Deon Louw on Using MuleSoft Composer to Integrate Systems

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Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Deon Louw, Financial Planning and Analysis Manager at City and Provincial Properties, triple-star Ranger, MuleSoft mentor, and avid Composer enthusiast.

Join us as we chat about MuleSoft Composer, why the community is such a good resource, and how integrations can lead to a digital transformation snowball.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Deon Louw.

From accounting audits to Salesforce

Deon started his career in accounting, specializing in external audits. “While that’s a great profession and really interesting, I realized that I just loved technology more,” he says, so he started trying to figure out how to change careers.

When, through a series of coincidences, Deon ended up looking after a Salesforce org for one of his clients, he felt like he had finally found his calling. He was immediately struck by how powerful the platform could be as a business tool and the potential it had for automation. He could apply his skills in a new way, and that only became more apparent as he added MuleSoft to his toolkit.

Becoming a MuleSoft Mentor

Deon’s company originally handled a lot of business processes manually, so moving to Salesforce was a game-changer. But that meant the rest of their business needed to keep up. Deon started looking into ERP platforms and how he could use MuleSoft Composer to unlock even more automations. “It allows us to scale without having to increase headcount at every single step,” he says.

The community helped Deon immensely on his journey and he’s been giving back by becoming a MuleSoft Mentor. He helps people work through issues they face on the platform and connects people who face similar challenges with the resources to solve them.

A digital transformation snowball

One thing that Deon has found as he’s brought more automations to his organization is that digital transformation starts to snowball. Once people see how getting rid of manual processes can help them get more done, they start looking for other areas where technology can help them and they bring their own ideas to the table.

At the same time, Deon’s organization is relatively small, and so one major challenge he faces is figuring out how to add layers of automation and integration without bringing on more people to manage everything. Luckily, MuleSoft Composer strikes the perfect balance of keeping everything manageable for a small team while still enabling the powerful integrations Deon is looking for.

Be sure to check out the full episode for more about MuleSoft mentors, how Deon thinks about integrations, and why the MuleSoft Composer community is so amazing.

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Full show transcript

Mike: MuleSoft Composer makes it easy to build process automation for data using clicks instead of code. Deon Lowe is a triple star ranger, MuleSoft Mentor, and avid composer fan. So in this episode, we’re going to find out from him what he was able to accomplish using MuleSoft Composer. Now, before we get into that episode, be sure you’re following the Salesforce admins podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast, that way you get a new episode every Thursday right on your phone. So let’s get Deon on the podcast. So Deon, welcome to the podcast.

Deon: Mike, thank you so much.

Mike: Why don’t we get started, just introduce everybody to where you are and how you got to being a Salesforce admin and also I’ll tip the cards, I know you’re an admin of another platform too.

Deon: Yes, so I’ve had quite an interesting journey. I started off my world as a chartered accountant and in external audit, and I realized that while that’s a great profession and really, really interesting, I realized that I just love technology more. So I went down a route of changing careers and then through a number of interesting occurrences I ended up looking after one of my employer’s Salesforce Platform and I realized how incredibly powerful this is as a business tool, not only for the collection of information, but actually for building out processes and for efficiencies and ultimately automation.

And I’ve been doing that now for a while, and I’ve loved every moment of it because I’ve been able to take a set of skills and I’ve been able to replay those skills and reuse those skills at different companies in different industries. And to your point, recently, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to take everything that we’ve learned in Salesforce and apply it to a new system, to a new ERP system, which has allowed us to further the depth of what we are able to do within the business.

Mike: Yeah. So I think that’s interesting because that also leads us to a MuleSoft Composer discussion. But before we get to that, when I was introduced to you, I was told that you are a MuleSoft Mentor, so I would love to know what a MuleSoft Mentor does.

Deon: So MuleSoft Mentor was a thing I came across as I joined the MuleSoft greater community and MuleSoft Mentors are these people that have not only just a passion for the product, so they know the product, they’ve worked with the product, but they’re also end users. So these aren’t people… No one’s a Salesforce employee, no ones a MuleSoft employee. These are people that live and breathe these real world challenges. But MuleSoft’s come along and said, but hold on a second, I really like what you’re doing or I like your engagement with the community. Can I please get effectively more of that? So MuleSoft Mentors are these groups of people that work with the product, but they’re there, they’re active people, they’re active participants in the community, and they really do champion it from not a sales perspective because hey, I’m just here solving a problem and this is how I do it.

