Integrating Third Party Apps into Your Product: Benefits and Best Practices

Article by:
Maria Arinkina
15 min
Integrating third party apps can bring plenty of business benefits and speed up product development. But how do you select the best-fit options, and when should you do it? Keep reading to learn all the must-knows.

Imagine you've decided to make a bookcase for your living room. One way to do it is by handling all the woodworking yourself (sawing the lumber to get the needed lengths, smoothing the boards out, and then giving them the right color and finish). Yet, alternatively, you can go to the DIY section of a store like IKEA and purchase pre-cut ready-made shelf boards and furniture panels that you can assemble according to your needs. The second route will be much simpler, agree?

Product development teams often face the dilemma: should we build this feature from scratch? Truly, in many cases, it doesn't make sense to reinvent the wheel, as this path will be costly, time-consuming, and might not always be effective.

This is precisely why those planning minimum viable product development or other digital solution creation often consider the 3rd party integration option. What is a 3rd party app? On this page, we'll cover the must-knows on third-party apps, including how they work, as well as when and how to select them. We'll also share expert tips based on the extensive experience of Upsilon's CTO and COO. Let's roll!

What Are Third Party Apps?

In most cases, modern digital products are basically a collection of features. And yours doesn't necessarily have to be made up of exclusively custom-created parts. In fact, it's often pointless to invest resources into replicating what already exists, since third-party integrations are readily available for customization.

Third-party integration in product development is the process of incorporating external applications, tools, or specific features into a product or service. They let you use data, software, or functionality developed externally (by a third party) within your solution.

What Is a Third Party Application?

With third-party software integration, you don't have to rebuild a given feature or code it from the ground up. Once you include and configure it in your system, you'll have access to the external service or feature that has already been developed by another company which is responsible for its maintenance, too. By leveraging 3rd party integrations, teams can save time and effort on custom development and enhance their solution’s functionality with fewer resource investments.

Third Party Apps Examples

What kind of software can be integrated? For instance, such products as Uber or its analogs commonly use Google Maps inside their apps. Even well-known brands don't reinvent the map feature, instead, they plug it into their platforms via the Google Maps API.

‚ÄćWhat is a third party service provider then? Essentially, it's an external entity offering another company its services (e.g., technology) often on a subscription basis. Giving a few examples of providers, it could be cloud service providers like AWS or Azure, web hosting platforms like Bluehost or GoDaddy, or a software-as-a-service (SaaS) CRM platform like Salesforce.

Here are some more third party software examples which get integrated very often, including a few of Upsilon's top picks in each category:

  • Login, sign-in, and user authentication solutions including Auth0 or Frontegg
  • Admin panels and CRMs like Retool or Appsmith
  • Payment gateways such as Paypal, Stripe or Braintree
  • Chat and messaging solutions via Twilio or Sendbird
  • Map integration like OpenStreetMap or Google Map API
  • Notification tools such as Pusher
  • Data analytics tools like Mixpanel or Amplitude

Third Party Apps: Benefits and Use Cases

Connecting several applications together may bring many business advantages. If selected properly and logically, here's what 3rd party integrations can bring.

Third Party Integration Advantages

Cut Costs on Development

This can be a cost-effective move that'll save your resources. Borrowed features are generally cheaper to pay for than building your own and then mending, fixing, and maintaining them afterward. This is good news for those on a limited project or startup budget, as the entry "threshold" subscription for many tools can be as little as 15 USD per month compared to spending thousands of dollars on developing a custom analog. Moreover, many great tools are readily out there waiting for you in open source for free.

Saved Development Hours

It also means that you spend less time on coding, testing, and feature development. This is really important if the team lacks the needed knowledge or when the feature planned for development is complicated and requires too much effort.

With integrations, you can roll out the necessary functionality rather fast, leading to quicker development cycles. This lets you hit the market faster. Additionally, you can focus on building your core product and its unique, stand-out features instead of allocating resources to reinventing things that already exist. Bottom line: setting up and configuring integrations brings substantial time savings compared to developing analogous custom functionality and coding it by hand.

