With cloud solutions quickly replacing on-premise software, more business applications are being deployed than ever before. IT organizations and software vendors are increasingly asked to make sense of this new world. Can additional mission-critical workloads be moved into the cloud? How can existing SaaS workloads be rolled into enterprise infrastructure? The need to connect these systems makes integration into a broader set of applications and processes a must-have.

With this need, vendors have realized that building the right API is just as important as building a great user interface. In fact, many now pour resources into creating the perfect API. However, working with hundreds of software providers, it is clear that the API alone is not enough.

It’s time for SaaS providers to grow up and provide three core elements needed for easy and effective integration: a solid API, great templates and tools, and a strong community.

Why a strong API is only the beginning
A strong API remains the backbone of any SaaS provider’s integration tool set, but there are plenty of how-to guides you can turn to for this first step of the integration journey.

Even the greatest API in the world remains the equivalent of a pretty paperweight for most companies without a set of templates and resources to common integration problems, along with a collection of tools to help configure and customize these templates to an organization’s integration needs. Integration may not be drop-in, but it doesn’t have to be a mysterious science experiment either. More cloud systems means a more complicated process to connect to those systems, and it’s up to you to make that process as easy as possible.

What’s more, the popularity of SaaS has caused the commoditization of many business solution categories. Solving for various integration challenges may be the winning edge your company needs. Before diving in, remember that an API alone does not provide you with this winning edge. All too often, smart developers get caught up in thinking through every single use case and wasting resources honing their API to perfection. This one-size-fits-all, hardcoded solution works in very rigid ways and ends up hurting more than helping.

By creating a powerful API and then keeping it more open, customers can use your supporting documents and templates to drop in solutions or to make some easy modifications to meet their specific needs. The templates go beyond basic API creation and allow you to address common integration touch points without locking in the functionality of your solution.

It is an easy decision when you put it into perspective. Which would you rather use for the real-time, multi-point integration your boss is demanding in record time: a beautifully designed API, or a powerful, flexible API with comprehensive documentation and templates that make your life easier?

For those that want to take the next step, consider delivering a set of tools that enables partners and customers to configure any integration solution template you provide. If customers can use your tool set to modify workflow rules, filtering criteria, data mappings, data transformations, application endpoints and more, your API approach suddenly transforms the integration universe from one that includes only programmers to one that includes business and data analysts as well.

In essence, you’re empowering the folks who have an infinitely greater understanding of the needs and issues surrounding data integration. These users don’t care about the intricacies of your API, and they don’t have time to wait for scarce programming resources to be freed up to drive business value through integration. They just want to tweak templates to get the data they need now and with no hassle.

Documentation and templates are a powerful way to amplify the usefulness of an API. However, companies that stop here are still missing the final pillar of successful integration. Whether you like it or not, the rise of social has made communities the third piece of the API puzzle.

SaaS community: Build one and they will come
Blame the need for communities on social media and its impact on how business is conducted. The fact is that every company is intent on giving customers an incredible experience each time they interact with a brand and its products, and social communities have become a primary vehicle for those interactions.

On the API side, the technical specifications and reduced barriers to integration aren’t enough. You need to make your customers feel that they’ve done much more than simply purchase a piece of software; they need to feel like they’re part of a deep ecosystem of people, support, intelligence, communications and value-added services.

There are a few ways to do it: Create a dedicated portal to crowdsource tips and tricks with your API; build a full community support site and enlist subject matter experts; provide a certification program; or create a marketplace for integrations with your API. It doesn’t really matter where or how you build the community; the important thing is taking the leap into community-driven APIs.

Don’t make the mistake of expecting your API to outperform your competition, build long-term customer loyalty or create a truly great brand experience on the merits of its brilliant design alone.

Yes, your API needs to be great. So, by all means, create a powerhouse API. But don’t miss out on the opportunity to make your software a triple win by delivering the total package of integration and API excellence. Each of the three elements builds on the previous one, and when combined, create a complete API with the support needed to push your company over the competitive edge—and into your prospect companies.