Tech digression: integration

Our post last week announcing that we now have practically one-click integration with hundreds of cloud services, via Zapier, seemed to touch a chord, with some great feedback on twitter.

People have been asking us how we embrace other services and whether other close-knit integrations are possible. The answer is yes, there are many integration facilities built in.

I’ll now take a semi-technical detour to explain these in a bit of depth, so if you’re not interested in nuts and bolts, feel free to skip and just give us a call! However, we always wish to explain things in plain English and that applies here no less than anywhere else.

Questions of this type generally revolve around existing software which is higher up the enterprise food chain such as SAP or custom ERP systems. For an example of the business outcomes of this type of integration, take a look at a case study covering this area.

So diving straight into the details that make these integrations possible, let’s first summarise the main options in one nutshell each. All of these can be enabled by someone using the agileBase administration interface.

Data going out

  • As mentioned above, Zapier integrations allow really easy secured transfer to supported services
    Example: sending invoices to your online accounts package as each one is generated
  • Export of data you choose to be ‘public’ using RSS data feeds. An RSS feed gives people notifications of new entries and many third party apps exist for reading them on phones, tablets and computers.
    Example: a product company may wish to publish new entries to their library of training or support videos
  • Calendar feeds. Using the standard iCal format, real-time data can be accessed on phone calendars, Google calendar, Outlook and many other calendar systems. Any data with a date in it can be transferred
    Example 1: keeping a handle on sales meetings
    Example 2: creating scheduled events, e.g. yearly warranty calls or todo follow-ups
  • A secured direct connection between your agileBase database and a specific enterprise app using the ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) standard
    Example: exporting data to an analytics package like Cognos or Tableau for executive dashboards
  • Generic secured data feeds out to third party systems, using JSON, ‘an open standard format that uses human -readable text to transmit data objects’. This is very simple to understand yet very powerful, we’ll cover it below
    Examples: syncing product info to an e-commerce package or new contacts to an email marketing system

Data coming in

  • Data posted in using a ‘public form’ on a website. agileBase will generate these
    Example: let your customers post support requests or request product demonstrations
  • Email integration: let agileBase import emails
    Example 1: attaching email discussions to sales opportunities
    Example 2: processing incoming orders
  • Authenticate and transmit individual data items in
    Example: a food monitoring system creates a notification when there is a warehouse temperature change
  • A secured direct connection between an enterprise app and agileBase using ODBC (as above) for large scale data transfers
    Example: daily imports of global sales data

Data feeds

Let’s take a closer look at JSON data feeds to make agileBase data available to other authenticated applications. JSON is an easily understood format which due to it’s simplicity enables integration with a large range of third party systems. How does it work?

Firstly, an administrator can set up a report of data to be used as a data source, by ticking the option ‘allow access from third party software’.

agileBase will generate and show an API key – a piece of text that can be used by a third party app to authenticate. This API key needs to be submitted by the third party software when each request for data is made.

agileBase will also show the other information necessary for the third party application to make a request for data over HTTPS – the standard secure data transfer mechanism over the web

On successful authentication, agileBase will send the data, which, as with any report, can contain fields from multiple sets of data and calculations. Here’s an example of what the actual data can look like, in this case a list of contacts

[
  {
    forename: "Oliver",
    surname: "Kohll",
    email_address: "oliver@agilebase.co.uk"
  },
  {
    forename: "Simon",
    surname: "Minton",
    email_address: "simon@agilebase.co.uk"
  },
  {
    forename: "Cliff",
    surname: "Calcutt",
    email_address: "cliff@agilebase.co.uk"
  }
]

As you can see, the meaning of the data is plain, so it’s easy for administrators to set up and test data transfers to any web-connected third party system.

There are various options for changing the way the data structure is constructed, to allow for integrations with many different types of system.

Well that’s a quick overview of the main options – I hope this gives a flavour of what’s possible. If any questions are still un-answered you know what to do.

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