And because they’re not sitting on a sales side, they’re not sitting on a Salesforce side, they’re normally not even sitting on a consultancy side, they’re able to talk to people about what they’ve done with the platform. They run into the real world challenges. I was doing X, Y, Z, I couldn’t do this. And they’re able to take that knowledge and proactively feed it back into the community, which is just what’s great about the overall ecosystem is that you have these communities that identify these opportunities for people and engage so wonderfully with that.

Mike: Well, I think that’s a great, great description. I teased a little bit in the intro, but you’re Salesforce admin, so you got that platform. You have an ERP system. What’s it like owning multiple platforms at an organization?

Deon: It’s really daunting, but quite exciting because all of a sudden these businesses, so take our business as an example, we really are saying, well, we understand that digital is the future. We understand that we need to do more online, we need to do more automation and all these buzzwords, but we’re a small business, so all of a sudden the pressures just keep growing. But with that, because we’re a small business, because we’re agile, the opportunities grow with them. So while I’m fortunate that I could at least get Salesforce buttoned down and operating effectively before the ERP system came around, it is challenging because there are big responsibilities that the business is becoming more and more reliant on.

Mike: Right. I think… Well, first of all, I’ve never been in your chair before, but one of the things that I have done that I’d be interested to dive into is that discussion that a business has with, okay, we have Salesforce. Boy, it would be great, and I’m sure in your case it was, it would be great to get this ERP data in, or a reverse of that was wouldn’t it be great if Salesforce could push this over to our ERP system. I’m figuring one of those two had to been mentioned in a room somewhere for you to move forward. So I would love to know what were some of the topics or issues that came up as you were considering, we need Salesforce and our ERP system to be integrated so that I can automate things with Composer.

Deon: So our journey really does start with Salesforce, and we deployed late 2020 and we deployed because we had to. This business is incredible and I’m really proud of what the business does, but it was all done on paper. Our billing was incredibly manual and time consuming and just not scalable. And I think I speak for any businesses that you want to be able to scale, you want to be able to grow, but you want to be able to do so effectively. So Salesforce started off as a way of being able to do, to start building out that scale. And then due to Salesforce and actually what we were accomplishing with Salesforce, we were really starting to push against the limitations of what our existing, and I can’t even call it an ERP system, but what our existing accounting system was capable of.

And that’s how the new ERP system discussion came up. But from the get go, we recognize that it can’t be manual because the value of looking at a new gen ERP system and having next gen software like Salesforce in the business is absolutely not more processes. It’s absolutely not, well, now I’ve got to go and download files and upload, or I’ve got to manually integrate. So from the day that we started mentioning ERP, it was, well, how are these going to talk? Because that’s where the value for us comes in. That’s where knowing that from an operational perspective, my business can operate, and from a data accounting finance perspective the business can seamlessly follow. That’s how we know that not only do we drive much better client engagement, but better holistic understanding of where we are as a business and just allows us to scale without having to increase headcount at every single step.

And all the discussions that I always have about scale, but this isn’t that important. Then you start asking, “Okay, well how many people are you willing to employ just to import data?” And then people are like, “Oh, hold on. That’s not what I meant.” Then you start saying, “Okay, well this is the solutions.” And then you start trying to sketch out to people that it’s not just to say, oh, we can just do, we’re just pushing invoices from Salesforce or payments statuses or customer information, it’s well, yes, we’re going to start there, but integrations go both ways. And the more you integrate means, the more data you can aggregate and the more meaningful decisions you can make off the back of that data. So for us it was, well, you can’t do the one without the other because you lose so much value by not doing it.

Mike: That’s a very good point. And you said something huge, integrations go both ways. So what were those early considerations that you were talking about in your organization that you think other admins should write down as like, oh, these are the things you need to start asking right away when we talk integration.

