Without exception, every Salesforce project I’ve managed over the past several years has involved some data integration. Integration is the name of the game: providing more efficient, streamlined processes and better customer insight. This can translate into lower costs and higher sales so its well worth the investment.
However, the majority of these projects experienced delays, changes in direction mid-stream, or bottlenecks that could have been avoided through some knowledge and advance preparation. Whether it’s a simple single nightly feed or a complex, multi-system integration, there are 4 important areas to prepare for when integrating your data with Salesforce.
1. Middleware Tool Selection. Customers new to the Salesforce platform often have a misperception that they can produce a data file from their back office systems, save it onto a ftp site and that Salesforce can then pick it up and load it. This is not the case. In order to load data from other systems automatically into Salesforce, you will need to either consider purchasing licenses to a Middleware Tool, leverage an ETL tool you already have in house, or have developers write custom interfaces leveraging one of the Salesforce API’s. The option we frequently recommend is to purchase licenses to a Middleware Tool such as Informatica, IBM’s Cast Iron or Dell Boomi, for these reasons:
- Development effort. With a proven tool from the Salesforce eco-system, you can cut development time, and often cost, to your project compared to an in-house ETL tool or custom interfaces.
- Support and maintenance. Middleware Tools provide an easy-to-use point and click interface that your IT staff can learn to maintain. Custom developed interfaces are harder to modify, requiring very specific technical skills. Plus, if administrators are not careful, minor changes to the application configuration can easily break custom interfaces.
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2. IT Security & Compliance. If your company is in a regulated industry, it’s important to start the conversation early with IT Security and Compliance departments. Getting over these hurdles will help avoid disruption and delays to your project. Many regulated companies are still fairly new to the Cloud and may have certain standards that need to be adhered to. Also, a secure agent may need to be installed on a machine with access to the system or files, depending on the method you choose, so plan for this early to get ahead of the game.
3. Roles & Responsibilities. You will need to get the right people involved from your organization to ensure a successful integration.
- Business representative(s): These folks need to define what data they want coming into/out of Salesforce and how often (Near real-time? Daily? Monthly?). It’s important for these individuals to remember that Salesforce is a CRM, it is not meant to replace order management or ERP systems, a data warehouse or a true BI application. Generally speaking, think about summarized data that will help your sales or service reps in their account or case management coming into Salesforce, or account and order set-up feeding into your back office systems. Don’t try to reproduce your data warehouse in Salesforce, you will have data storage limitations, governor limits and potentially performance issues with high volumes of data. You may want to consider alternatives to loading the data in Salesforce such as webtabs to other web-enabled systems or iFrames to provide a window into another application from within Salesforce. Our teams can help you with options.
- IT representative(s): You will need someone who knows the other systems at a field (column) level. They will need to provide the details of what is/is not possible and any gotchas regarding timing or system/data limitations. If you are using an in-house ETL tool then you will also need to secure architect and development resources who understand the source systems as well as those who can design, build, test and deploy their code. Your IT resources will also need to set up development environment(s) and potentially install new software. If you are integrating with multiple systems, an architect who can help define the sequencing of all the integrations will be a big help.
- Testing: Plan for an integration testing lead and someone to define and run the tests. Integration testing can take several days to several weeks depending on the scale of your solution. You need to ensure the data is making it properly into every system and sift through and solve any errors while in a development environment so the transition to production is smooth, your users don’t experience bad or missing data and your business doesn’t experience any disruption.
- Sponsorship: You will need to identify an individual who is the ultimate decision-maker when it comes down to weighing options and ROI. It is common for business stakeholders to want more than is feasible in the first phase.
- Project Manager: While Perficient can bring strong project management to help you with your project, you will also need someone to plan and manage the tasks of all these other individuals within your organization.
4. Data Quality. Last, but definitely not least, if the data you want to integrate with Salesforce is messy, it’s of little value unless it is first cleaned up. You may need to consider first spending time and resources on addressing this problem. For some companies, it may involve a project to define who is the customer, to develop a customer master and determine the ultimate system of record. This is a particular issue in healthcare and retail, but every company I’ve worked with has had data quality issues that had to be contended with. We also have expertise in this area.
In closing, while every project has had its hurdles to get over with regards to integration, they have seen tremendous benefits from the results: their CRM is no longer a silo, and in this age of big data and the increased pace of business, it’s a necessity for survival and growth.