One of the biggest black holes for productivity in a business is double entry of data, and the most common culprit is contact information. Employees the world over spend countless hours typing in a customer’s new address or phone number into an email program and then typing it again into an accounting program or a marketing database.
Big businesses spend tens of thousands of dollars hiring IT experts to connect their systems together so they can avoid all this manual work. Small businesses without the budget to hire a programmer to connect their business programs are stuck with the extra labour involved (and more labour fixing inevitable errors).
Until now. Cloud programs are much easier to connect, in some cases it is even free, which is pretty amazing given the huge cost to integrate server and desktop software.
A word of warning – it’s worth checking what types of data the programs can share. While two accounting programs might connect to a customer management database (CRM), one accounting app might share more types of information than the other.
Aside from contact information (name, address, email, phone number, etc.) an accounting program could share invoice details (amount, date due, payment status, etc.). The more information two programs can share, the easier it is for a business to operate.
Another gotcha is the direction of data flows. Sometimes contact updates will only flow from one program to another but not in the reverse. This might not be a showstopper, it just would mean you would need to update contacts in the app that was better at sharing.
Let’s look at five ways to connect cloud applications together – and kill off your double data entry for good.
A cloud software company will often decide to build a “native” connection with a more popular program, partly to attract that program’s users to try out its complementary app. Two of the most connected apps are Google Apps and Salesforce.com. Cloud accounting app Xero has also amassed a large number of integrated apps (it claims over 300), and other accounting programs are moving in the same direction.
If you have narrowed down to a shortlist of three email marketing apps for your business, consider choosing the one that connects to your accounting program or CRM as it will automatically share information without you needing to key it in twice.
Zapier is an online service that sends information from one cloud program to another. It is easy enough for a non-technical person to set up, although testing a “Zap” (the name for a connection) can be a little tedious.
Zapier connects 250 apps and was designed to automate tedious tasks. Each Zap focuses on a specific task and can do clever things such as add an email address to a new field in a spreadsheet in Google Apps. It can even send an SMS to your phone when you receive an email in Gmail.
Zapier lists Zap “recipes” created by its users which give you a preconfigured template. All the user has to do is authenticate the apps involved.
IFTTT (If This Then That)
IFTTT (pronounced like “gift” without the “g”) works on a very similar philosophy to Zapier.
Quite a few are consumer-minded rather than for businesses, such as ‘Autosave all your Instagram photos to Dropbox’ or ‘Text me the weather when I wake up’.
OneSaas is an Australian service designed to move information between business apps, although it has customers from around the globe. One of the great advantages of OneSaas is that it clearly shows the types of data it can move between programs. For example, Xero will share contacts, inventory items, chart of accounts, tax rate, accounts receivable and payable, and payments.
OneSaas is strong in accounting, e-commerce, inventory and logistics apps and services.
There’s also an option for connecting cloud to desktop or server (“on-premise”) programs. But note that when non-cloud programs are involved the costs jump dramatically. MuleSoft charges $1,000 a month for a starter plan and $3,000 a month for professional, Jitterbit is slightly cheaper. Clearly these are targeting mid-size and enterprise companies, but it’s interesting to see the cloud subscription model applied to on-premise integrations.