Bridging Your Data: Four Ways to Make Databases Communicate

Bridging Your Data: Four Ways to Make Databases Communicate

So, you want to consolidate your data between two different databases? That is a great idea—what better way could there be to share information between departments? Data entry would be reduced and reports would be more robust. The result would be a more efficient use of time, enhanced measurement of outcomes and better communication between staff. What’s not to like? But it begs the question…how do you do it?

Before we delve into that question, you need to first understand the fundamentals of integration. This will help you explain the process to decision makers and influencers as you conduct your due diligence and figure out the costs involved. Integration is much like building a bridge over a river. Each side of the river represents your disparate databases. For example, let’s say you wish to have record of all QuickBooks invoices under the respective account record in Salesforce. The result would be a bird’s-eye view of your constituents from invoicing to donations. You would need to build a bridge for the two databases to communicate. That said, much like in real life, you would have to build that bridge and that bridge can take on many forms.

Before you can select the most appropriate bridge, your organization must first consider data load, budget, time constraints and syncing requirements. For example, will the bridge have traffic approaching from both sides of the river (sync parameters)? Will the bridge need to handle heavy loads of traffic such as trucks and cars (data load)? Will this bridge need to be open 24 hours a day (API)? Most importantly, what can you afford? Once these questions have been answered you will have a better idea of what option is the most appropriate for your organization. It should be no surprise that a virtual bridge (much like a real bridge) is going to be more expensive to build the bigger you require it to be. If you want a freeway bridge that allows for two-way traffic and stays open 24 hours a day, you should expect to spend more than if you were to build a walking rope bridge. To help you navigate your choices, we have listed the four most common options for building a bridge when considering an integration between two disparate databases.

OPTION #1: Point to Point (or, a steel bridge)

Option one is likely the most familiar option to those considering integration and is referred to as “Point to point” or a coded integration. Keeping up our metaphor, this would be the equivalent to a steel bridge. With this integration model you can design the bridge exactly to your specifications. It is strong and stable but usually expensive to build and maintain. The benefit of this option is that your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is generally lower than the other options since you will own the bridge once it is built. However, if changes or enhancements are required you will need to foot the bill. You also will likely require support from the original firm that helped you build the integration – so make sure you stay on good terms. In the event you switch firms you will likely accrue a 20% increase in deployment costs to allow the other consulting firm to “relearn” what your previous consulting firm built.
In a nutshell: This option is ideal for the organization that has highly customizable requirements and is likely going to have very few changes in its business process.

OPTION #2: Middleware (or, a floating bridge)

Option two, referred to as “middleware” could be thought of as a floating bridge. It has less startup cost than option one and will provide roughly the same ability to customize. Moreover, these customizations are easier to deploy. In some cases no coding experience is required to make changes. In addition, in the event that you wish to switch consulting firms it will be easier to do so since middleware is designed to be deployed by multiple partners. However, unlike option one, you do not own the bridge so you will be required to pay a monthly fee to the middleware provider. It is also important to note that it can take much longer to conduct due diligence. Quality varies between middleware providers and some middleware is more appropriate than others depending on the integration you require. Examples of middleware providers include but are not limited to Pervasive, Cast Iron, Interweave, and DBSync.
In a nutshell: This option is ideal for the organization that has highly customizable requirements and is likely going to have adjustments in the near future to its business process.

OPTION #3: Application (or, a toll bridge)

Option three, an application, is likely the best bang for your buck. The integration is usually stable and the costs are considerably less expensive than option one or two. This integration is best described as a toll bridge. This is primarily because you may only cross the bridge if you pay for access (i.e. credit card fees) Moreover, don’t expect frequent changes to the integration since it will only be updated when the company see fits to do so (usually quarterly). There is no promise that they will add the customization or enhancements you require. This tends to mean compromise of some kind, usually in your business process. On the positive side, this is an affordable solution that requires less attention and maintenance.
In a nutshell: This integration is best for a small to medium sized organizations that do not require much customization and have a pliable business process that can be adjusted to fit the solution.

OPTION #4: Manual import/export (or, a raft)

If options one through three were bridges, option four would be best described as a raft. Manual import/export is a laborious but very inexpensive process (excluding labor). This process is generally done with an upload to an excel spreadsheet and a download into the alternative solution. The more tables and records you possess in the transfer, the longer the process will be. This is not an automated process and may only be facilitated as a one way sync. This process can be sped up with an import tool like CRM Fusion but will likely be somewhat frustrating. We recommend that your organization carefully document your import/export process since it must be conducted in a very methodical way to be effective. One simple error and you’ll be right back where you started.
In a nutshell: This solution is recommended for either the very advanced integration with a low budget or a simple integration with a low budget. As unattractive as this option may appear, it may be your best and only option when you consider budget.

Below is a simple matrix we put together to help with the selection process. Please keep in mind that all these integration types could be leveraged in multiple business environments but these are the recommended applications.

Integration Type Metaphor Customizable Best Case Sync Open API Required Consulting support required Ongoing IT Support Recommended
Point-to-point Steel Bridge High Two Way Yes Yes Yes
Middleware Floating Bridge High Two Way Yes Yes No*
Application Toll Bridge Low Two Way Yes No* No
Import/ Export Raft Low One Way No Yes No

*This may vary depending on the type of integration that is required.

So after all is said and done, does your organization have experience with integrating data between multiple systems? Which “bridges” have worked best for you and why?

Rob Jordan

About Rob Jordan

Rob Jordan is the principal and CEO of Idealist Consulting Idealist consulting provides progressive and innovative Salesforce CRM deployments for NonProfits, Business and Governmental organization. The Idealist team is a robust group of developers,consultants and project managers having deployed over 750 projects throughout the hemisphere operating in both English and Spanish. To learn more about Idealist Consulting and how we may help please reach out to us directly at 800-678-9874


  1. frasheenmp

    i need more explanation…..

  2. Susan Kenna Wright

    I’ve recently seen great use of Jitterbit and Salesforce-to-Salesforce for database connections.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *