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Integrating with SaaS – Align Your Business and Technological Strategies

Over the last few weeks, several clients have approached us with questions on how to integrate a third party software as a service (SaaS) product with their product so that they could quickly get new features to market. For example, a third party assessment tool can be integrated to add features quickly without adding infrastructure.

In order to integrate with a third party’s SaaS product, there are a number of things to consider. These can be organized into two primary areas: business and technical. This of course assumes you have already vetted the third party for the quality and effectiveness of their solution and so we are also assuming you want the functionality they provide to augment your product.

From a business view, there are four concerns to consider.

  1. User Experience – An inspiring user experience is critical to the success of a product. As you pass users from your product to the third party product, the user experience must be simple, easy to understand and be worthy of your brand. You need to understand the brand implications of using this third party system. For example, does the third party incorporate your brand and its look and feel into their product, or is the user going to have to deal with a change in the user experience?
  2. Service Data Ownership – Typically the SaaS solution being integrated with your products will store and manage all of the data associated with that solution. This needs to be taken under consideration because you will not have direct access to that data. For example, one of our clients was looking to outsource an assessment to a third party. The issue is that the third party stores all the assessment data. Therefore, none of those answers can be used interchangeably throughout the rest of the client’s product. Also, not having that data means that you cannot do further data analysis on the answers. This may or may not be a concern, but is something that you need to be aware of.
  3. User Information Privacy – You need to decide how much of your users’ information you are able to pass on to the third party. You need to be comfortable passing some information on so that the third party is able to identify them as a unique user. You can send a random identifier that only you are able to connect the real customer data or you can share all of the information about your users. The legal and privacy implications of this decision need to be considered carefully.
  4. Usage/Analytics Data – Who has access to the data? The second item above is about the data collected as part of doing the primary function of the product, but you also need to consider the data itself. Who gets access to this data and what implications does it hold? By default, the third party will have access to this information and you won’t. Again, what are the implications to your business because you do not have this information? This information will likely be harder to get, but if you cannot analyze how your users are using the third party product, how does that impact your ability to create a truly inspiring user experience? How does this limit your ability to innovate down the road based on your users past actions?

From a technical side there are two primary concerns:

  1. System Authentication – How is the authentication between the systems completed? As users use your product, they need to be passed seamlessly to the second product, and then back to yours. Using technologies like SAML is the most workable solution to this problem, with both systems handling this standard.
  2. API Access – Accessing information and data through an API will most likely be needed. So data and information from the third-party can be easily integrated, having a RESTful API, or similar, from the third party is important. This is especially important based on how you answered the business questions above.

Overall, the business concerns take precedence over the technical. You must be careful that the long-term benefits from data and privacy aren’t lost in the urge to get something out the door quickly. On the other hand, things change so fast today that you need to partner with others in order to get things to market quickly. The important thing is to go into this understanding what you are giving up and have backup plans so that you don’t end up locked into a partnership that ends up hurting you several years down the road.

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