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CRM application integration using Web services

More and more organizations are turning to Web services to help ease application integration pains. In fact, when it comes to integrating new and legacy CRM applications, Web services can be a cost-effective and valuable solution.

CRM integration is a major challenge for organizations of all sizes. In this new series, SearchCRM.com will explore best practices for integration between CRM and other systems. If you have suggestions or comments about this series, please contact us at editor@searchcrm.com.


Don't miss the other installments in this CRM integration series
* Integrating Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM and ERP applications
* Benefits of ERP-CRM integration
* Integrating CRM with business intelligence tools
* Four steps for an effective mobile CRM implementation


 

In recent years, enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors have attempted to address the challenges of integration by providing a collection of proprietary adapters and integration servers. Although EAI solutions are effective, they can require a substantial initial investment in hardware, software and training. A more cost-effective option is the use of Web services, a set of emerging standards that enable interoperability among various IT processes and systems.

What are Web services?
The term Web services refers to a group of evolving standards that allow applications to communicate with other applications -- regardless of platform and application language differences -- over the Internet. In other words, Web services enable cross-platform, program-to-program communications.

According to Gartner analyst Daryl C. Plummer, Web services are loosely coupled software components delivered over standard Internet technologies. Web services are platform- and vendor-neutral protocols that enable different applications from different sources to communicate with one another in a common XML format without time-consuming custom coding. Using Web services allows IT organizations to focus more on building application infrastructures based on standards, rather than on proprietary technologies -- an important foundation for building more agile enterprises.

Using Web services to integrate CRM applications can benefit the organization in many ways. Overall, organizations using Web services for integration have the potential to become more efficient and responsive to market changes and competitive pressures. Web services can help companies resolve system interoperability challenges by reusing components, which can reduce application integration costs. Web services also establish a common format for sharing information and data, which enables enterprises to overcome system incompatibility issues and can contribute to faster user adoption.

Web services can help an organization cost-effectively and efficiently integrate on-demand self-service applications and interactive voice response (IVR) systems with the core CRM application. They enable organizations to exchange data and information seamlessly between self-service tools and modules and the CRM application without having to undergo a lengthy and complicated integration process.

Although Web services provide effective integration mechanisms, they do have some shortcomings. The user interface is inflexible and, because of interdependencies, customization is not easy. It is a relatively new technology, so the standards and specifications are still evolving. As an HTTP-based protocol, Web services are also vulnerable to security threats and must be implemented using authentication mechanisms and SSL-enabled encryptions.

How Web services aid CRM application integration

Integration between any two applications using Web services requires a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The SOA binds the services, which are delivered by an application server environment. A Web server provides the HTTP network transport for accessing the service, while the application server hosts the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) interface. The Web service also provides object components that make up the service, and the object components provide the business service layer above the applications. The end result? A Web service extract underlying applications provides distinct services that aid in well-defined business processes.

The following steps constitute a standard procedure for integrating a CRM application using Web services. The timeline and duration of the implementation will differ from one application to another because it depends on the number of business entities to be integrated and the number of Web services that need to be developed. Likewise, implementation procedures and processes will differ for integration between any two applications -- but the elements and the technology that are used to transact data will remain the same. Here are some technical principles to keep in mind:

 

  • Data transactions should be in eXtensible Markup Language (XML); XML is a language that provides a standard way of representing data and information.

  • Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI) should be used for listing and locating applications. UDDI is a "directory standard" that is provided by some application tools as a built-in service to use during integration.

  • The Web Services Description Language (WSDL) file should be obtained from the third-party application to which data needs to be sent or retrieved. WSDL is a "descriptor standard" that an application uses to describe its interface and interaction rules to other applications. WSDL is a document written in XML; the document describes a Web service. It specifies the location of the service and the operations (or methods) the service exposes. A WSDL document can also contain other elements, like extension elements and a service element that makes it possible to group together the definitions of several Web services in a single WSDL document.

  • Leverage WSDL with the help of proprietary tools provided for each application and generate the XML message required to meet that data structure.

  • XML data is then transmitted using SOAP, which is a lightweight protocol for exchange of information. It is an XML-based protocol that consists of three parts: an envelope that defines a framework for describing what is in a message and how to process it, a set of encoding rules for expressing instances of application-defined data types, and a convention for representing remote procedure calls and responses.

  • SOAP can be used in protocols like HTTP and HTTP Extension Framework. The HTTP communication protocol helps to post or query third-party applications using XML data mentioned above.

    How to get started with CRM integration using Web services

    If you're considering the use of Web services as part of your CRM initiative, the first step is to analyze the existing application servers, application development environments, and their ability to extend with Web services.

    Secondly, analyze and assess the data in multiple customer management systems before embarking on an integration project using Web services.

    Once those steps are complete, you are ready to begin integration of the CRM application using Web services. While Web services technology is still maturing, it has proved successful for integrating most CRM applications.


    About the author

     

    Bhasker Bhandakavi, Principal Consultant – CRM, CognizantBhasker Bhandakavi, Principal Consultant – CRM, Cognizant
    Bhasker holds a Masters Degree in Computer Application and has 10 years of experience in the information technology field with vast experiences in managing large-scale CRM programs across several industry domains like Banking, Securities, Insurance, HealthCare, Automotive and Telecom. Bhasker has worked in various management and technical roles in implementing CRM applications. He has worked with customers across the U.S., Asia and Europe.

     

     


    Don't miss the other installments in this CRM integration series
    * Integrating Software as a Service (SaaS) CRM and ERP applications
    * Benefits of ERP-CRM integration
    * Integrating CRM with business intelligence tools
    * Four steps for an effective mobile CRM implementation

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