Less Effort Required

Third party integrations also let you make various improvements to the product with less input effort. As follows from the previous point, the effort investment into integrations is much lower compared to "from-scratch" development, letting your solution get hold of what it lacked.

Filling Functional Gaps

It can result in multiple enhanced processes as well. When a few apps are connected together, your solution's overall capabilities get strengthened. You fill functional gaps and get a hold of the functionality that was missing with fewer headaches for a relatively small price.

Simplified User Journey

Seamless experiences matter. If a person is familiar with how to use a given feature that you integrated (say, make a payment via a familiar PayPal process instead of entering your card details in some random unknown payment solution), the experience can get boosted. Not to mention that this additional functionality might imply faster or even zero customer onboarding and possibly increased trust levels thanks to such features.

If reinventing the wheel isn't part of your plans, then this is the signal that you might as well make use of third party apps. User login via social media, access control, messaging, automatic notifications, maps, analytics, online payments ‚ÄĒ all of these parts can be linked up to your system. But there could be drawbacks, too.

The Cons of Third Party Integrations

It's not all perfect, of course. Here are a few possible disadvantages to keep in mind.

Third Party Integration Disadvantages

One of the obvious disadvantages of third-party tools is that you have to trust a third party. Performance, security, and other things are handled on the other end, meaning you might have little control over the integration process and further functioning of the implemented feature.

If something glitches or goes wrong, downtime is possible, and there's probably not much you'll be able to do about it. Plus, it's rather expected that you might not be able to troubleshoot any given issues that can arise, meaning that you'll have to depend and rely on the third-party service provider to make the fixes.

Moreover, there may be limitations and trade-offs to make peace with. They can regard the level of customization available. As a simple example, you need the chance to change the colors and fonts in a fill-out form box to align with your brand's style, but the third-party app doesn't have extensive customization options and only allows for minor adjustments, so you'll have to work within the constraints and settle for what's available.

And there may be scalability issues, too. Although a third-party solution might be more than enough for you at the minimum viable product stage, as your product scales and the volumes grow, it may be possible that your third-party integration won't have what it takes to handle it. 

Lastly, be on the lookout for hidden costs regarding your product's future. There are cases when growth will mean that your once affordable subscription now comes at a huge price if you want to keep it. For instance, it may turn out to be expensive to use an integration you're so accustomed to if you've reached enterprise sizes compared to the practically complimentary usage you had when your product was small. In this event, you have the option to pay up, look for an analog, or invest in building your own replacement.

The Risks of Selecting the Wrong Third-Party Services

What if you choose the wrong third-party services altogether? If you implement irrational or unreliable third-party features to your product, there's a huge chance you'll face trouble. The possible risks include, but are not limited to:

  • worsened performance of your product;
  • overcomplicated logic;
  • glitches within your systems due to poor compatibility;
  • costly and challenging migration and reconfiguration to another tool or service;
  • security breaches and data leaks.

For instance, switching to other services later on sometimes means you'll lose your integrations and configurations. As such, if you've decided to move from one third-party service for handling emails to some other marketing tool, you might need to start all over again with integration with possible downtime.

This is exactly why it makes sense to think through your integration choices as early during the product development life cycle as possible. More on that next.

When to Select Third Party Apps

Choosing the technical foundation of the future product is a strategic task that is important for business. As a rule, vital decisions regarding the selection of the tech stack, information architecture, and third-party services are made at the earliest stages of a project, precisely during the discovery phase, which is devoted to thorough pre-development preparation.

If the stack and technical peculiarities of the project allow for third-party integrations (for example, due to its cloud-deployed nature, not on-premise), then you get more freedom to select various apps. These could be fundamental building blocks forming the future product, therefore, choosing the best options that'll fit the requirements, budget, and aims is just as important as working on feature prioritization.

In fact, having proper integrations could save lots of development time on custom coding, letting you invest resources in other more business-crucial parts of the project. But you have to know how to select the right options.

