It used to be that integrating data across different applications required an unnatural act involving complicated pieces of middleware. In recent times, accomplishing that act has become easier thanks to lighter-weight middleware based on standard Web services and RESTful APIs. But even still, accomplishing that task still requires the skills of a developer. In contrast, the next revolution in data integration is going to be characterized by business users integrating data across applications on their own at will.
That’s the ultimate end goal of the data integration technologies being developed by Salesforce.com. According to Quinton Wall, director of technical platform marketing for Salesforce.com, the company created technologies such as streaming APIs to allow business users to more easily reach that “aha moment” where all the data their organization collects has material business value because it’s now easier to correlate information across Salesforce.com and other applications.
Historically, in order to achieve that “aha moment” business users were dependent on the IT department to query databases using carefully crafted code. Once that answer was obtained, however, the next logical question that the business user would want to ask would require more careful crafting of code. It’s not too long before a few hundred business users with thousands of queries overwhelm the IT organization.
To give business users more control Wall says that Salesforce has been developing a metadata model around the information stored in its databases that makes the information in its namesake customer relationship management (CRM) application not only more accessible, but actually more malleable. As that capability continues to mature, Wall says the ability to identify what records in the database are related to what information becomes more automated. In addition, Wall says in time records in the databases will become more “social” in that as new information is collected, the database itself in real time will be able to provide additional insight and even actual recommendations. Most significantly, all of this can happen in an application centric way that is easily accessible to the end user, versus an approach that requires direct intervention from an IT department and a small army of developers.
In fact, it’s that accessibility that helped convinced Indicee to build a cloud-based analytics application for the Chatter social networking component of Salesforce.com. According to Indicee CEO Mark Cunningham, is designed to not only help organizations track opportunities and increase CRM adoption by making it apparent who in the organization is not only using the application, it also shows how proficient each particular Chatter user is with the application. All that can be easily accomplished with a minimal amount of professional services because of the way Salesforce makes data accessible to third-party applications, says Cunningham.
Salesforce is hardly the only application vendor working to make integration simpler by making broader use of metadata. But in comparison to other vendors, it’s a farther along if for no other reason than its customers tend to be business users trying to access corporate data residing in other applications with little to no support from an internal IT department. That doesn’t necessarily preclude the use of other middleware technologies to access that corporate data. But for the mostpart it generally means that in terms of data integration in the enterprise, the assumption should be that the Salesforce CRM system isn’t the highest application on the internal IT list of project priorities. The good news, says Wall, is that because a new era of data integration democratization is upon us, that may not matter as much as it once did.