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Get Connected, Lightning Fast

During the Salesforce1 Platform Keynote at Dreamforce 14 they dazzled us with simulated lightning, but there was a lot of substance behind the sizzle as they rolled out the Lightning Platform features. Among all the exciting functionality on display, what floored me the most was the announcement of the Lightning Connect feature available in the Winter ’15 Release.

To those who know me, and my data-based obsessions, that may not come as a big surprise. What’s so striking about Lightning Connect? Have you ever had to integrate external data into Salesforce? Did you spend weeks, if not months, coding a solution to pass data between the two systems? Or did you have to set up an overly complicated process of regular imports to try to keep the two systems in relative sync?

What if I told you that Lightning Connect enables you to create a real-time integration in an amount of time best measured by hours, not days? Not only that, what if I told you it could be done with just clicks not code? Yeah, that’s the struck by Lightning feeling I was talking about!

How does it work?

You can read the Winter ’15 Release Notes for all the technical details, but in very simple terms it’s a two step process.

First, you’ll create a Data Source for the external system by establishing a connection using the Open Data (OData) Protocol (the URL for this connection must be accessible to the application servers over the Internet).

Next, you define new “External” Custom Objects to which you’ll  map the data from the source. These objects behave a lot like the custom objects you’ve used before in Salesforce, allowing you to define fields and create relationships to other Salesforce data objects, internal or external. The one big difference is that all of the External Data Object’s fields are read only.

How might you use such an integration?

If you’re selling tickets to exhibits or events through a Point of Sale system, you might want see a history of purchases made on your Constituent records. You might also want to track all of the Merchandise Orders they’ve made through your eCommerce system. Imagine having a complete view of all the financial interactions your constituents have had with your organization.

With Lightning Connect this is now possible, and the information displayed in the related lists on your Constituent records will update automatically, in real time, with no need to run regular imports or maintain custom code. The data from these external sources is even searchable.

The feature does have its limitations as currently available. Unfortunately the external data objects cannot be accessed in reports. It’s also not a true, bidirectional integration. If you need to send data back to the external data source from Salesforce, you’ll have to look at a solution that uses custom code.

How much does Lightning Connect cost?

Lightning Connect is already enabled in Enterprise editions. To check it out for yourself, go to Setup | Develop | External Data Source. For specific pricing information, please contact your Salesforce Account Executive.

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