The process of evaluating software for your business has changed. With desktop and server-based software you had to evaluate the app itself, the stability of the company providing the software, their level of service and so on.
With cloud-based apps, you still evaluate these things, but you also need to take a step back and also evaluate whether it can connect to the cloud apps you already use (or plan to use). But you must also consider the bigger picture.
What app ecosystem are you designing for your business?
By this I mean, what functions do you need and where will data flow to and from? You need to consciously design your app ecosystem and not just let it evolve. Otherwise your business will end up with a mish-mash of apps and inefficiencies where automated data flows are not possible.
This then leads to inefficient and error-prone manual processes and data entry. Ugh. No-one wants that.
Use a tool like LucidChart or Gliffy to diagram your cloud app ecosystem. Using an online tool makes it easier to collaborate on the diagram with advisors and vendors, and ensures there is only ever one version of the diagram. Draw arrows between the app icons showing which ways data is pushed and pulled between apps, and where data silos (that cannot be connected to other apps) exist. You want to gradually eliminate the data silos.
We recently mapped out a client’s apps, databases and data flows. This accounting firm had to manage over 20 different databases within their business! At the end of the mapping process the client said dryly, “I don’t feel any better.” I laughed.
I replied, “I bet you don’t. Not yet. You’re now aware of the complex mess you have with your current systems. The first step in solving a problem is recognising it and defining it. You are at that point.”
A great advantage of having your app ecosystem mapped in a diagram, is that when software vendors come to you with their wares, you can show them the diagram and ask, “Where does your app plug into our existing systems? Will it push and pull data? If so, to which apps?”
An app ecosystem is the sort of thing that is best explained visually. You will save yourself a lot of time trying to explain it verbally to vendors and advisors.
No doubt you will have a hub app that you consider your core web app. For some that might be their accounting app such as Xero or Saasu. For others, it might be their CRM or eCommerce platform. Or their project management or workflow tracking tool.
Your hub app will dictate which additional cloud-based apps you implement. For example, if you used a cloud-based contacts database (called a CRM) and wanted to find an email marketing tool, it would not make sense to choose an email marketing app that couldn’t integrate with the database.
Another great thing about integration and add-on directories is that they are a ready-made list of great apps for you to check out.
Switched-on software developers realise from the outset that the quality of their API and API documentation is crucial to their success, and so they invest in it heavily from the start of their venture. Less forward-thinking developers (often desktop software companies moving to the cloud) lag behind with their API.
Here are some of my favorite integration directories:
Even though an app might not be the absolute best in terms of features and ease of use, if it’s a close second then go with the one the will fit best into your app ecosystem.