30 Nov

SaaS Integration: Multi-Step Workflows & The Category’s Future

yahoo-pipes

Retrieving and remixing data from web APIs and SaaS through two or more steps is a decade-old idea, starting with Yahoo Pipes in 2007 if not earlier (screenshot above from Derek Banas). While the concept is promising, the execution has often fallen short because of a variety of hurdles:

  • The broader the targeted user base, the harder it is to provide a user experience that less technically-inclined people can figure out. It’s one thing to serve developers and tech-savvy business analysts, but it takes more UI chops to be within reach of your average marketer who’s likely challenged by, say, simple pivot tables.
  • APIs keep changing all the time, so reliable SaaS middleware has to do a lot behind the scenes to limit breakage and confusion for its end users. Otherwise your workflow works, and then it doesn’t.
  • What’s the business model? Yahoo Pipes obviously didn’t have any. On the other end, enterprise tools tend to limit themselves to the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” upper end of the market. It’s only in the last couple of years that affordable but sustainable SaaS integration (to do more than basic 2-step workflows) emerged. That means relatively cheap subscriptions, because there’s no way ads or one-off sales can support this sort of product over the long haul.

In a previous entry I tracked the players and events in the SaaS integration market. Here I’ll start by comparing what kind of UI is delivered by market participants to manage nontrivial workflows, and I’ll conclude with a few strategic considerations. Read More

17 Nov

Saas Integration: Trends & Players

cloud-integration-galore

Note: entry originally published in November 2014, maintained regularly since then.

By definition Software as a Service is easier to roll out than on-premises software because you don’t have to install it on your own servers, let alone desktops or mobile devices. This favors a best-of-breed approach rather than picking monolithic suites from the same vendor. That alone is a big market shift from the steamrolling that Microsoft was able to inflict in the 90s on the desktop with Office, and to a lesser extent on servers with what was then known as BackOffice. Over the past decades, IBM became DEC, Microsoft became IBM, Google became Microsoft, and a thousand SaaS players are now blooming – though none of them has quite become the next Google yet. Facebook and Apple, consumer companies at heart, are shunning this market for the most part .

As of the mid 2010s there’s SaaS not just for broad enterprise functions such marketing, sales, or HR, but it’s also getting very granular within these functions. The “tech marketing” space has been booming for years with ever more targeted applications (split tests for freemium mobile games anyone?) mushrooming every day, while other functions such as HR have been receiving increased attention as of late.

Which means team, departments and whole organizations increasingly need to integrate this plethora of applications, especially if they’re trying to, say, build a common view of their customers.Like most things SaaS, Salesforce has led the charge years ago to the point of turning into a platform. Beyond granddaddy SFDC, the marketplace has responded with the emergence of SaaS middleware, as well as an increased number of bilateral integration efforts among vendors. Microsoft has also shown keen interest in this category. This is what this entry is about. Read More

12 Nov

Mount, Backup, Sync: Flexible Cloud Storage Options for Windows (Personal) Users

cloud-copying

Cloud storage for consumers and small businesses (i.e. not enterprise) has “traditionally” been associated with the concept of syncing a dedicated local folder with the cloud, because it’s the way desktop apps from DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive and the likes work. You pretty much have to adapt your file organization to their way of thinking and use their client.

But what if you want to back up existing folders or network drives? Then you have “cold storage” solutions such as CrashPlan or BackBlaze, but they have their own hard-set constraints and perspective on how things should work that you have to adhere to.

And what if you want to extend your storage into the cloud, to store stuff that you are not going to keep around locally? That’s just how sync works by definition, while the backup-oriented services will eventually (some earlier than others) drop the files that they no longer see on your local system. This is a data retention policy and business model choice from the likes of Backblaze, not a technical limitation.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have more flexibility and use the cloud as if it was just another drive? That’s what we’re going to explore in this entry.

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04 Nov

Combine PhpStorm with Browser Dev Tools on Windows For Top Productivity

dev-tool-showdown

Following my entries on PhpStorm and Docker, here are my notes on the state of browser dev tools. When working on a website, especially if you’re doing full-stack work that spans design, backend and frontend code, the browser and its development addons become an integral part of your toolset. Browsers provide a lot of functionality that you just won’t find even in a powerful IDE like PhpStorm.

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22 Oct

Interesting Design Pattern: Content Organized by Date

nemodocuments

I’ve noticed in several apps and sites lately that the way they organize content based on date metadata ends up being pretty convenient. What these apps have in common is that you can interact with any given type of content said apps are specialized in based on when that interaction happened, not other common properties such as file name or extension. In other words these apps are not a calendar, but they’re looking like one, which I find interesting just like an outliner as a separate app isn’t terribly valuable to me, but I do love outliners within apps as a way to organize the UI.

I think the temporal axis maps well with how the brain works, and if well done, it allows for some fuzziness. Sometimes you may not remember a file’s name or location, but you know for sure you worked on it on Monday last week, or maybe just sometime last month. Examples: Read More

21 Oct

Using Docker Instead of Vagrant for Web Dev on a Windows PC

docker-win

I started using Vagrant to develop Linux-based websites on my Windows desktop in 2014, as an upgrade from running XAMPP. At the time there were significant practical differences between Vagrant and Docker, but since then they’ve been moving towards each other – functionally if not in strict architectural terms – as Docker Inc. has been gobbling components with the acquisition of KitematicTutum (now Docker Cloud) and other projects.

I’ve been reading about Docker to wrap my head around this ecosystem, and now that I’ve started using it here are my notes, updated on an ongoing basis as I go through a bunch of research/trial/error/fix phases. You’ll find plenty of practical tips to address the kind of pesky issues you run into when you really try to get a whole stack working, as opposed to just kicking the tires with a couple containers that don’t do much.

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11 Oct

PhpStorm Integration & Productivity Tips for Windows-Hosted PHP Dev [Visual Guide]

phpstorm-docker

Along with my recent move from Vagrant to Docker I decided to revisit a number of tooling choices that I hadn’t second-guessed in a couple of years. The best new mousetrap I adopted after that review is PhpStorm, an IDE that manages to include a huge amount of features and integration capabilities without feeling bloated.

Here’s how I set it up so far with my Docker/LEMP/WP/JS/Jquery/Bootstrap/LESS stack in mind. Though this entry is focused on Windows, PhpStorm is cross-platform and most of what follows applies to Linux and Mac users.wita

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29 Sep

Microsoft Outlook As A Platform – Take 2: From the Desktop to the Web

outlook-integration

This 2004 entry was updated from the 2016 vantage point. Keep reading to the bottom for entertaining archaeology and to see how Microsoft is now making a real effort at integrating with modern web apps.

Updates

09/27/16 – New Outlook partner integrations help you extend your email capabilities. This makes desktop Outlook both a web-enabled app and a more traditional client-server app (if connected to MS Exchange Server), which is pretty cool.

See this list of 200+ add-ins for Outlook and Office 365 Connectors, which are starting to work with Outlook. And also Saas Integration Trends & Players.

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