You probably use a number of “apps” like Google Docs, Gmail, a CRM system, Evernote, a productivity tool like Trello or Asana and more. Most of those apps have APIs, which enable them to talk to each other—assuming there is some type of “middleware” or software that connects the two.
Generally, systems integrations—even where the two systems you are integrating both have good APIs—take a good deal of time, money and the expertise of a developer. Personally, I’m a big fan of finding hacks that make my life and work more productive and don’t require a lot of time, money or programming expertise. This is why I lean heavily on app integration tools like Zapier and IFTTT to connect the tools I use without the need for a developer.
Let me give you a recent example of where I was able to easily and cost-effectively integrate some apps I use daily to make my life more efficient. Our office manager Delia needs all of our receipts from the purchases we make, whether it be for a software subscription to a tool like Hubspot, or a simple receipt for some drinks from a client schmoozing activity. These receipts come in all formats from paper to emails with PDFs, or even emails without PDFs attached. I despise keeping paper receipts in my wallet, and even if I do, many times I’ll forget to give them to our office manager (sorry Delia) or they’ll end up in the washing machine in my pocket.
I created an automated process using IFTTT, which automatically sends the paper receipts I photograph to Delia via email! She’s got an IFTTT recipe set up on her end to save emails with my paper receipts into a designated Google Drive folder. Now I just get a receipt, take a quick photo on my phone, place it in a receipts album and voila! Delia has everything she needs and I can throw out the paper version.
With so many valuable apps you are using in the cloud, how can you utilize their APIs in a non-technical way to pass information back and forth and connect information between them?
There are a few solutions that I’ve been using to “connect” or “integrate” my apps on a regular basis. More and more solutions like these are arriving each day, varying in scope and price. Today we’ll talk about three of these solutions:
How Do You Know Which Solution Is For You?
The first thing you have to look at is whether or not the apps you want to integrate are supported by the service. Next, you’ll want to dig a little deeper and make sure the specific features of apps you want to integrate are supported. For example, even though Zapier supports Hubspot integration, there is no way to pass the Hubspot cookie value along with your data to ensure closed-loop tracking. If your app isn’t supported or your needed features/data are not supported, look into whether you can build your own “app” in the service easily to handle your specific needs. Finally, what are you willing to pay to use the service? Each service differs a bit in how they charge for connections and moving data.
Talk The Talk: Automation Language
When creating your automations, you’ll need to understand a little bit about how each of these systems work. Each of these tools uses their own “language” to describe what they do. It’s clever branding, but can be a challenge when first adopting a tool. We’ve summarized the lingo below:
Connection: When you “connect” two apps using any of the services below.
Apps: The tools or cloud-based applications that you are using in a connection.
Trigger: When something specific happens in one app, this could be a trigger. For example, adding a new row to a Google Spreadsheet can be a trigger.
Action: When a trigger happens, what action should be taken in the other app.
Data: Typically when creating a connection, you’ll be passing information or fields from one app to another. This is the data.
As you can see, knowing the terminology for each tool will make it easier to understand how to get automations set up quicker. Next, we’ll cover each tool a little more in depth including videos on setting up automations in each.
Zapier is probably the most popular, expansive and fastest growing tool for connecting your automations between your cloud apps. It has a very easy-to-use user interface, as well as fast and helpful support. Plans are affordable and fit most budgets. You can see a list of the apps Zapier supports in their App Directory.
IFTTT focused initially more on the consumer market with an expansive “Home Automation” library of apps (“channels” in IFTTT lingo), as well as mobile integration. The full list of apps/channels can be found here. Chances are if you need to automate something involving your phone, IFTTT will be your choice. The business apps supported are limited, but hit some of the big ones with Google Drive, Trello, Evernote and more. The price is right at free, however, Premium accounts are on the way.
Lastly, check out Life Hack’s list of 35 IFTTT recipes to get ideas on creating more automation in your life with IFTTT.
ItDuzzIt seems to be the least popular tool of the three covered in this article, however, it might hold the most promise yet as it was acquired by Intuit almost a year ago. The overall user experience with this tool is poor and feels dated, which is worrisome since you would hope the acquisition provided an opportunity to improve. The app library is expansive. Pricing is based on usage with some restrictive limits.
When Your App Isn’t Supported (And Other Advanced Techniques)
There will be instances where you’ll have to find workarounds for some of the limitations all the tools have. For example, let’s say you want to log all of the form submissions for a particular standard HTML/PHP form in a Google Spreadsheet. In this case there is no API to tie into, but the form is able to send email notifications containing the form submission data. With Zapier, you can set up a free e-mail parser to receive and process the email so that you can insert individual data elements from the form into the correct column in your Google Spreadsheet.
In a different situation with Zapier, I had an app that was not supported in Zapier (Solve360 CRM), which I needed to sync with Hubspot (an app supported by Zapier). Solve360 offered webhooks for integration, which Zapier also supports. A webhook is simply an HTTP request that is made when “something” happens in-app. For example, if I update a new contact in Solve360, a webhook is fired which will notify, (in this case), Zapier, passing along pertinent information with the alert. I was able to connect the apps using a webhook trigger from Solve360 and an action in Hubspot (create or update contact).
With IFTTT I was able to use their iOS integration (via an app installed on your phone) to monitor for new photos in my “receipts” album. When a new photo was added to the album, I had an IFTTT recipe set up to save the file in Google Drive automatically.
With all of these tools, you have the option of using an intermediary step like using a spreadsheet as an intermediary data store. For example, if you have two apps that you need to connect but only one is supported on Zapier and one on IFTTT, you could theoretically use Zapier to send data to a Google Spreadsheet and have IFTTT fire a trigger when the same Google Spreadsheet is modified, thereby linking the two apps.
Lastly, both Zapier and ItDuzzIt allow you to build your own apps on to the system, assuming they have an API. It’s hard for me as a non-developer to evaluate which tool is easier or better with this approach, but it can be done and supposedly doesn’t always require a developer to be involved.
I hope you’ve read some useful tips and are inspired to start automating some of your life with Zapier, ItDuzzIt and IFTTT. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will try and support your efforts to automate. Also, keep in mind there are other tools like these, including pipethru.com, cloudworks and more.
[UPDATE]: itDuzzit closed down in July 2016. The service is no longer available.