Deon: So I guess there’s two parts of it is, especially in smaller businesses, it’s about building up that use case to say, okay, well, it’s great having the information, but what does that mean? And that’s absolutely what needs to be done, but unfortunately due to how complex the overall, call it SaaS landscape or tech stack or whatever buzzword you want to use because of how complex that’s becoming, when you start looking at integrations, integrations are a beast on their own. And you really need to start thinking, okay, but what does this mean for my organization? So similar to the point that I made earlier of saying, well, how many people are you willing to employ to run to import data? The same type of questions need to be made about your systems and your integration layer to say, well, are we willing to deploy an integration layer that then needs to be serviced by someone?

Is that an employee? Is that a consultant or is there ways that we can do that differently? And that’s being very blunt and probably jumping ahead, but that’s how we landed up on MuleSoft Composer is to say, well, you start going through all the purchasing, the consideration to say, well, okay, I want something that’s reputable? I want something that I know is out there that’s got a community that I can turn to and get support on. I want something that’s easy or something. But actually what you need is you need something that slots into your business and you need something that’s manageable, that’s not going to increase the workload of the team that you have or require you to go and hire an additional person just to look after something that’s really supposed to solve problems and not create them.

Mike: Yeah, oftentimes you’re adding, because you’re adding another layer there and you can create, now we have to have somebody that almost needs to monitor the telephone lines.

Deon:Yes.

Mike: And you took my next question, but did you even look at anything besides Composer?

Deon: Oh, absolutely. We had to do our due diligence and that’s the right thing to do. And we looked at, I very excitedly looked at the Anypoint platform because it is just so impressive and so powerful, but unfortunately it just, it’s just that little bit too complex for us considering that we’re such a small team. And we looked at other tools either be it no-code tools or other call it low-code tools. And some of them were impressive, some of them were dismal from the get go. But really what it came down to for us is how reputable is the product? Do we have relationships that support that product? And again, we’re a existing Salesforce customer, so it wasn’t that we needed to build that relationship. So we had existing relationships. Everything that we were looking at integrating in our, I say MVP, but it was our core processes.

Everything that we looked at integrating already had connectors. So it was out of the box. And the big thing that I was pushed on very, very hard by the leadership team is saying, okay, this is great. You understand all these words, you understand how this works, but what happens if I need to move you into another part of the business? Or what happens if I for whatever reason lose you so I move on or something else happens? What’s going to happen to this platform then? And for them, that was a really, really big part of the buying considerations because if it’s not easily maintainable, then I don’t want it because yes, while it might work now, I can’t afford to take on that headache and that uncertainty that it’s not going to work easily in the future.

Mike: Yeah, I think you had a unique perspective in that you owned both platforms you were integrating. To take a step back, if you didn’t own one of those platforms, let’s say your ERP system, what as a Salesforce admin should you ask for in terms of, I need to push data to you? What should that data look like and what data are you giving me? I think sometimes we start talking integration and you can feel like you’re a little bit over your skis as a Salesforce admin because you’re not quite sure what that means on the other side. So what were some of the things that were very beneficial for you to be able to look at your ERP system and map that to Salesforce?

Deon: So what’s interesting about that is our ERP system was a new purchase for us. So it wasn’t that these two systems had been running side by side for any period of time. And just to be clear, our integrations ran from day one, which is something that I’m immensely proud of, but it’s testament to how easy this was to set up. But what that meant for us is that actually, while I own both systems, I had to learn a lot about the data model, especially within the ERP landscape. And effectively we had to understand, well, initially I started stressing over how does this data fit together and how am I going to map it and what am I going to do? But again, another great thing about MuleSoft Composer is that it does a lot of that back end translation for you.

So it starts to translate field names and data types to common language or to platform specific language so that when I talk to our ERP implementation guys, they see something and they’re like, oh, okay, well I know what that is, even though I might not know what an object is in Salesforce or what this field record was in Salesforce, I do know what that same field is in the ERP system. And that translation, I cannot overemphasize how valuable that was for us because again, everyone was talking in a language that they were comfortable with.

Mike: That’s a good point. Your post integration, I guess you were post integration on day one, which is unlike anybody, but-

Deon: Really proud of that.

