications from the on-premises datacenter are retired and replaced by cloud-based software-as-a-service subscriptions, those services need to be integrated. That’s the job of developers, armed with APIs and working under the aegis of the CIO. It’s all very tidy. But, what about integrating SaaS implementations that secretly came in through the back door without IT ever being aware? And what about when you find yourself in the crazy scenario of connecting a dozen instances of the very same SaaS?

It happens more often than you’d think, according to Liz Herbert, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. We’re all aware that different SaaS implementations, such as CRM, order fulfillment, payroll, inventory management, and others need to be integrated. That’s neither news nor fodder for an opinion column. Much more interesting is that we never think about is the need to integrate multiple copies of the same SaaS.

“In a large enterprise, it is not uncommon to have 12 instances of Salesforce that are unaware of each other, usually because each one was brought in separately under the radar,” Herbert observed. It’s yet another aspect of that phenomenon we’ve come to know as Shadow IT or Citizen IT.

It happens because line-of-business departments want to do their own thing and not wait for IT to work its way down a list of pending projects. It can happen because IT doesn’t have the budget. Or because there’s a roadblock with a legacy CIO who thinks in legacy terms. It can happen because a department manager gets wind of what a different department is doing, likes the idea, but goes with his or her personal twist.

Typically, these SaaS instances become known to IT months after they were initiated, when the department manager asks IT to take over management and administration. Whether they conform to the corporate policies on security or governance was never considered — until now.

To be fair, this is not always due to illicit SaaS sign-ups. A more above-board scenario is when businesses go on acquisition sprees and have to meld all the pieces into a unified whole. Though each might use the same payroll processing SaaS, it’s a good bet that no two implementations are identical. That’s more likely to become an official IT project even though the same-but-different integration issues persist.

Have you found yourself in the midst of integrating multiple copies of the same SaaS? If so, we’d like to hear about your adventures in the discussion thread. And remember, it’s not just your organization. When it comes to cloud computing, “I thought it was just us” simply doesn’t apply.