SaaS connectors – Interview with Cloud Elements

saas connectors

This week, I have had the pleasure to meet Ross Garrett, Head of Product Marketing at Cloud Elements. Ross accepted to share with us some information about his company.

Stephane Castellani: Hi Ross, can you please present Cloud Elements in a few words?

Ross Garret: Cloud Elements is a leading API integration cloud platform, based in Denver, Colorado. We were founded in 2012, and have raised around $22M in venture funding – most recently a $13M Series B round in January 2017. Our company has been expanding rapidly, with more than 3x revenue growth last year, and a team of around 80 people. We have established ourselves as the leading vendor in embedded integration for SaaS App Providers – with 150 of the largest ISVs choosing Cloud Elements to power the integration experiences they offer their customers. This year we have expanded our focus to include digital enterprise use cases, helping enterprises deliver integrated SaaS-like experiences to their customers.

SC: What is your flagship product?

RG: Cloud Elements is redefining the approach to integration. With our market leading API Integration Platform, we’re turning this once debilitating act into a competitive advantage, and encourage organizations everywhere to join our anti-iPaaS movement!
With over 125 Elements in our catalog, we offer more pre-built integrations to the apps and services you need than anyone else. And our Elements go beyond simple connectors – with each Element you get advanced features designed to provide a unified experience for your developers. And our Common Data Model approach has shifted the focus of integration away from the interfaces you connect, towards the data you care about.

SC: What is your value proposition?

RG: Organizations must shift the burden of integration away from customers and developers, and provide productized and reliable integration functionality embedded within every product. Stop forcing your customers to solve integration problems themselves.
Integration isn’t easy. In fact it can be very hard. And distracts engineering teams from building features that are core to your business.
Cloud Elements delivers integration that works. Our customers put their faith in our technology, to drive their customer experiences. So go create great products and great experiences that are core to your business. We’ll handle the REST!

SC: Why are SaaS connectors so important today? Which issues are you addressing?

RG: No product can be an island – integration with other apps and services is fundamental today for any product to be successful and sticky. That makes pre-built integration to SaaS applications highly sought after, and incredibly valuable.
Service Providers are losing customers, and losing new business due to missing integration. Today, integration is a top requirement when evaluating a product – if you don’t offer connectivity to the apps & services a customer is asking for, they’ll simply go elsewhere.

SC: How do you solve those issues?

RG: Cloud Elements is all about turning the once debilitating act of integration into a competitive advantage. We provide access to a catalog of over 125 pre-built “elements” (connectors) to the most popular enterprise SaaS applications. We have redefined the approach to integration – with a data-centric model that moves away from the “point-to-point” integration hairball offered by all other vendors. By providing API Hubs, and focusing on the data you care about rather than the interface, we have turned integration into a scalable “one-to-many” approach.

SC: What are the benefits or your product? Is there any available ROI?

RG: Time-to-market is the clearest benefit derived from the Cloud Elements platform. It is often thought that connecting to an API is easy – most today are RESTful after all. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Connections are easy, but integrations are hard.
Most often, our customers are considering to build integrations on their own – but this can be a costly mistake. The conversation with engineering goes something like this
Product Manager: So how long will it take to get an integration with Salesforce, SugarCRM & NetSuite
Engineer: It should be easy, probably 1 week.
(1 week later)
Product Manager: What’s the status on those integrations?
Engineer: Well the basic API calls are working, but I should really figure out a consistent error handling strategy. Let’s say 2 more weeks.
(2 weeks later)
Product Manager: Are we ready to launch?
Engineer: Well we could, but I think some customers might have custom data in their CRMs – so we need to figure out how to handle that. Let’s say 4 weeks to be safe.
(4 weeks later)
Product Manager: Ok, these integrations must be awesome by now. Let’s launch!
Engineer: Ah not so fast, Salesforce changed their API so what we’ve built doesn’t work right now.
And this story continues while engineering discover more and more integration challenges – what lies beneath the tip of the iceberg. The 1 week project extends to several months, and the work done still has no resilience, since APIs are subject to continuous change.
Cloud Elements take all of this burden away. We have built each element (connector) with a range of advanced features (standardized auth, webhooks, paging, error handling, bulk support, custom data discovery… the list goes on). We also have a team dedicated to API maintenance – 15 people whose job it is to ensure our integrations keep up with any changes from the API Provider, and we have partnerships in place with the API Providers to get advance notice of these changes.
So the RoI with Cloud Elements is simple. Our platform provides productized integration you can count on over time, with maintenance that stays ahead of changes. This compared with your own team of engineers to build out an integration platform, build scalable integration connectors and then manage it all in perpetuity – all while features core to your business are delayed or forgotten.

SC: Which channels do you sell your product through? Online, via sales teams, via partners?

RG: Cloud Elements has a sales team focused on each of 3 areas – SaaS Providers, Enterprise, and Platform Providers.
The platform is also available via the AWS marketplace.
Our elements have been bundled in a number of integration platform providers – E.g. Axway API Management & IBM.

SC: Technically speaking, how do you manage API security and ease of integration?

RG: Cloud Elements considers various aspects regarding API Security:

  1. We manage API access into our platform with revocable API tokens.
  2. We maintain access & refresh tokens as needed for each elements that is authenticated to the backend API Provider.
  3. We rely on the API Provider to authenticate and authorize each element connection.
  4. And of course all API calls are sent over secure connections.

 

SC: API interfaces evolve frequently, how do you manage that and avoid degradation of service?

RG: We have a team dedicated to API maintenance – 15 people whose job it is to ensure our integrations keep up with any changes from the API Provider. We manage over 3500 APIs total, and we have 150 third party partnerships in place with the API Providers with contractual rights to deliver our service.

SC: How do you manage API versioning?

RG: This is a 2 part question really:

  1. The Cloud Elements Platform APIs are backwards compatible, to ease any versioning issues. For example – until recently if you wanted to call a custom data object (E.g. Customers) you would need to know this resource existed within the CRM Hub and so call GET /CRM/Customers. But some resources span across hubs, so we removed the need to use the HubID, and it’s now possible to call GET /Customers. However, the old behavior still works as before.
  2. All version management for the API Providers is managed by our maintenance team. See above for details.

SC: Can you share with us your product presentation video?

RG: Here is the Cloud Elements product presentation video:

 

SC: Are there any other topics you would like to share with the APIFriends audience?

RG: Our vision at Cloud Elements is to make it faster and easier for developers to connect and work with any API. Each new service or application is an island of data, causing developers to be overrun with new APIs, resources and information. And with each new API, developers are challenged with determining how it works and what value writing to the API brings.
We produced a report that helps to address integration challenges that arise with the proliferation of APIs. Providing trends, insights on ease of integration, data on where the industry is strong, and where it is going next.

SC: Thank you Ross, it was great talking to you and knowing Cloud Elements better!

RG: Thank you Stephane.

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