The Salesforce CRM platform offers a world of convenience and has the potential to transform the productivity of the enterprise in a big way. However, businesses can leverage its full value only when the platform connects and accesses data from all available sources. Any real life enterprise would have data spread across multiple sources, incompatible databases, legacy solutions, disparate systems and in silos; and integrating all this data remains a big challenge.
Hitherto, the options to effect such integration were archaic methods such as manual file uploads and file transfers, or third-party integration tools offered by AppExchange partners such as Informatica, MuleSoft, and SnapLogic. The mix very often involved multiple connectors, dataloaders, plug-ins, middleware tools and a whole labyrinth of complex ad-hoc adjustments. These tools or methods are not adequate for today’s enterprise, dealing with complex big data, and where the need for speed is paramount. Salesforce recently undertook a survey of customer CIOs and found that 48% of them considered integration with on-premises systems as one of their biggest challenges. To fill the void, Salesforce.com has recently launched Salesforce1 Lighting Connect, a new data-integration tool, that is much more powerful and convenient than anything available now.
The Superiority of Lightning Connect
Lightning Connect makes it easy to draw data from an external source into any application created on the Salesforce1 platform, in real time. The user may access such data drawn from other databases, as if it originated in Salesforce.
Salesforce claims Lightning Connect to be the fastest and easiest way to view data from any source system within Salesforce cloud-based applications. The tool lives up to its claims.
Most data-integration tools adopt either ETL or EAI approach. The Extract-Transform-Load (ETL) approach involves batch data uploads from the cloud or on-premises systems into Salesforce, or from Salesforce into data marts or warehouses. Such batch uploads take place on a periodic basis, be it hourly, overnight, or some other frequency. Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) is a more complex event-based approach, where data is continuously copied from third-party systems into Salesforce.
Salesforce1 Lightning Connector offers a far superior and simpler technology to both ETL and EAI. It adopts a point-and-click setup and real time integration. Connecting to an external source is as simple as pointing to the source and clicking on it; and when clicked, connection and transfer of data takes place in near real time, as opposed to batch uploads of ETL. Salesforce has now added External Objects, a new source type, alongside the existing Standard Objects and Custom Objects. Lightning Connect uses these External Objects for point-in-time snapshots of up-to-the-minute information. This approach is best suited for querying, searching, data visualization, and simple workflows.
Lighting Connect is based on the emerging Open Data Protocol (OData), a protocol proposed as a new web standard, and supported by SAP, IBM, Microsoft and many others. OData offers a lightweight way to access external data from within Salesforce, but differs from EAI in that the information is not copied or stored. It thus generates a unified view of master data across systems, to power business processes that need to be active around the clock.
Lightning Connector and SAP
The Salesforce1 Lightning Connect makes it easy to connect and access data from legacy systems such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft. While Salesforce has left the sale of most application-specific connectors to its integration partners, Lightning Connect contains in-built link for SAP and a few other systems that support OData. It, therefore, makes a big difference to SAP-Salesforce integration.
Salesforce users may use Lighting Connect to obtain an “up-to-the-minute” or near real-time view of the data in other systems such as SAP BusinessSuite. Lightning Connect allows Salesforce administrators or developers to write APEX codes to read data or create reports directly from databases residing outside Salesforce.com, with such external data looking like custom objects in the salesforce.com system. They may thus perform real-time queries against the back-end SAP ERP system without middleware.
A step by step guide to integration
Detailed description of the integration process
1. Logon to SAP
2. Logon to Salesforce Developer Edition to perform the Lightning1 Connector Set Up
3. Configure the Lighting Connector for SAP Access by selecting
Setup>Develop>External Data Sources> New External Data Sources
Fill out the required fields, which is mostly the URL and information of the SAP data to be imported and technical settings or preferences. Click on Save. The system accepts information supplied only if all the data is entered correctly.
4. From the next screen that appears, click on “Validate and Sync.” If everything has been done correctly, it is not possible to log onto the SAP system and select the list of tables required to be imported.
5. Select the required tables to view data inside salesforce and write Apex Code against this SAP data
6. Press the Sync button to have salesforce read the SAP tables and create the corresponding custom objects inside salesforce. Salesforce logs onto the SAP System and proceeds to read the description of the SAP data and create custom objects and custom fields as needed to query this data inside Salesforce. At this point, it becomes possible to read data directly from the back-end SAP system without any middleware, adapters or plug-in.
7. Create the required Apex code to read relevant SAP data when an account is being displayed – for instance, to see the corresponding Sales Orders in SAP when the account is displayed in Salesforce.
This unlocks many possibilities to improve processes and even transforms the business. For instance, consider the case of a retail salesperson engaged in a sales campaign. The salesperson, on the road, interacting with a customer may leverage Lightning Connector to draw this SAP data to his Salesforce 1 app, and thereby gain visibility into stock levels, shipment information, or other crucial data connected with the order. The whole set-up is ultra-flexible as well, with the user able to select the tables to be imported for view from SAP into Salesforce with just a simple check of the box.
Salesforce1 Lighting Connect wraps a layer of agility around the enterprise data. It offers the next best thing to a magic wand to connect all disparate data sources to the Salesforce platform, in double quick time and with unmatched simplicity. Leveraged the right way, it is capable of transforming enterprise operations in a way not possible before and in the process powering the enterprise to a whole new level.
The tool is priced at $4,000 per-month, per-connection.