We are using more and more software in our daily lives, for teamwork, customer relations, stock management, marketing and accounting. The problem is that as we increase the number of digital tools, new issues arise. How can we avoid re-entering data from one tool to another? How can we guarantee the quality of the information? Fortunately, there are solutions for connecting software: this is the subject of this article, and the next ones that will follow.
So, are you ready to save time?
- A growing need for automation
- What is a connector?
- Why set up a connector?
- To conclude...
A growing need for automation
The pandemic has accelerated an already unavoidable phenomenon: our companies are increasingly using and depending on digital solutions, often online. The multiplication of applications and software is accompanied by new problems, of which the following are a few examples encountered by our clients:
"On the one hand, we have software to know what our customers have consumed; on the other hand, we have billing software: we need to automatically transmit consumption data into the billing software!"
"For a month now, we have had a new ERP to manage production, but with each validated order, we have to re-enter all the customer information. However, this information is already in the CRM: the two tools should be synchronised!"
"Every time I make a report, I have to send it manually to my team. If only they could get automatic notification when I add it to the shared folder!"
"My invoices and their payments are managed via a payment provider, and I have to regularly update my customer tracking to make reminders. This should all be automated!"
There are many other cases we could cite, of course.
But what is important to remember is that there is a growing need for automation, whether it be in the synchronisation of data, in its sharing or in its use. As this data is carried by different tools, software or applications, they will have to be connected so that they can exchange.
This is where the connectorscome in.
What is a connector?
Connectors: the basic principle
A connector is a link between several applications (web or mobile), services or software. It allows data and instructions to be transmitted from one platform to another, formatting them if necessary. The transmission can be triggered by a particular event, be done at a given frequency or even in real time.
We are talking about connectors here, but you may have heard other terms: extensions, integrations, interfaces or interfacing between software...
Whatever the case, the idea is the same: to retrieve information from tool X to transmit it to tool Y or to trigger an action in tool Z.
What is the need for a connector?
Not so long ago, business IT tools were installed on your computer and communicated with a server physically present in your company. Often this software was developed specifically for the needs of your business: you didn't change it often, and you only used one or two of them.
But in our increasingly connected society, services have gradually migrated to the internet.
Today, data is stored on remote servers in the cloud. Software is often available as SaaS and can be accessed from a web browser. Meetings are managed on a shared schedule, and information is transmitted by e-mail or instant messaging. Each department in a company can use several tools, each for a specific need.
As soon as the same data can or must be present on several media simultaneously, problems arise.
By multiplying the sources of truths, we multiply the risk of having data in a different state on each of the media, or of having to enter this data several times.
A connector makes it possible to avoid these risks by linking the different data sources.
With a connector between your CRM and your invoicing software, for example, every change to an invoice can be reflected in the customer record in the CRM, and every new customer in the CRM can be transmitted to the ERP.
But the quality and reliability of the data is not the only interest of the connectors.
Indeed, our business processes are increasingly dependent on tasks performed via online services: registering a customer order, generating a pay slip, sending an email...
A connector, since it transmits data in response to an event, will also allowtasks to be automated, by making them driven by another service, another platform or an external event.
For example, a connector can automatically generate a confirmation email to the customer when you validate their order, freeing you from this automatic and low-value added task.
Why set up a connector?
We have seen what connectors between applications and software are for, but do you need one in your company? When should you decide to develop one?
Publisher or user?
First of all, the decision is not the same depending on who you are: software publisher or user?
The first to ask the question of developing connectors are of course the application developers, the publishers, who market their tools.
As a publisher, the implementation of connectors can be a business strategy to face competition or to reach new markets.
For example, this can allow you to be present on the marketplace of a complementary software publisher, which will bring you new customers; or to address certain requests from your customers, by proposing a link between your solution and a third-party application that meets a specific need.
But the development of a connector is not only for software publishers, on the contrary!
Today, connectors are mainly ordered by companies using several services and wishing to make them communicate with each other. The demand comes directly from the users, who have a precise business problem: they are the best placed to define their needs.
