Developer Tools & Open Source

An Application Developer's Dilemma: To Integrate or Not, and With What?

By Special Guest
Mikita Mikado, software engineer, entrepreneur and CEO of PandaDoc
  |  September 07, 2016

Not since the dot-com bubble, which peaked in 1999, have we seen so much activity in the software arena. Software developers have more work than they can handle, new tech companies are launching every day, and investors are investing again. The last few years of growth have definitely made software king of the world once again.

In the business world, especially, there is literally a software application for almost every business workflow or use case one can imagine. With so many different enterprise applications on the market, which are all evolving at breakneck speed, it would be a mistake to try and develop an isolated solution in today’s marketplace.

From the consumer standpoint, integrations are not nice to have; these days they are a must have. The good news is, building integrations for cloud-based software is a whole lot easier compared to antiquated on-premises applications. Nevertheless, integrating still takes a lot of time and effort. So the question a lot by the product managers and developers are still asking themselves is : Should we integrate with XYZ, or not?  

As a software developer and entrepreneur (and as CEO of PandaDoc), I have asked myself, and my team, this question a lot. Quite often, we choose to integrate. This is seen in our product strategy. PandaDoc integrates with more than 20 SaaS products, including Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle (News - Alert), HubSpot, and many others – extending these systems of record with eSignatures, CPQ and contract management.

These integrations are used by thousands of happy customers, so I feel that I am in a good place to share my findings – and help define your integrations strategy.

What to Integrate With and How

The answers to should we integrate and what should we integrate with are fairly simple. Your clients will tell you what they need, and if it is a must have. Smaller software companies usually build integrations to larger software companies. Salesforce will not build an integration with your product unless your product’s name is Gmail.  However, that said, one can turn the table a bit – as long as they have a passionate group of clients that can help move an elephant uphill (metaphorically speaking).

When deciding, and before your engineers write a single line of code, the following is highly recommended:

• Survey customers that need the integration, and run your vision by them to make sure you’re building the right thing.

• Talk to prospective integration partners and run your vision by them. Make sure they don’t have a tight partnership with your competitor and are not going to compete with you themselves. The latter is harder to figure out early on, so you should cover yourself as much as possible. You don’t want to invest engineering resources in a relationship with a future competitor.

• Ask your integration partner if they would be willing to invest development resources in making a better integration happen, or if they would invest in marketing resources to promote the integration once it is done. The promotion may bring you new business.

Ways to Integrate

There are many integration trends for cloud-based software, in addition to using APIs. That includes building extensions for third-party products, and using browser extensions to inject your product into other applications.

At PandaDoc we do all of the above.  For example, our integration with Salesforce is done via AppExchange add-on. And our integration with HubSpot is done via a Chrome extension.

Building upon larger, established platforms makes it easier for the end users to adopt your product. Larger software companies that enable smaller developers to build apps on top of their platforms help drive new business by promoting those apps to their user base. Some multimillion- and billion-dollar companies were born in the Salesforce AppExchange ecosystem.

However, that said, not every cloud-based software application is a platform that you can build on top of. Some software products don’t even have an API (which is a whole other conversation). If that is the case, you can try to build a browser extension. The downside is that your customers now become browser-dependent.

In a nutshell, the decision to integrate or not, how and with what, truly comes down to the needs of your customers. But don’t discount the power of playing in these larger ecosystems.Integration partners can send you leads and help grow your business.

Mikita Mikado is a software engineer, entrepreneur and is the CEO of PandaDoc

Edited by Maurice Nagle