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Should You Use a Workflow Automation Tool or a Unified API?

This article was originally published here.

Productivity is the name of the game

If your team is building a product with integrations to boost your users’ productivity, how do you know what’s the best tool to use? Every integration tool website claims to help you increase your end-users’ efficiency, but they offer little clarity regarding exactly what makes them the best tool for the job.

In this post, we’ll explain when you would want to direct users to a third-party automation service such as Zapier or Workato, and when you would instead (or in addition!) build the integration into your app using Kloudless’ Unified APIs.

When to use workflow automation services

Let’s say you have a product aimed at increasing sales team productivity and your product has its own API. You can make it easier for your customers — sales ops leaders at Enterprise companies — to use this product by supporting an integration to their favorite CRM (let’s say Salesforce for example). The improved user experience that this connectivity provides will help you onboard and service more clients faster. Your customers are more likely to purchase your solution over your competitors’ because you slot nicely into their existing sales processes by supporting Salesforce, their CRM of choice.

The use case for this integration is automatically syncing records created by the sales staff in your app to the right accounts in Salesforce. This means you need cloud-to-cloud background synchronization between your app and Salesforce. Whether the sales person needs to use a third-party service to complete this sync is of no consequence to you. And you’ve no need to own or measure the usage of this particular integration with your app.

Services like Zapier and Workato can meet your requirements without using your engineering resources and adding complexity to your application architecture. These workflow automation services provide an end-user integration experience that is external to your application. Without needing your own engineers to build out native API integrations, you can get integrations by directing your users to sign up for these services and defining their own automation rules.

Using the automation workflow provider’s scripting platform, the only work you need to do is map your API endpoints into the automation platform and create a library of pre-built workflows. Adding your app to their platforms is generally free for you, so it’s a great option for marketing basic integrations. If your users want to improve the features associated with this integration, they will need to modify the rule behavior themselves within the third-party automated workflow service or use recipes or scripts from that service’s community to do so.

When to use Kloudless’ Unified APIs

For more involved use cases, you’ll need a tighter and more customizable solution beyond what automated workflow services can offer.

Let’s add some complexity to the above scenario. Say your company lacks its own API, thus being unable to plug your service into something like Zapier. Or, say you want your end-users to have a native, in-app experience, rather than directing them to leave your app and sign up for a 3rd party service in order to connect to Salesforce.

Looking beyond just the automation use case, users may also need to import a sales brochure from their Box account on demand, or add a conference call link to a specific Salesforce record. Ideally, you’d like your user to have the option to modify, import and export any data at will without leaving your app. An automated background sync wouldn’t be sufficient for this level of interactivity.

And what if your whole user base isn’t just using Salesforce and Box. There’s a good chance some of them are using Microsoft Dynamics or Dropbox. To maximize your market coverage, it’s beneficial to offer the same integration and functionality regardless of which cloud service the user prefers.

While your engineering team is talented and probably more than capable, it makes more sense for them to focus on product innovation and more pressing development needs, rather than building to and maintaining integrations to many bespoke APIs.

How Kloudless works

Kloudless abstracts away the differences between disparate APIs to create one simple interface for developers to build integrations. Using Kloudless’ Unified APIs, you can quickly connect your product to Salesforce, Dynamics, Box, and Dropbox. Build powerful experiences for your users by enabling them to select any data (like conference call links) from a complete set of standard and custom objects.

So while you’re coding a Salesforce integration using Kloudless’ Unified CRM API, you can also enable Dynamics, SugarCRM, HubSpot, and more for your application without writing any additional code, increasing your chances of growing your customer-base to include users of those CRMs. You just demonstrated how Kloudless allows you to code once and integrate many cloud services!

Similarly with cloud storage, you bring up a file browser using the open source Kloudless File Explorer, which is powered by our very own Unified Cloud Storage API. Embedding this pre-built, customizable interface inside your app, your users can now connect and retrieve any files from their cloud storage accounts, whether they use Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Sharepoint or others.

Kloudless APIs offer a feature-complete toolkit that gives your app the ability to automate workflows without relying on a 3rd party service. You can periodically sync data to a CRM, or push/pull data from cloud storage, as configured by your users.

You maintain full control of the user experience and can extend the integration using native APIs, regardless of which cloud app your user uses. Kloudless becomes part of your application stack, and can even be deployed as a Docker container, so all data is completely private to your infrastructure.

There are several other operational benefits to housing your own integrations. Your product team gets full insight into your users’ level of engagement, and can measure which functionality or types of third-party integrations your users prefer. Your customer success team can focus on supporting your application, rather than attempting to troubleshoot issues occurring on a third-party platform that they can’t even control.

In summary

There are many factors that determine whether an automated workflow service or Kloudless or both are the best fit for you: use case, user experience, data control, dev resources, operational goals, just to name a few.

Ask yourself whether you want to define the user workflow experience or you’re okay with your users making their own alterations. Ask yourself if you need to own insights about your integrations or you’re fine leaving that info to third parties. Determine whether embedding your integrations to avoid directing your users to a third party is a priority for you.

Most importantly, what is the level of on-demand interactivity that you need in your product? Is a background sync enough for your use case? Answering these questions will help you select which set of tools will best set your product up for speedy success.

Author:

Eliot Sun, Co-founder and CEO of Kloudless

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