Have You Integrated to [???] Before
Over the past decade, we have seen salesforce.com deployments with associated integrations go from less than 5% of deployments to as much as 50% of deployments. Consequently, one of the most common questions that clients ask is, "Have you integrated to [fill in your system] before?" Its a great question and who wouldn't want to hire a firm that had proven experience integrating a specific system to salesforce? There is a problem with the question, particularly when it is the ONLY question that is being used to select an implementation partner. Very often, partners are sought that have this specific experience and other qualified firms are excluded based solely on this criteria. Take the example of a client asking, "Have you ever integrated to Great Plains Financials before?"
Even if the service provider says "yes"...
- it is likely or possible the client is using a different version of Great Plains Financials.
- it is probable that the client's Great Plains system is configured differently than that of the inquiring client.
- it is most certain that each client's business processes are different.
- it is possible that the desired integration technology (web services, middleware, custom code, FTP, etc) was different on other projects based on client-specific requirements.
- it is likely or possible that they may have different expectations of what they mean by "integration". For example, the integration the service provider did may have been a one-way sync of invoices; while the subject customer who is making the inquiry wants bi-directional sync of the account master, quotes and invoices.
Through thousands of salesforce.com initiatives we have been involved, we have learned that asking and understanding the issues above, being able to understand the clients true business process and requirements and helping make good technology recommendations are as important if not more important than having integrated to a specific platform before. The biggest reason for that is most clients don't want you touching their core data. They will provide an API, a web service, a read-only view to a database or an output file and have you integrate with one or more of these items. The client will have internal (or external resources) that are well versed in their system. What they are looking for without really knowing what to ask, are salesforce.com integration experts - which know salesforce.com and the Force.com cloud platform in-side and out, that masters of business process discovery, and that understand techniques of web services, API integration and ODBC compliant databases such as SQL, Oracle and DB2.
If you have any questions about integrating your back-office or other enterprise systems with salesforce.com, give us a shout.
See our article that discusses integration with Quickbooks for seven questions that we would ask a client that wanted to know about integration to Quickbooks (and substitute your platform - the questions are probably still the same).