Want to ensure that your project discovery isn't a waste of time?

In just 2 weeks, Upsilon can deliver a defined tech stack, 3rd-party integrations to use, detailed feature descriptions, wireframes, UI/UX designs, and more so that your development kicks off from the right note!

Get in Touch

Want to ensure that your project discovery isn't a waste of time?

In just 2 weeks, Upsilon can deliver a defined tech stack, 3rd-party integrations to use, detailed feature descriptions, wireframes, UI/UX designs, and more so that your development kicks off from the right note!

Get in Touch

Third Party Integrations: How Do They Work?

Now that we know what is a third party application, let's take a closer look at how it works.

In very simplistic terms, you connect your solution's frontend with another solution's backend. I.e., you use the data structured by a third party and integrate it into your solution.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) provided by third party apps generally serve as the bridge that connects these two sides. Additionally, integration can also be handled via:

  • a third-party external integration platform that can be used as a tool to foster workflow automation such as Zapier or MuleSoft with broad collections of connectors for linking up and managing APIs and various endpoints;
  • a solution like an enterprise and embedded integration platform as a service (iPaaS);
  • unified APIs.

The paths mentioned above imply connecting and managing multiple apps integrated into your product within a single point of control. They are worth using when you need these solutions to communicate with each other or when you have many of them, so you can simplify management and reduce manual maintenance work.

Either way, the connected apps have to be configured to match your needs. As such, you can make a one-way or two-way sync for the systems to communicate, share, and exchange data with each other (and this is only one of the configuration points to decide on).

What Is Native Integration?

Just to dot the i's in terminology, native integration has different definitions. Some refer to it as the process of a direct link-up of a third-party service with a client platform without an additional "third-party layer". Others define native integrations as the software that vendors typically develop and specifically design to work with their own applications (like Google Drive plus Google Docs).

What's the difference between third-party integrations and native integrations? Perhaps, the major distinction lies in the deployment location. In the native case, several applications get connected within the native environments, they're platform-specific and imply direct integration of system APIs. The third-party path, in this sense, typically implies that it happens externally (on a middle ground), and may apply unified APIs and connectors to link the solutions.

But these terms can be interpreted differently. In any case, it's worth mentioning that these definitions are often mixed and changed, implying one another, and both types can coexist and don't mean that you have to choose only one approach.

How to Choose Third Party Applications for Integration

Here's a simple rundown of steps to follow when considering various 3rd party integration options to select.

Selecting Third Party Apps for Integration

1. Analyze the Features or Services

Before deciding to add a third-party software integration to your solution, do your research and learn as much as you can about the feature or service in the spotlight.

  • Is the third party service provider trustworthy or is it a no-name vendor (reputation and credibility matter)?
  • Can the feature or service deliver what you really need?
  • Does it meet your specific requirements?
  • Will it complement your solution?
  • Is it customizable, flexible, and scalable enough?
  • What are its limitations?¬†
  • Is it secure? Does it follow the data security best practices?
  • Is it stable? May it slow down the performance of your solution?
  • Is there vendor support?

You can even base your decision on how intuitive and recognizable the tool is, as it might make it easier for users to interact with it. In any case, note your findings and shortlist the integrations that can simplify your product development process and strengthen your solution.

2. Study the Guidelines and Ensure Compatibility

Once you're more confident about the necessity to add the given third-party service, you have to ascertain that it is possible to integrate it seamlessly into your solution. Look into the regulations and study the technical side.

  • Does the third-party app click well with your system, architecture, and tech stack?
  • What is required to link up the third party application to your environment?
  • Is there up-to-date documentation? Is it comprehensive?
  • What are the rules for integration?
  • Does integration require extensive coding knowledge?
  • Are there existing processes or pre-built bridges to simplify the connection?
  • Will you have to undergo a complex configuration process to set things up tech-wise?¬†

These are just a few questions you have to find answers to to make an informed call.