Mike: Yeah, exactly. Right. I mean, hey, we’ve been integrated since day one. You know, like okay. You win. What does the roadmap look like now after that initial integration? What are the conversations that you’re having with the organization?

Deon: So the overall roadmap’s been really, and this is probably not the right word, but it’s been really fun. Because we’ve had the basics buttoned down from day one we’ve been able to leverage all the new functionality that MuleSoft is bringing out and there’s quite a lot of it, which again is why this is such an exciting product. But the conversations with the businesses has been really, really fascinating. So I’ve always been tech first. This is my bread and butter and I love it, but the business isn’t. But giving people exposure to integrations has really allowed them to see the art of the possible. So now my conversations have gone from stress over the basics, and we’re talking this in a couple of months to conversations of saying, “But hold on a second. I do this process. Can we not do something here?”

Or, “Hold on a second, when this happens I know you’ve got this tool, can’t you make something else happen?” And from my perspective, from a digital transformation perspective, I can’t tell you how exciting that’s been because we’ve now been able to focus on the business efficiencies and the automations and the improvements and not, oh, but now I’ve got to spend three weeks trying to build a code or deploy a solution to, well, while we’re having this meeting, let’s quickly spin something up. Let’s quickly run a test on it. And that’s been incredibly empowering and transformative as how this business looks and thinks about technology.

Mike: That’s really great. As we wrap up, I want to go back to that mentor piece that I asked you about earlier, because I always try to end on, I don’t know, something great for people to work for. As a MuleSoft Mentor what is one question that you feel you answer quite often?

Deon: It’s really about I’m struggling to do X, Y, Z in this specific use case, can someone help me? And it might sound silly saying this, but it just goes back to how strong the community. Is the MuleSoft Composer community feels so active that you’ve got people that’ll jump on that answer, typically mentors because of the role that they play in their community, but they jump on those answers. And within the matter of a day, couple of hours, but maximum a day, you’ve got these people with unique perspectives, guys working all over the place with all this different experiences supporting either the incoming cohort of MuleSoft users or the guys that are just struggling with a problem. And I really can’t think of any other community that I’ve at least been part of that is as proactive as solution orientated in a constructive manner as what the MuleSoft community is and I think that is largely thanks to the MuleSoft Mentor program.

Mike: Yeah, this as well. So often when I go to Salesforce events or user groups or community events as an admin you can feel like, oh, no one else has this problem. There’s no way anybody else has this problem. And then you bring it up at a birds of a feather table and you ask the question, six other people nod their heads because they were-

Deon: Everyone turns and they’re excited.

Mike: “And you have that problem too.” “Yep.” You really all, there’s like 10 business problems in the world. We’re all trying to solve them. They just, they have different names, different process names.

Deon: No, absolutely. And it’s about, and that’s what I’ve always just loved about the overall community is that there’s no right or wrong way. There’s perspectives or there’s experiences and people are so open, or most people should I say, are so open about talking about that. And the more that people talk about it, the less closed off people are. And without a doubt, that’s been life-changing for me as an admin in this community coming from technically a non-technology background because I know that there’s no question too silly or too small or too complex that won’t be engaged with, and I can’t think of a better tech stack to place my bets on.

Mike: Yeah, no. Well, Deon, I think you summed it up perfectly there with the more that we talk about challenges that we’re confronting, the more we learn from each other. And I just can’t think of a better place to end this conversation. So thanks so much for coming by and telling us about what you’ve done with MuleSoft Composer and good work on owning two platforms.

Deon:No, thank you. And thank you so much for having me, and thank you for championing the admin journey. It’s really appreciated.

Mike: Well, it was a great discussion with Deon. And of course, if you enjoyed this episode, can you do me a favor and just share it with at least one person? If you’re listening on iTunes, all you need to do is just tap the dots and choose share episode. Then you can post that show to your social feed. You can text it to a friend. If you’re looking for more great resources, your one stop for everything admin is admin.salesforce.com, including a transcript of the show. And be sure to join in our conversation, the Admin Trailblazer Group in the Trailblazer Community. Of course, don’t worry about it. Mentioned a lot of things. All those links are below in the show notes. So until next week, we’ll see you in the cloud.

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