September 10, 2019
When I just started working at Blendr.io (an integration platform for SaaS companies) as the marketing manager, iPaaS, webhooks, API, JSON, field mapping all sounded like white noise for me. I honestly thought for quite some time, that “JSON” (pronounced “Jason”) was a freelance developer that I haven’t met yet. Well, all these terms are related to cloud integrations.
There has been an explosion of new cloud applications. Without integrations, cloud tools simply turn into data silos and are not able to seamlessly communicate with each other.
Integrations are shaping event tech, martech and salestech industries as well as others. Thanks to the ability to integrate tools, companies start adopting a “best-of-breed” approach when building their technology stack, as opposed to just using an all-in-one platform.
In this article, I would like to share with you some of the integration fundamentals and how they are related to your marketing and sales business processes.
To Blend – verb – [ blɛnd ]
to integrate two or more cloud applications so they work together seamlessly, to build an optimised technology stack. “We are Blending our marketing stack with Blendr.io”.
API (Application Programming Interface) – an API is an access point to a cloud platform that allows accessing data from the said cloud platform. API’s are used in software code to read and/or write data to and from the cloud application. API’s allow two or more applications to talk to each other. You could say that humans use a “UI” (user interface) to interact with software, while applications use API’s to interact with other applications.
API endpoint – modern API’s use HTTPS for communication over the internet, similar to how web pages are accessed over the internet. An API typically has many “endpoints”. Each API endpoint represents a certain action, e.g. the Facebook API will have an endpoint to “share a post” and another endpoint to “read the number of likes from a post”. Each endpoint has its own unique URL, similar to how webpages have a unique URL to access them.
Best-of-breed approach – combining several niche solutions from different SaaS vendors in your daily business. This approach allows you to find the best tool for the best job. It is an alternative to “best-of-suite” or “all-in-one” approach.
Best-of-suite or all-in-an approach – buying one software application to solve all your needs, for example, a CRM application that will also handle mailings, advertising, invoicing, etc. The benefit of an all-in-one solution is that all features are by definition integrated. The drawback is that many features might not be the best compared to what is available on the market.
BI – business intelligence, the activity of analysing business data e.g. to get new insights. Data integrations are key when doing BI, especially because in BI data is typically gathered from multiple sources (e.g. an ERP system, a CRM etc.).
BPM – BPM stands for Business Process Management. BPM solutions may have some overlap with integration platforms (iPaaS) but the focus is more on automation of processes with e.g. human interaction, as opposed to data integrations and automation.
CDP – Customer Data Platform, an application that stores customer data similar to a CRM, but focussed on merging information from multiple sources into one database. CDP’s will typically perform identity resolution, to avoid that a person exists more than once in the database with different personal details.
Connector – is a link to a cloud application (typically to a cloud application with an open API), used inside an iPaaS solution. An iPaaS solution will use its connectors to communicate with multiple platforms. The connectors are typically used in e.g. a workflow, to build an actual integration between two or more connected applications.
Data lake – a central store for high amounts of unstructured data from different sources.
Data Masking – a way to replace pieces of data so that the data can still be useful for a certain purpose, without the risk to expose e.g. confidential data or PII (personal data). For example, a copy of a production database with orders could be masked so it can be used in software testing.
Data warehouse – a central store of structured data from multiple sources, for the purpose of BI.
ESB – Enterprise Service Bus, a type of integration software used in large organizations to organize internal communication between applications using messages that are put on the bus, and read by other applications.
ETL – stands for Extract, Transform, Load. ETL software has existed for a long time and is used to extract data from a database, transform the data and send it to another database. With the rise of cloud applications and API’s, the old-fashioned ETL tools are quickly being replaced with modern iPaaS solutions.
Field Mapping – is a process of matching data between two or more platforms. For example, when you integrate one platform with another, you want to make sure that e.g. the first name of you lead in a CRM ends up in the “first name” field in your emailing tool, the same goes for e.g. company names, tags, and custom fields.
GraphQL – A concept to build API’s that can be “queried” to retrieve the exact data needed. Simple REST API’s typically can only provide the data in one manner. A GraphQL API can provide combinations of data exactly as requested by the user of the API. GraphQL can be very useful to optimise the amount of data that is transferred between systems.
Identity resolution – A concept used in e.g. a CDP (Customer Data Platform), to discover and merge contact records so that one person does not exist under more than one identity in the database.
iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) – is an integration cloud platform that makes it possible for two or more other platforms to seamlessly communicate with each other and exchange data. iPaaS solutions provide pre-built connectors to cloud platforms (e.g. CRM, marketing automation, web shops, event platforms…) and they provide features such as workflows with conditions so that you can add your own business logic and create an actual smart integration.
For example, you may use a CRM and a marketing automation platform, and there is no “native” integration between them. On the other hand, you want to make sure that your clients receive an email with relevant information as soon as they moved to the next stage in the sales pipeline. In this case, you need to use an iPaaS that has connectors to both your CRM and marketing automation to sync data between them when certain business conditions are met.
