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Extending your Employee App with Integrations

Ever wondered how integrations work with Staffbase? In this first English episode of STAFFBASICS our founder Martin Böhringer explains what types of integrations there are and how they work. Get your popcorn and let's go!

 

 

Staffbasics Integrations Whiteboard complete

TRANSCRIPT OF THE VIDEO:

Martin: Hi, my name is Martin from Staffbase. Today I want to talk about how to extend your employee app with integrations. When I talk to customers about integrations, I see that there are a lot of things and ideas floating around. I mean, you mostly start with the out-of-the-box Staffbase functionality like news, and pages, and the chat, and the form. The first thing when integrations come to mind is integrating your external user directory, right?

You have many employees and you want to sync them with Staffbase. This is the most common integration we have. Then a lot of customers also have external content management systems. Content management systems where we already create and edit or manage other content, and they want to automatically sync these with Staffbase.

But then we have things like HR processes, leave request, paystub, but also things like survey tools and idea management. You might have all of them in your existing tool landscape and you want them in your app. The question is: how can you do it? Because those are valid different use cases and you need valid different types of integrations.
Staffbasics Integrations To have a start and to really understand, "Okay, what are we talking about?" It's really easy to think about user interface versus data. "Do I have an integration that I already have a user interface which I can reuse, or do I don't have this and I have to do a data-based integration?" So what does this mean?

 

Integrations based on an existing user interface

If you have your tool in the intranet for example, like a leave request, then this is available in your browser and it's mobile ready, meaning that it's responsive, it can be opened in a mobile browser and it's accessible from the outside. Then this means you could use this and put it into your app. You have your logo and you have your look and feel and the existing user interface of your existing tool would fit right in.

This is the most easy and most straightforward way to bring in external services. Staffbase supports different levels of integration. The most simple one is the link and you'll just have a link here on your app and then you open the mobile's Fiori or mobile browser on Android and you are in this other tool. This is possible and the same way you could just embed things.

You could use this Valda page and show it directly inside the App. Both things, external link and embedded page mean that people have to reauthenticate though. It's really a good way if you have an external page for your meal plan or the report that you don't need authentication for, then this is cool. If you have an HR service, for example, it's not so cool because, you know, people have to reauthenticate.
Types of IntegrationsThis would mean they are in your app, they already logged-in and they have to fill out the username and password again. It's extra effort and not cool. This is why Staffbase has something we call plugins. Plugins are basically embedded pages we use for browser interface of your existing tool, but they support single sign-on.

This means that the app tells this browser page who the authenticated user is. This works like magic, the user is directly inside this tool and it's a seamless experience. The way we do it is we use single sign-on standouts like SAML and JWT, especially SAML is something which is widely used in enterprise contexts. If you go to your IT and ask them, "Okay, is this particular service available with SAML single sign-on?" And they say, "yes," it's very likely that we are able to easily integrate this into the employee app.

This is also the way we would integrate SAP Fiori by the way. This is something we hear very often. If you have an SAP system for HR, for example, many of you might already have Fiori which is a new product from SAP, which provides browser-based access to HR processes. Fiori is supported by our plugin API.

The one possible blocker is that your app is on private devices, it's in the public internet. It's not in your intranet. It's not behind your firewall. This means that if you have a case in which, for example, your would like to integrate a leave request page 
and this page is behind the firewall, so only accessible from your corporate PCs, we cannot embed it.


Of course, there are ways around this. We can always talk to our IT specialists and, you know, do something like we use a proxy in your firewall, meaning we would enable access to this internal tool from an external one. But it's not plug and play in this case, we have to look into the case and decide what the best process to integrate is.

 

Integrations based on data
If you don't have this user interface, if you don't have something which works on mobile, which is accessible from the outside, it means you need another way to interact with your integration. For example, let's take your user directory. If your user directory doesn't have a user interface you just want to get the data from maybe your Active Directory or whatever means of directory you have, and you want to get this into Staffbase. It's about more than just showing the browser page, you need the data. You need two technical systems to talk to each other.

The magic keyword here is an API. API stands for application programming interface and is just the up-to-date standard. Staffbase supports APIs and many of your tools also support APIs. So this is just a standardized way for two systems to talk to each other and exchange data. We support APIs for things like user management and content management and things like chat.
Staffbasics IntegrationsThis means you can put content from the outside into Staffbase, right, and you also can get it out automatically. In the case of users, this means that you could have a program that takes the users from your HR system and puts them into Staffbase automatically.

The same thing can work with your CMS. We already have a standard integration with SharePoint, but its also possible to have another integration for your content management system. This enables you to push an article into the app and automatically publish something in the CMS. For users, we also have a special API which is called EDAP.

That's the foundation for the active directory for Microsoft and other products which are widely used. The chance is very, very high that your company uses EDAP directory and that this supports EDAP. It's like a standard API which is even more specialized to this use case and we can just turn it on for you. The requirement, of course, is that all your users are in this EDAP directory. It's often the case for white collar workers, but often not the case for blue collar workers.

When it comes to content for the content management system, we also support things like JSON and RSS, two lightweight formats to structure content. The chance is pretty high, that your content management system already supports these and that this is something that doesn't need programming but that you can just plug and play, activate the integration.

Another way to think of this kind of, you know, I would say easy integration is to use chat. Chat also has an API, right? It's a standard functionality of Staffbase. It looks like Staffbase, but you can insert content from the outside. You could, for example, create a chatbot using the Staffbase chat and send the pay stub of an employee as a PDF. That's possible. This means you don't need an existing frontent, you don't need a user interface for the pay stub, you just need this PDF and a little bit of programming. You can use the user interface from Staffbase as a chatbot to send the PDF.

This is also pretty straightforward, pretty easy. You also have seen people using, for example, our content API to sync the meal plan as a page in Staffbase. It's obviously the same principle. You use something which is already there in Staffbase and get content from the outside. If that's not possible, if you don't have a user interface, you can reuse and you don't have an IU you can reuse, then you have to do it on your own.

This is often the case when we talk about processes. So you want to, know...for example, leave request process? You don't have something available from the outside or it's not mobile ready, but it's also too complicated to reuse Staffbase UI. You don't want to have leave request process as a chatbot. It's just too complicated. You for example need the page with some form elements that people can put in the dates and the reason for the vacation.

You'll need a customized UI and we have something which we call the custom plugin API. This enables you to create your own web applications and put them inside the app. Again, like with the plugins here, this custom thing gets the credentials from the app. But the difference is that here, you are in total control.

 

Creating a new UI for Integrations
You don't have to reuse what's already there, you can also create whatever you need and this is something you can do on your own or your agency or your IT service provider can do for you. This is also something you can host in your own data centers. This is also your option if you have confidential content, content which you don't want to be in the cloud at Staffbase, but that you want to have on your own premises, on your own servers.

This custom plugin directly talks to your employee app. It doesn't touch Staffbase servers. This is also a very good option if you have to breach an on-premise HR system to the outside and to the employee app. Because this can be directly on your firewall, on your on-premise system, and it can talk to both sides to HR system and to the Employee App. We have STKs, so this means like a template, a starting point for your developers to create this.

The STKs are available for Java, for PHP and OJS for widely used technologies for app development and it's definitely the highest effort. Someone has to develop something. Another one has to create something, it has to be hosted, but it contains the highest flexibility and this means that you can extend the app with all the functionalities you need, without relying on Staffbase as a standard tool.

 

We have seen customers who start with our standard things who then start embedding, but then they go into custom plugins and put all their individual use cases inside the app. The app is like a container for all the things you can create to make your employees happy. 

This is a brief overview on integrations at Staffbase. Of course, there is a lot more to talk about. This is what we do at our developer portal at https://developers.staffbase.com/. We have a solution engineering team who is really happy to talk to you. So please reach out. Tell us your problems, your ideas, and we're here to help. Thank you.

 

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For more information about internal communication in the digital workplace, please feel free to contact us or check out the following articles in our blog:

Written by Martin Böhringer

Martin is the CEO and co-founder of Staffbase. He is passionate about helping organizations interact with their employees in a more direct and meaningful way. He is an intranet and communication expert who did multiple years of research in the field (and holds a PhD). After his research career he has been active as an entrepreneur, leading a Forrester "Pioneer Vendor" cloud product before co-founding Staffbase.