Bridging Your Data: Four Ways to Make Databases Communicate

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By: Rob Jordan | 11.27.13

So, you want to consolidate your data between two different databases? We recently posted on this for The Connected Cause and you can read the full original post here. Here is an excerpt.


There are many ways to integrate Salesforce with a back office solution. This overview you will help you explain the process to decision makers and influencers as you conduct your due diligence and figure out the costs involved.

Integration is much like building a bridge over a river. Each side of the river represents your disparate databases. For example, let’s say you wish to have a record of all QuickBooks invoices under the respective account record in Salesforce. The result would be a bird’s-eye view of your constituents from invoicing to donations. You would need to build a bridge between the two databases to communicate, and there are many different ways to approach this.

Before you can select the most appropriate bridge, your organization must first consider data load, budget, time constraints and syncing requirements. You should ask questions like

  • Will the bridge have traffic approaching from both sides of the river (sync parameters)?
  • Will the bridge need to handle heavy loads of traffic such as trucks and cars (data load)?
  • Will this bridge need to be open 24 hours a day (API)?
  • Most importantly, what can we afford?

Once these questions have been answered you will have a better idea of what option is the most appropriate for your organization.

It should be no surprise that the more complex your bridge, the more expensive it will be. If you want a freeway bridge that allows for two-way traffic and stays open 24 hours a day, you should expect to spend more than if you were to build a rope bridge. To help you navigate your choices, we have listed the four most common options for building a bridge when considering an integration between two disparate databases.


OPTION #1: Point to Point (or, a steel bridge)

Option one is likely the most familiar option to those considering integration and is referred to as “point to point” or coded integration. Keeping up our metaphor, this would be the equivalent to a steel bridge.

Pros: With this integration model, you can design the bridge exactly to your specifications. It is strong and stable. The benefit of this option is that your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is generally lower than the other options since you will own the bridge once it is built.

Cons: It can be expensive to build and maintain: if changes or enhancements are required you will need to foot the bill. You also will likely require support from the original firm that helped you build the integration – so make sure you stay on good terms. In the event you switch firms you will likely accrue a 20% increase in deployment costs to allow the other consulting firm to “relearn” what your previous consulting firm built.

In a nutshell: This option is ideal for the organization that has highly customizable requirements and is likely going to have very few changes in its business process.


OPTION #2: Middleware (or, a floating bridge)

Option two, “middleware”, can be thought of as a floating bridge.

Pros: It has less startup cost than option one and will provide roughly the same ability to customize. Moreover, these customizations are easier to deploy. In some cases, no coding experience is required to make changes. In addition, in the event that you wish to switch consulting firms, it will be easier to do so since middleware is designed to be deployed by multiple partners.

Cons: Unlike option one, you do not own the bridge so you will be required to pay a monthly fee to the middleware provider. It is also important to note that it can take much longer to conduct due diligence. Quality varies between middleware providers and some middleware is more appropriate than others depending on the level of integration you require. Examples of middleware providers include but are not limited to Pervasive, Cast Iron, Interweave, and DBSync.

In a nutshell: This option is ideal for the organization that has highly customizable requirements and is likely going to have adjustments in the near future to its business process.


OPTION #3: Application (or, a toll bridge)

Option three, an application, is likely the best bang for your buck. This integration is best described as a toll bridge because you may only cross the bridge if you pay for access (i.e. credit card fees).

Pros: The integration is usually stable and the costs are considerably less expensive than option one or two. This is an affordable solution that requires less attention and maintenance.

Cons: Don’t expect frequent changes to the integration since it will only be updated when the company sees fit to do so (usually quarterly). There is no promise that they will add the customization or enhancements you require. This tends to mean a compromise of some kind, usually in your business process.

In a nutshell: This integration is best for a small to medium-sized organizations that do not require much customization and have a pliable business process that can be adjusted to fit the solution.


OPTION #4: Manual import/export (or, a raft)

If options one through three were bridges, option four would be best described as a raft. This process is generally done with an upload to an excel spreadsheet and a download into the alternative solution.

Pros: Apart from labor costs, manual import/export is an inexpensive process.

Cons: Prepping your data can be a laborious process. The more tables and records you possess in the transfer, the longer the process will be. This is not an automated process and may only be facilitated as a one-way sync. This process can be sped up with an import tool like CRM Fusion but will likely be somewhat frustrating. We recommend that your organization carefully document your import/export process since it must be conducted in a very methodical way to be effective. One simple error and you’ll be right back where you started.

In a nutshell: This solution is recommended for either the very advanced integration with a low budget or a simple integration with a low budget. As unattractive as this option may appear, it may be your best and only option when you consider your budget.

Below is a simple matrix we put together to help with the selection process. Please keep in mind that all integration types could be leveraged in multiple business environments but these are the recommended applications.


Your options for connecting your databases

*This may vary depending on the type of integration that is required.

Of these four integration types, most organizations are directed toward middleware when considering back office integration. In future posts, we will address how your organization can go about tackling this decision.

Ready to see how this could work for your organization?


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