Marketplace, Appstore, Store – is a list of available integrations on a certain platform. Some SaaS vendors call it their “Marketplace”, others will call it a “Store” or “App Store”. In some cases, you can access marketplaces even when you don’t have an account. When choosing a SaaS vendor, companies look at the marketplace of a product, to make sure that it can be easily integrated with other applications they use.
Master & slave – a concept used in replication and sometimes in synchronisation, to indicate where the data is coming from (the master) and where the data is going (the slave). A slave database typically is an exact copy of a master database.
Native integration – is an integration that is already included in the UI of a platform, so you typically do not need to use an iPaaS solution. Though in most of the cases native integrations are the easiest solution to integrate tools, they can be limited to a few “most popular” options – HubSpot, Salesforce, Marketo, etc., missing out on other cloud tools.
oAuth – an authentication protocol that allows people to give access to a third party (e.g. an integration platform) to their data. For example, when you use a CRM such as Salesforce, you can allow access to an integration platform to access your Salesforce data. This is done using oAuth, where a popup is opened from Salesforce that requests if you want to authorise access. There are different versions of oAuth including oAuth1 and oAuth2.
One-way synchronisation – a type of data synchronisation where data is flowing in one direction, from a source platform to a destination platform.
REST API – most modern API’s are REST API’s. REST is a standard the describes what an API should look like, how it should behave and how people can use it. The idea of REST is that all API’s work in a similar manner, so that when you start using a new API, you can quickly familiarise yourself with it. REST stands for “REpresentational State Transfer”.
SaaS – Software as a Service, also referred to as “cloud software”. SaaS software can be used in a browser as opposed to software that you need to install on your computer. Therefore SaaS software can be accessed from anywhere, whether you are working in the office or remotely. SaaS software is maintained for you and updated automatically so you have zero maintenance. Finally, SaaS software is typically priced on a “pay as you use” model with monthly license fees.
Sandbox – a testing environment of a software application. Data integrations are often tested with a sandbox before being moved to production.
Single source of truth – a concept where one platform or database contains all the “master” data, that is considered correct. All other applications that use the same data will need to retrieve the data from the “single source of truth” application. A CDP is typically considered a single source of truth for customer data.
SOAP Webservice – a type of API. SOAP Webservices have existed longer than REST API’s. SOAP Webservices are considered to be less “lightweight”, more complex to integrate and not as open to being used in any type of technology. Modern cloud applications typically publish a REST API and not a SOAP Webservice. SOAP Webservices are heavily used in .NET projects.
SSO (Single-sign-on) – is an authentication process that allows a user to access multiple applications with one set of login credentials. SSO allows users who are logged in to one tool, to seamlessly access another tool without the need for a separate login. SSO is relevant when a UI (user interface) of an application is embedded inside the UI of another application.
Stack – a combination of cloud applications used in a company. “Our marketing stack consists of a CRM, a marketing automation platform, a dashboarding tool, and a reporting platform”.
Staging – a staging environment is a test environment that is almost similar to the production environment. Data integrations are often tested in a test environment (sandbox), then in a staging environment and finally, they are activated in a production environment.
Swagger – A standard to describe the features of an API. A Swagger file can be used to automatically generate documentation of an API.
Sync, Data sync – when people talk about a “sync”, they mean a data synchronisation process. A “sync” is, for example, a process that sends customer data from a webshop to a CRM.
Synchronisation & replication – synchronisation is all about keeping data the same in two or more different platforms, for example making sure that customer data is kept in sync between a CRM and an accounting tool. Replication is a specific type of synchronisation typically used in databases, where data is replicated in order to have for example a backup (a copy).
Two-way synchronisation – a type of data synchronisation where data is flowing in both directions, from one platform to the other and back. This means that data is updated in either platform, and changes need to be reflected in the other platform as well.
Webhook – is a way for a cloud application to provide other applications with real-time information. Webhooks are efficient for both providers and consumers, as they send data to other platforms in real-time as it happens, unlike a typical API where you would need to pull data very frequently to deliver data in real-time.
A webhook is a mechanism to receive data that originates from some external system, in real time. For example, when a lead fills in a form on a website, you want it to be sent e.g. to your Slack channel immediately. With a Webhook you are able to send data as soon as it happens.
Webhooks are heavily used in so-called “Trigger-based” integrations, where Zapier is a popular tool. Webhooks have many benefits, but they are also limited, you cannot use them to synchronise large amounts of data or historical data, you typically cannot use them to work with complex data structures, etc.
XML – data format that existed for a long time. XML is considered less “lightweight” and typically not used in modern REST API’s. XML is used in SOAP Webservices.
Do you often use other terms when discussing integrations? Or is there any term you are confused about or do not fully understand how it works? Let us know and we’ll be happy to add it to our Integration Dictionary!