3. Browse Case Studies and Integrate if Satisfied

You are free to look around for examples of how other companies or products use and integrate the third-party application. If it seems like a good idea, you can move on to linking it up to your solution.

However, if you're unsure whether this is the optimal choice among the many product integrations out there or have doubts about whether it's worth it, then consulting with those who have the needed expertise is definitely worth it to avoid do-overs.

How Upsilon Approaches Third Party Application Selection [Tips from the Pros]

Upsilon has ample experience with 3rd party integration, and we always select the optimal tools for integration during the discovery stage. Our COO, Anton Oparienko, and CTO, Nikita Gusarov, shared some insights, best practices, and good-to-knows on the matter ‚§Ķ

Third Party Application Best Practices from Experts

The whole point of including any third party application is to enrich the product you're building and save resources like time, effort, and money while you're at it. The thing is that custom development of the entire solution is generally uncalled for, especially at the earliest stages of product development when you want to test your ideas out on the market as fast as possible.

You'd be surprised, but a large portion of your solution can be made up of third-party apps if their set is selected properly. In some cases, up to 50% of what you're building! This, obviously, implies that a big chunk of your budget can be saved and redistributed to other things that actually require custom development. But you have to know which 3rd party apps to choose to make this statement come to life.

Essentially, you have to select those integrations that will complement your product. Yet it's equally important to know how to piece them together correctly. So, first, determine what forms your product core and what your main, unique, stand-out feature is, as this is what you'll put most of your effort, attention, and resources into. Only then consider available integration options that'll be your less important secondary features or those that'll serve as supporting pillars. That's how we do it in Upsilon.

Integrations give you access to a "pre-built" carcass. Work on the logic, customize the required UI, finalize the settings and configurations, and "Boom!": your solution has the functionality you were missing.

Yes, it still isn't a matter of five clicks. Some integrations take longer than others (giving a rough estimate, from several days to several weeks for complex cases). Yet, in any event, it's still much faster and resource-saving than coding the same features from scratch. Not to mention that sometimes it might even be a risky endeavor (for instance, are you sure you have the expertise to build a safe payment gateway that'll be better than existing solutions?).

Of course, some integrations that you'll need come at a price. But if you take a minute to do the math, paying for a third-party subscription will most likely be much cheaper than spending several weeks or even a few long months on custom coding each one.

How many integrations does a digital solution generally have? On average, around 3 to 5 third-party integrations get linked up to an MVP version of a solution. So, if you're planning to release an MVP in about 3 months, you won't do without integrations.

‚ÄćWhat kind of parts could be integrated? As we've mentioned earlier when listing third party apps examples, we generally don't waste time on unnecessary custom coding and give preference to several trustworthy solutions if they fit our project requirements. We often use Auth0 for user authentication, Stripe for payments, Mixpanel for data analytics, and Retool for creating admin panels.

But the optimal choice and unique set obviously differ depending on the product specifics. For instance, a team might want to use a regional payment gateway provider instead of the big players. Below are some expert pointers on making the right choices.

Expert Tips on Selecting Third Party Apps

Spending a few days on a feature's integration instead of a few weeks on its custom coding sounds like a great plan not to pass on. But there are plenty of providers out there for every use case or feature in focus. How do you filter out unsuitable options and make up your mind?

To select the best-fit applications for integration, you must assess vital factors when evaluating the options. Here's what Upsilon's COO and CTO advise based on the best practices our team has been using for over a decade.

Factors to Consider When Choosing 3rd-Party Apps

Requirements and Compatibility 

Always start with your product needs, target audience, business logic requirements, and goals. What do you want to achieve? Diving into the advertised promises of vendors can be distracting. So focus on the features and deliverables and find out whether this tool or service has what it takes to solve the issue or task in focus.

For instance, Auth0 might not seem so special if you target B2C, yet when it comes to B2B, its capabilities and helpfulness are incomparable.

There could be additional considerations and limitations, of course. For example, are there legal regulations and law constrictions you have to adhere to (like in regard to personal data storage)? Then this can also narrow down your integration options.

