Most B2B software companies recognize integrations as a critical part of their overall product offering. Business customers, whose technology ecosystems typically comprise tens or even hundreds of applications, demand integrations with the other applications they use. They’re seeking to automate workflows, create smooth processes for end users, connect data from multiple sources, and generally increase productivity. As business customers’ application portfolios continue to grow, so does the expectation for B2B software vendors to provide numerous, robust integrations ranging from simple and standard to complex and bespoke.
While integrations are essential to a competitive offering, providing them is a complex and challenging task. Teams building integrations face the technical challenges of connecting to unfamiliar applications requiring a variety of integration protocols, data formats, and authorization methods, as well as non-technical challenges such as unclear user requirements, lack of third-party documentation, and the inherent difficulty of collaborating with multiple parties. They must also test integrations, set up infrastructure to run them, configure them for deployment to the appropriate customers, update them as customer needs and third-party APIs evolve, handle versioning, troubleshoot and fix problems, and provide day-to-day monitoring and support.
All of this work must be done at scale, yet most teams lack the tools and repeatable processes to do so efficiently. Depending on the industry, it’s not unusual for software teams to develop integrations to hundreds of different third-party applications.
Taken all together, providing integrations is highly time-consuming and diverts significant R&D capacity away from core product initiatives. Furthermore, despite all that time and cost, the resulting integrations often fail to achieve the desired impacts on user experience and customer satisfaction.
An integration platform designed for B2B software companies provides a set of tools that makes it easier to build, deploy, and support integrations between the company’s own software product and the other applications their customers use. This white paper explores how implementing an integration platform can decrease costs, increase revenue, and minimize customer churn.
The most straightforward and compelling reason to implement an integration platform is that it substantially decreases the time, and therefore the cost, required to provide integrations to business customers.
Providing integrations is extremely costly. Most B2B software leaders can easily query their product management system to determine the number of hours their developers spend each month building integrations. For many companies, a reduction in that number alone justifies the cost of an integration platform, especially given the high cost of software developers' time. After factoring in developers’ time spent on other integration work like infrastructure, deployment, and troubleshooting, as well as time other departments spend on integration work, the full cost of providing integrations comes into focus. This makes clear the huge potential for savings if integration work could be performed more efficiently.
A comprehensive integration platform addresses challenges B2B software teams commonly encounter throughout the build-deploy-support integration lifecycle. This produces time and cost savings in several areas:
- Building integrations faster
- Spending less time on integration rework
- Deploying integrations to customers more easily
- Spending less time on integration support
With traditional integration methods, it’s common for developers to build each integration from scratch. Typically, the majority of that time is spent not on domain-specific functionality or the user experience, but on implementing “boilerplate” technical integration requirements such as triggers, authorization, data imports, transformation, and exports. Writing code to handle these items for each integration is tedious and difficult to get right, especially because real-world integration scenarios require developers to work with a wide array of authorization methods, data formats, and integration protocols.
A central feature of an integration platform is an integration designer, which significantly reduces the time it takes to build integrations. An integration designer enables developers to assemble integrations using a catalog of pre-built components. These provide the common building blocks needed to create integrations and address boilerplate technical requirements, which reduces the need for developers to become familiar with the intricacies of various authorization methods, integration protocols, and so on. A custom component SDK provides support for building one's own reusable custom components. This ensures the flexibility to build any integration customers need, including integrations that are highly complex or specific to a niche vertical market.
An integration platform also includes a testing framework so that developers can test integrations while building and quickly swap out or reconfigure components as needed.
The technical challenges of building integrations are frequently exacerbated by non-technical challenges. Integrations require detailed collaboration among customers, third-party vendors, and multiple internal teams such as engineering, product, and onboarding. Communication difficulties commonly lead to unclear customer requirements and diverging expectations. This in turn leads to costly rework when it is discovered, often not until after deploying an integration, that was built does not match the customer’s needs or the vendor’s technical requirements.
An integration platform minimizes rework by providing tools to keep all parties on the same page throughout the integration process, with role-based access for all internal teams as well as customers and vendors. Key integration documents, such as statements of work, user stories, and tech specs, can be stored within the integration platform so that all parties can reference agreements on what will be built and how. An integration platform also allows for involving customers and third-party vendors in demonstrations and testing to ensure problems or requirements changes are caught prior to deployment, when they are more easily fixed.
Deploying integrations can be every bit as complex and time-consuming as building them. Most B2B software companies must deploy integrations to a heterogeneous customer base, where each integration is enabled at one or more customers, usually each with unique credentials and configurations. As an added complexity, teams often to need to support multiple active versions of an integration simultaneously as industry standards and third-party APIs evolve. For many teams, these are labor-intensive processes that involve standing up infrastructure and services and performing highly manual version upgrades.
Customer deployment management tools are a key part of an integration platform, and they greatly reduce the effort of managing complexities like versioning and customer-specific authorization and configuration. These tools can be integrated with a software team’s existing CI/CD and DevOps toolchains to provide further time savings. Another major benefit of an integration platform is that integrations are run in the platform's environment, purpose-built to provide the security and scalability integrations require. This entirely removes the burden of setting up, monitoring, and maintaining infrastructure to run customers’ integrations.
