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Data integration platform vs custom integration

By Henning Lund - September 07, 2016

When businesses contact me about a data integration project, there’s one question they tend to ask me before anything else:

Is it best to get someone to develop a custom integration for me, or can I get my needs met with an off-the-shelf integration platform?

Businesses naturally want to minimize costs while making sure they have an effective customization. Budgets will always be an issue, but getting it right is vital too. No business wants to end up with an expensive piece of software that doesn’t do what they need it to.

With every business we work with, we spend time really getting to know their needs and figuring out together how we can best meet them. The answer is usually to recommend our data integration platform, RapidiOnline.

Surprised? It perhaps seems obvious that a custom system will be the better choice for most, but data integration platforms offer flexibility and functionality that’s hard to beat.

Are data integration platforms the cheap or expensive option?

It can be difficult to answer this question. Sometimes, when we do our initial evaluation, we’ll see that while a custom development might cost more to set up, it it’s likely to be cheaper to maintain over time.
Note the ‘likely’. The difficulty is that we can’t be sure what the maintenance costs will be as the business develops. Things change all the time as businesses grow, and that could mean that much more maintenance is needed than first appears.  

There is also the fact that custom development often only includes a small amount of, or sometimes no, additional functionality for scheduling, error handling or monitoring. These things will be included at no extra cost in an integration platform. Adding them to a custom platform after setup can be a substantial extra cost.


Why does everyone think data integration platforms are expensive?

While our own analysis tends to find that it’s cheaper for most businesses to use a platform, data integration platforms still have a reputation as being the expensive option. This is undeserved.
This reputation probably comes from the early days of data integration. The tools we used (known as ETL or extract, transform and load), were expensive, despite offering only limited functionality. This meant that custom integrations were both cheaper and more effective most of the time.

Now, things have moved on, and the tools we use include development, operational processing and integration functionality. There are are many affordable data integration options available now, for businesses small and large.

Why use a data integration platform?

Data integration platforms have made it far easier for businesses to develop a simple, effective data integration. They are fast, user-friendly and robust, often much more than custom integrations are. Anyone who’s ever developed and maintained a custom integration will know how difficult it can be to get those three things right consistently.
In their early days, data integration platforms could be tricky to implement. Now, they can be up and running in just three to 10 days.


7 benefits of data integration platforms

We’ve established that data integration platforms are generally cheaper than custom builds, but what about their other benefits? Don’t assume that a data integration platform will be one-size-fits-all. Platforms are usually highly flexible.

Data integration platforms take advantage of the fact that when a company wants to integrate systems together, they are usually already sharing some ways of working. Our own data integration platform, RapidiOnline, comes with pre-configured endpoints to integrate Salesforce with Microsoft Dynamics AX, NAV and GP.

This means that you can:

    1. Set up the integration quickly.

      There’s little point in starting from scratch with a custom integration when out-of-the-box templates can give you the functionality you need. Even if you also need some custom elements, the templates speed up the whole process significantly.

    2. Map data easily.

      Data mapping is often difficult, particularly if you’re dealing with multiple validation criteria or trying to integrate different field types. Data integration platforms have the tools needed to deal with this, built in. In a custom development, you’d have to handle everything without those tools, using up valuable time.
    3. Schedule and sequence data transfers.
You won’t necessarily need or want to transfer all your data between systems straight away. You might find that you only need to transfer some data once a day, for example. Using a platform, you’ll be able to use the standard templates included to map, schedule and sequence data transfers as you need them.

  1. Handle errors.

    The ability to handle errors is vital to successful data integration. That’s why data integration platforms usually have an automated error escalation system. RapidiOnline will send an email to the system administrator with a link to the data transfer that contains the error. That means it’s simple for the administrator to deal with the error, understand why it happened and to work to prevent more errors in future.

  2. Sync your systems.

    When you switch your platform to support mode, it’ll tell you straight away if something isn’t right with the integration.

  3. Keep your integration up-to-date.

    Custom integrations can be great when they’re first developed...but what about down the line when they need an update? It’s difficult and time-consuming to update custom systems as the code needs to be changed. That’s not the case with a platform, which has the ability to update built in.

  4. Make it grow with you.

    As your business grows, so does your integration. You can use the integrations you’ve already configured as part of new integrations, as you need them. It’s really easy to do this - far easier than with a custom integration.

Data integration platforms are hands-down the better approach for the vast majority of businesses. There will always be some businesses that need a custom-build, but a data integration platform is customizable enough that it can work as well or better for the majority.

Want to know more? We’ve put together this data integration handbook (below) to help you learn everything you need to know.

Read also: 7 steps to successful Salesforce-ERP integration
Read also: How easy is it to integrate Salesforce with your ERP?
Read also: Top challenges of ERP-CRM integration projects
Read also: 10 cases: successful ERP-CRM integration

About the author

Henning Lund

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With over 25 years’ experience in strategically propelling businesses forward, Henning is considered a business development entrepreneur with a passion for transforming businesses, sales and marketing operations through out-of-the-box thinking, concepts building and process automation to improve overall performance and scalability.


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