So, once you've found some answers, check whether the feature or service will work well together with your solution.

Data Security

The requirements you have regarding data security are equally crucial. Any digital product, even during its MVP version, holds responsibility for the collected user data. If there are any breaches or leaks, the consequences could be immense.

Maybe you have your own requirements? For instance, is it crucial for you not to have any data whatsoever stored on a third-party server? In this case, your list of options will be visibly shorter. Therefore, cross-check the 3rd-party app you're considering for security compliance and your expectations.

Geographic Coverage

It is also possible that the third party application you're overviewing doesn't support a target location. As such, a payment gateway might not work in a specific country. Thus, such a limitation will mean you have to look for alternatives (at least for this region). This is a point to pay attention to early on.

Pricing

Surely, the costs of using the integrated services should be compared. For instance, payment gateways often have various terms for the charged transaction fees, which have to be taken into consideration. However, you can snatch many great deals and discounts for startups. In fact, at the early stages, many integrations can be very cheap or even available on a free basis (e.g., free plans for small teams).

Credibility

If hundreds of businesses worldwide are using this tool or service, then it might be the safe path to follow. Opting for a reputable, well-established, and popular integration instead of an unknown, fresh-out-the-oven analog can give you confidence. It's a safety net preventing you from the big risk that the integration will disappear or no longer be supported in a year or so.

Bigger products have the resources to support their solution on offer, grow its capabilities, add new and enhanced functionality to it, and keep the documentation updated. A large community is another great sign that you won't be left alone in case something happens.

Integration Expertise

Finally, having previous experience integrating specific third-party software also helps sometimes. If the team of developers has done this before, it could also lead to a smoother and faster execution process. When you're aware of the peculiarities and possible stumbling blocks, fewer mistakes are made during integration and less time is spent on figuring things out.

Need a hand with product development?

Upsilon's team can be with you all the way from the discovery phase and selecting 3rd party integrations to developing an MVP and then scaling your product.

Let's Talk

Need a hand with product development?

Upsilon's team can be with you all the way from the discovery phase and selecting 3rd party integrations to developing an MVP and then scaling your product.

Let's Talk

Final Thoughts on Third Party API Integration

As you see, third-party integrations are your chance to speed up product development. Instead of starting from square one, you can borrow the pieces you're missing externally. You can fill functionality gaps with third-party integrations without investing in effort-intensive, time-consuming, and resource-using custom development of analogous solutions. Using what works instead of reinventing the wheel can save teams a lot of trouble, you just have to choose your "combo" correctly.

If you need assistance with third-party service integration, Upsilon's experts are here to help you find and afterward implement the best matches. We always include the selection of third-party integrations as a part of our discovery phase services. Other vital deliverables of the step include selecting the tech stack and web app architecture, handling UX discovery, wireframing, prototyping, and other integral pre-development preparation work that ensures a smoother development process that follows. So if you'd like us to give you a hand and clear up any tech-related matters you need expert input from, reach out, as we're always glad to help!

FAQ

1. What are third party applications?

A third party application means the usage of software or technology that was developed by another company within your product. Such borrowed functionality lets you fill feature gaps and omit the need for custom coding of something similar.

2. What are third-party apps used for?

Third-party apps can be used as product development building blocks that are provided by an external vendor. These parts can be configured into the product to cut down your custom development resources. As such, you can use and customize ready-made integrations for your product's login, maps, payment systems, data analytics, and so on.

3. Which rules must be followed when creating a new software using third party products?

It is crucial to carefully study what each integration can and cannot do and cross-check it against your needs and requirements. As such, you should browse not only pricing but other factors like limitations, tech specifics, level of customization, and so on, as there could be trade-offs.

4. Why is it important to update third party applications?

Since an external party is responsible for building, supporting, and enhancing the provided functionality via integrations, it is integral to keep up with the updates. Unless the integration gets automatically updated, it should be maintained timely to avoid downtime, glitches, or other issues.

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