Integration support is typically a highly inefficient process. Most technical support or customer service groups lack access to integration tools and resources, which means they must turn to teams such as product management and development to answer questions about integration functionality, check an integration’s status, or investigate when something goes wrong. Some integration support scenarios also require involvement from DevOps or sysadmin teams. The result is a slow, disruptive back-and-forth process requiring time and resources from multiple groups. When integration errors occur outside of business hours, the organization incurs the additional cost of after-hours or on-call compensation.
An integration platform provides tools and resources that bring efficiency to integration support. Configurable alerts notify the appropriate teams when customers’ integrations encounter errors, and integration logs aid in checking status and troubleshooting. Integrations are self-documenting, which makes it easy to see what they do and how, and documents such as tech specs and troubleshooting steps can be stored directly in the integration platform. These tools can be used by development and customer-facing teams alike, which empowers support teams to address more integration issues independently, decreases the burden on expensive engineering personnel, and reduces the costly back-and-forth.
There are several ways in which implementing an integration platform often leads to increased revenue for B2B software companies.
First, an integration platform frees up R&D capacity for driving core product innovation. When using traditional methods to provide integrations, every hour or story point development teams spend on inefficient integration work is time away from building new, innovative products and features. Many companies find that, as their customer base grows, integration work begins to consume a greater and greater percentage of their R&D capacity, causing innovation to slow significantly.
Implementing an integration platform, by reducing time spent on integration work, helps teams regain R&D capacity. That additional capacity can be used to build meaningful new features that differentiate a product offering and create value, or to bring entirely new products to market.
Additionally, an integration platform enables B2B software companies to use integrations strategically to break into new market segments. Many companies find integrations so time- and cost-prohibitive that they avoid building integrations unless they’re clearly demanded by the customer base or required to close a specific deal.
However, when integrations are less time-consuming and costly, it becomes feasible to build select integrations for strategic reasons. Opportunities include building vertical-specific or geography-specific integrations that extend a product to meet the needs of previously unreached market segments, as well as providing highly bespoke integrations that offer the level of customization required to land larger accounts.
Implementing an integration platform also helps B2B software companies minimize customer churn and protect their recurring revenue.
A powerful strategy for minimizing customer churn is to create product stickiness. There are many ways to achieve product stickiness, and an integration platform contributes to several: making the product central to customers’ daily operations, helping customers notice and appreciate the product’s value, and increasing switching costs.
A key way to achieve stickiness is to make the product central to the customer’s day. A product with multiple integrations to other applications, which is made far easier by using an integration platform, becomes deeply ingrained in the business customer’s day-to-day operations. That product now goes beyond its core functionality and becomes a critical component of broader workflows: eliminating redundant data entry, automating or reducing the number of tasks users must complete in other systems, providing access to data from other sources, and making it easier to share information.
Another way to increase stickiness is to help customers notice and appreciate the value they receive from a product, which makes it easier for them to justify paying the monthly or yearly cost. B2B software companies provide significant additional value to their customers through integrations, and a customer integration portal helps to highlight that value-add. An integration platform’s customer portal, typically white-labeled and embedded into the product, features integration self-service tools and an integration app store. This helps highlight the product’s integration capabilities and the many things it does for the customer beyond its core function.
Stickiness increases further when customers recognize that it would be difficult to switch to a different product while retaining all the benefits they’ve grown accustomed to. For the customer, leaving a product with multiple integrations mean removing not just a single application, but also a hub of their technology ecosystem and all the connected workflows it powers. Finding another vendor with a comparable product and the ability to provide all of the same integrations, and then working with the vendor on integration requirements and configuration, represents a high switching cost involving considerable effort and disruption.
Many B2B software companies focus on delivering excellent customer support as part of their efforts to minimize churn. However, even companies who uphold very high customer service standards overall tend to struggle with integration support. For customers, integration support is often a slow, reactive, and frustrating experience.
Teams using an integration platform are able to provide faster, more proactive integration support. They are notified when integrations encounter errors or aren’t triggered on their normal schedules, respond quickly, and can resolve issues faster with the help of built-in integration documentation and logs. An integration platform can further improve the integration support experience by allowing customers to self-service using tools like configurable alerts, documentation, and logs.
Providing software integrations to customers is essential for most B2B software companies, but it is a challenging, time-consuming, and costly endeavor. Implementing an integration platform allows software companies to address numerous challenges that are common throughout the build-deploy-support integration lifecycle and realize the benefits of strong integration capabilities. The opportunity to decrease costs, increase revenue, and reduce customer churn presents a compelling business case for implementing an integration platform.
Prismatic is the integration platform for B2B software companies and the easiest way to build, deploy, and support integrations for customers. A comprehensive solution that empowers the whole organization, Prismatic encompasses a purpose-built cloud infrastructure, an intuitive integration designer, customer deployment management, and an embeddable customer experience. Prismatic was built in a way developers love and provides them the tools to make it perfectly fit the way they build software.