But how can we develop a connector when we don't have a hand in its software code? This is not a problem, because a connector is an independent application, hosted on its own server, and using the dedicated accesses of other platforms(APIs or webhooks in particular - see box below). It is therefore not necessary to be the owner or publisher of the applications to be connected.
On thecontrary: developing customised connectors or integrations is a good way to get away from the limitations imposed by the publishers. Are you missing a feature in your billing or CRM software? A customised connector can be a way to remedy this.
|💡 A webhook is an event voluntarily sent on a particular url. If another application "listens" to what happens on this url and has the right to decode the messages, it will have access to information allowing it to trigger certain actions for example.|
💡 An APIis a set of urls allowing to host specific requests in order to retrieve data, add, delete or modifyit. These urls can also be used to trigger actions. These "gates" are secure and only accept requests with specific parameters. This makes the documentation of these specifications important.
To gain in productivity
Automating tasks, avoiding double entries... all this means saving time to focus on the tasks that really matter!
Connectors now make it possible to create real digital ecosystems where tools interact with each other.
As soon as ERP, CRM, diaries, mailboxes, instant messaging, etc. are connected, it becomes possible to create new, more efficient processes or to free oneself from old constraints. The connector should be seen here as a task automation tool.
To migrate data
Change of software, addition of a new tool, new process... There are many occasions that lead to the need to share data, or to transfer it between two tools.
However, a data migration can be a nightmare if it goes wrong.
Of course, you can opt for a manual re-entry... not easy if you have 30,000 customers or product sheets to migrate!
You can also use a file import, with many risks: loss of information, duplicates, badly formatted data....
Good news: a connector can facilitate this migration, since it involves transmitting and translating data from one application to another. A good configuration is necessary here to adapt this migration to the needs and configuration of the new tool!
To synchronise tools
Many applications offer planning or the creation of events in a calendar. By connecting such applications with a task management tool or your regular calendar, you can ensure that you always have the right information about your appointments!
This synchronisation is also the best way to animate its commercial processes . Indeed, sales people do not necessarily use the same tool as marketing, invoicing or production, but they all need to have the latest information on customers and their requests.
Synchronising data saves time, reduces the risk of errors and redundant or low-value communications.
To gain in commercial performance
Connecting your tools is a way for your teams and yourself to save time. This time saved is precious, and allows you to concentrate on the development of your activities, in particular your commercial development.
Ask a sales person if they prefer to meet with a customer or enter data into a CRM! And then ask yourself: which of these tasks do you think is most useful to your company?
But that is not all.
By aggregating data from all the tools in the customer journey, you can obtain cross-functional information that is valuable for understanding your customers' expectations and behaviour. This global view makes iteasier to identify pain points or areas for improvement, and thus to improve commercially.
Let's take some examples:
- If all customer data is centralised in a CRM, you can track conversion rates by taking into account the marketing campaigns to which customers have been exposed, or their journey through your website, while cross-referencing the data with the actions of your sales staff.
- Within an ERP, you will be able to monitor the profitability of an order, by linking invoicing and resources consumed. Connecting the CRM and the ERP allows you to automatically monitor the profitability of marketing actions, since the entire chain is then covered, from acquisition to invoicing!
The right decisions can then be made with full knowledge of the facts.
Finally, if you are a software, web or mobile application publisher, it is your own tool that you may be considering connecting to other services. This is an excellent way to improve its relevance, to meet additional customer needs and to differentiate yourself in a competitive market. The more your tool can be connected to other software on the market, the more convincing it will be during a change management process, and the more naturally it will fit into your future customer's ecosystem!
Whether we are application users or software publishers, connecting tools and software together can meet many needs. In an ultra-connected world, where companies are dependent on online services for their daily operations, the possibilities for automation are numerous, and data has a central place.
Are you interested in the subject?
The rest of this article will soon be available: we will look at the questions to ask before developing a connector, and at the different technical solutions available.