Integrating SaaS to the Enterprise with SOA

Integrating the hot, new SaaS application into a company can often be a challenging undertaking.  The SaaS application was acquired for a pressing departmental need, yet manually re-inputting and syncing key data like employee, vendor or supplier master directories is not practical.  Manually coordinating a sale by the customer saying "yes" with a win recorded in the sales force automation tool yet hand crafting delivery instructions in the order module of the ERP is not really a sustainable business process at scale.

So what often happens is the need to build a systematic data feed between the SaaS application delivered over the Internet and the hardened, sometimes "glass house" enterprise applications.  Getting technology to move and translate the data is the easy part.  Doing so in a secure, auditable, and sustainable matter is another task all together.  In this post, I will share my opinion on the most effective way to meet the integration and quick setup needs of a departmental SaaS deployment while balancing that with the enterprise requirements of a secure, scalable and reusable interface to enterprise data platforms.

The key starting point to getting the new SaaS application up and running for the end-users quickly and preserving the integrity of the enterprise system is to reuse an established interface.  Delivering a common service interface (such as through a SOAP web service) to major enterprise data sources such as customer, product, employee, and vendor master directories as well as transaction systems for things such as orders, invoices, and ship notices provide the means to effectively share those data types over many consuming SaaS destinations.

SaaS applications as they rise in popularity in the market and within a company will popup like new flowers in spring time.  Without reuse, each SaaS application deployment in each department is an entirely new IT integration project which needs to be funded, staffed, designed, coded, tested and deployed.  An entirely new interface re-build will slow or potentially stall a department's SaaS application deployment.  Also, each time a new data interface is created directly between something like the enterprise employee master directory and a particular department, an incremental line item has been added to the IT budget which needs to be sustained over time reducing available net capacity for the next pressing business need.

With the service interface approach, there is a shared interface from which 1/2 the integration problem is solved (mostly) one time.  A SOAP web service directly on the enterprise application or through an intermediary such as Intel SOA Expressway, a data mart or application server becomes the reusable interface between the enterprise applications and SaaS deployments.  This shared interface gives speed to the SaaS deployment and provides enterprise IT with a common, visible "channel" to key data.  Through this "channel" transactions are monitored, managed, and secured delivering on the governance requirement of the enterprise while at the same time achieving a time to release and a cost point which can't be matched by a direct interface approach.

Implementing this service interface with a SOA "soft appliance" intermediary like Intel SOA Expressway provides even more benefits.  First, SOA Expressway's runtime container makes it easy to expose the data from various enterprise applications and databases as a service through configuration rather than hand crafting code in a programming language.  Second, SOA Expressway's performance and scalability characteristics make it possible to support high-data volume and low-latency requirements from a common platform and not requiring "extra steps" or infrastructure in cases where scale and performance matters most.  Finally, SOA Expressway's mediation capability allows policy to be configured and changed to handle various logging, security, and content routing / selective translation scenarios without having to re-implement established interfaces between sources and destinations of data.

Thanks for getting this far.  I look forward to hearing your approach to integrating SaaS into your enterprise and what challenges and key learnings about what works you have uncovered.


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