Integration is often a stumbling block along the road to digital transformation in local government.  Connections with existing back-office systems are vital to avoid breaking up your departmental landscape into ever more isolated silos, but costs tend to be vague and often disturbingly large.  Did your latest quote for systems integration resemble the aphorism “how long is a piece of string?”  That string could actually be shorter than you feared.

The world is moving on at pace.  It is the age of the customer.  Most authorities have recognized that you need a new way to manage relationships with your citizens and other stakeholders and pull together data that is scattered across departments.   If a citizen contacts you, they don’t care that their benefits information is on one system, council tax on another and their complaint about a missed bin collection is held across three others, including a third party provider, none of which are easily available to the person trying to answer the query. 

They want to talk to their council, which they see as a single entity providing all of the local services relevant to them - and you need to be able to meet that expectation.

You've made your platform choice... now what? 

Perhaps you have already ploughed diligently through the tortuous procurement process to select the technology that will enable your digital transformation.  Maybe you have narrowed down your search and you are finally beginning to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel.  Against the odds, the supplier in front of you has actually shown genuine understanding of your needs; they have demonstrated how you can make savings to maintain services, even improve them within the constricts of the latest round of budget freezes and cuts. 

The users in the room are loving the look and feel of the system and everyone is feeling confident that it could make a real difference in your organisation. The software is cloud based, so you avoid the complexities and costs of managing hardware and infrastructure and can focus on the service innovations you need. 

You are daring to hope that everyone’s life might become a little easier, then you ask: “How do we integrate to our existing back office systems?”

How long is the piece of string?

The supplier momentarily resembles a plumber giving an unwelcome estimate.  There is the stereotypical ‘just too long for comfort’ pause; a sharp intake of breath, then you are plunged back into the frustrating world of unquantifiable IT complexity: “Well, it’s always difficult to say.  It depends what you need to integrate.  We have lots of options.  This is an area where you will always have to drop into code.  It could become complicated.  Obviously, we can’t predict how expensive it will be.  How long is a piece of string?”

The good news is that the string could be significantly shorter.  The latest iteration of Salesforce Connect lets you view, search and now update data that’s stored outside your Salesforce system without the need for complex code.  You can quickly and easily use data from any external data source with any application you create on the Salesforce platform.  Instead of spending months integrating, you can connect and access data from external sources with point-and-click simplicity.  You’re now able to incorporate data from your legacy systems (Revenues & Benefits, Council Tax or Waste Management, running on SAP, Oracle or Microsoft, you name it) in real time into Salesforce application objects, dramatically decreasing the time and effort required to unlock and modernise your back office.

Interconnectivity is critical for service transformation, making it vital that any new systems you select are open and easily accessible.  It is easy to underestimate how much data travels between systems, rather than via a human interface, for example nearly 50% of the 3-4 billion daily Salesforce transactions are actually via our APIs (you can find more details here).

Reducing the complexity and uncertainty around integration can greatly enhance your chances of achieving success.  A service that allows developers and business admins to build real-time integrations with external data sources fast, without writing any code can dramatically reduce the integration effort.  You need setup to be a simple, declarative process for handling connectivity and associated security.

Lightning Connect can consume data from any Open Data (OData) source or connect to any web API with simple Apex adapters, which also opens up more than 10,000 public API’s available on the Internet.  You can now create, read, update and delete records in your external sources in real-time, directly from Salesforce, so you can not only access customer data sitting isolated in those back office departmental silos, but manage and update it. 

It all comes back to the customer (or citizen) experience

This creates a connected app experience for your users and empowers people with the most up-to-date information, whenever and wherever they want it.  Data is transient, with no storage footprint in Salesforce, so it can reside in the back-office, but be available to users in their front-end of interactions, empowering them to connect and collaborate in an agile way and be even more responsive to citizens’ needs.

When you integrate your systems effectively, you empower your employees to gain real-time visibility into customer data wherever you hold it, enabling them to be more productive and to serve your customers more proactively and effectively, creating a far better customer experience.  See for yourself how you can achieve this a few simple declarative steps in this short video. 

So next time you have to ask about integration, you may not need that super strong tea with three sugars to soften the blow.

To see how Salesforce can help you on your digital transformation journey, I suggest you check out: Expectations of Government Services - Delivering cost effective services to the public more efficiently.