– By Vishal Sunak, CEO of LinkSquares, named in the shortlist for Best Enterprise-Level SaaS in the 2021 SaaS Awards

Today, there are specialized applications for everything. As a result, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions are reaching into every corner of business. Gartner recently estimated spending on SaaS cloud services could grow to $122.6 billion this year with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. With thousands of solutions available to improve the operations of any department, some companies are bringing them on too quickly and running into integration issues.

In addition to collaboration software such as Slack and Zoom, companies typically have a core suite of large application platforms to manage critical business functions. These include:

  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) for finance
  • Human resources information systems (HRIS) for human resources
  • Customer-relationship management (CRM) for sales and marketing teams
  • Contract lifecycle management (CLM) or e-signature tools for legal departments

These are some of the foundational SaaS applications for many businesses, and all specialized platforms need to integrate with them to access their data. As businesses grow, new challenges arise in every department, causing them to deploy new SaaS offerings to meet their ever-changing needs. Ensuring these solutions play nice with your company’s core software will save you time and money down the line.

But before we get into building a SaaS integration strategy, let’s cover the basics of what we’re talking about.

What is SaaS integration?

SaaS integration is the process of connecting SaaS solutions to other disparate systems or applications, structuring them into a single, more-extensive system in which they can function together. It requires using application programming interfaces (APIs) to link a SaaS application with another cloud-based app, or on premise software, so they can request and share data with each other.

What are the benefits of SaaS integration?

A new SaaS solution should always be onboarded with a goal or set of goals in mind. For instance, improving the user’s experience on the job is a basic but practical goal. A common reason to deploy a SaaS system is to improve data transparency and sharing among teams. Salesforce allows teams to see how prospects have previously engaged with your company, including who on your team they’ve contacted.

A SaaS tool should save time by helping team members find answers to questions without having to hunt down details from colleagues or dig through siloed systems. Integrating it with your other day-to-day platforms removes the need to manually enter data on different applications, allowing users to spend that time elsewhere.

For example, even though contracts touch every major deal and decision a business makes, there’s long been a disconnect between sales and legal data because the departments tend to stick to their preferred systems. Each has excellent data management tools at its disposal – but they’re extra valuable utilized together.

Integrating a legal department’s contract management with Salesforce or similar databases allows both business units to bypass disconnected, manual work and seamlessly share data. A LinkSquares-Salesforce integration, for instance, would help legal easily approve or template contracts for sales to ship for signature. It could alert sales to potential upsell customers that are due for renewal. Together, the platforms would update data automatically, provide anyone with the most up-to-date info when needed, while driving better sales analysis and quarterly goals.

SaaS integration is about improving the employee and customer experience. It enables workers to be more strategic at work and spend less time on tedious, time-consuming tasks. As the adage goes, happy employees lead to satisfied customers.

Choosing a SaaS solution

SaaS adoption fails when a new platform is too complicated or interrupts existing workflows that sales, legal or other departments rely upon. There are thousands of software vendors vying for the attention of decision-makers. Some attempt to stand out by offering a product that will produce radical change, upend an industry, and lead you into a better future.

The truth is, businesses just want a tool that will help make their jobs easier and, too often, decision-makers feel software providers aren’t listening to their needs. They don’t want to add tech that will require their team to learn new workflows. They want to avoid adding new tools to their closed systems, opting instead to stick with basic, yet reliable solutions like Microsoft Word and email. Retraining people and adjusting operations around the vision of a vendor and their technology doesn’t work.

Of course, if there’s no strategy for integrating all these tools, your business will succumb to SaaS sprawl, which can rapidly become untenable. Applications become fragmented, data siloed, and soon nobody is working as efficiently as they should. The question is not whether SaaS can improve your company’s efficiency and productivity. It absolutely can. However, to get the full benefit, you must have an integration plan to ensure SaaS apps play nicely with your tech stack.

There are three essential steps to take in order to find the right SaaS solution…

Finding the Right SaaS Solution, Step One: Leverage IT

Modernizing your processes and leveraging technology are great and necessary for remaining cost-efficient and competitive. The problem is that departments often purchase SaaS without consulting their IT team. This can have all kinds of implications, including work interruptions, redundant applications, frustrated employees, and an unhappy, stressed-out IT crew trying to make it all work.

AppDynamics also recently released a study involving more than a thousand global IT pros. The data revealed that 80% said their job became more complex during 2020 due to technology stack sprawl. When IT veterans feel stressed by handling change, there is a good chance your other employees are overwhelmed.

When a tech stack becomes too cumbersome, it runs the risk of toppling a business. Users become consumed with training, slowed by working in unfamiliar environments and adopting new processes, and many lose the very tools that brought about success for their teams. It’s vital to have standards in place directing teams to work closely with IT when considering new tech deployments in their department.

Finding the Right SaaS Solution, Step Two: Use Your Existing Tech Stack

Most business departments have a standard set of technologies that they use for work. The legal stack, for instance, typically features software and tools for such essentials as contract drafting, security, billing, case management, eDiscovery and research, e-signatures, and contract lifecycle management (CLM). The SaaS needs of every business are different, driven by factors such as size and industry – and the tech stack won’t be the same.

What all teams do need is the ability to integrate core tools into their stacks. This reduces training and increases productivity by enabling employees to work in the environments they know and with familiar tools. After all, familiarity means greater adoption, and that raises both productivity and ROI.

Finding the Right SaaS Solution, Step Three: Talk to Potential Vendors about Facts and Friction

When you’re shopping around for a new SaaS solution, come prepared with questions. Ask prospective vendors how they streamline specific processes, what standard features they offer, and how they integrate with other common systems (think CRM, ERP, HRIS, e-signature, etc.). They should be designing their solutions based on real conversations with industry professionals. Think of them as potential business partners who should understand the daily challenges you and your team face.

A good vendor will offer a tool that simplifies and facilitates your work instead of creating additional headaches. You don’t need to fit into a vendor’s game plan; they should fit into yours.

You’re in control

As we continue looking for ways to become more productive and comfortable at work, it’s easy to succumb to our growing reliance on technology and try to fit new tools into our tech stack. But with the right approach, careful consideration of options, and leveraging you and your team’s industry expertise, you can find the right solutions. And that means enjoying the best of both worlds – a great tech product that works in harmony with your team’s proven habits and workflows.

Vishal Sunak is the co-founder and CEO of LinkSquares, the company behind the fastest-growing AI-powered contracting platform for legal teams. Named among the 2020 Gartner Cool Vendors for Contract Lifecycle Management and Advanced Contract Analytics, LinkSquares is used by more than 400 legal teams at mid-to-large companies, including brands such as TGI Fridays, Cogito and Wayfair, to move their businesses forward faster.