What is iPaaS? Integration Platform-as-a-Service Explainer 2019-06-10T21:21:44+00:00

An Introduction to iPaaS

iPaaS, or integration Platform as a Service, are platforms that standardize how applications are integrated into an organization, making it easier to automate business processes and share data across applications.

“What is iPaaS?” Explainer Video

By leveraging iPaaS technologies, growing companies can eliminate manual processes, reduce dependency on spreadsheets and email, while increasing visibility, speed, and accuracy across their organization.

The Challenge of Integration Today

The variety of business applications available today address every conceivable challenge that a company could encounter. Most of these apps are simple to use, easy to set up, offer beautiful interfaces, and require no training.

Screenshots of dashboards of modern business cloud applications

Dashboards of modern business applications

Because apps are so easy to deploy, IT teams are no longer the requisite decision makers when it comes to purchasing and implementing most business apps. Now, individual departments can pick the best-of-breed apps they want to best tackle their specific tasks. This trend is called the “Consumerization of the Enterprise” and has yielded an explosion in the number of SaaS apps -- which shows no sign of slowing down.

For example, the infographic by Chief Martech below illustrates what the marketing technology app landscape looked like in 2011 compared to today:

Infographic showing only 150 business apps in 2011 versus 7000 apps today
Infographic showing only 150 business apps in 2011
Infographic showing 7000 business apps today

Proliferation of Business Applications from 2011 - 2019. Copyright Chief Martech

Too Much of a Good Thing

But as amazing and essential as many of these apps may be, is it possible to have too many of them?

Image of fallen blocks with business app logos in a pile on the ground

Contributors siloed in different departments typically cannot see how their individual data and processes fit within the workings of the wider organization. Yet, many critical business processes — quote-to-cash, fulfillment, expense management, procure-to-pay, and many more — span a variety applications across multiple departments.

The fluid exchange of information is critical in any organization, large or small. As the volume of data and complexity of an organization expands, establishing a robust automation strategy is critical.

A key component of this approach involves connecting disparate applications. This process is known as 'integration,' and to achieve it, most companies use a hodgepodge of tactics to combine their many business processes.

Infographic showing confused and broken workflows between business apps

How Companies Tackle Integration

The concept of integrating applications has existed for years. But for most companies, it's an afterthought. New applications are added. From there, integration projects are tackled on an as-needed basis. When they ultimately do move forward, companies often use a patchwork of application integration strategies.

Icon for Native or Built-in integrations section

Native or Built-in Integrations

Most software includes out-of-the-box native integrations allowing users to quickly connect with specific applications. For example, practically every marketing automation tool today connects to Salesforce. However, while native integrations might be presented as a value-added features to help sell the software, in reality these features are typically not designed with enough flexibility or customization to address important edge cases.

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Third-Party Point-to-Point (P2P) Connectors

Point-to-point connectors may be very cost effective and simple to use in the beginning. However, with thousands of cloud apps available today, it’s difficult to develop integrations for every possible permutation needed. Prebuilt P2P connectors tend to be severely limited in scope and often lack the flexibility or power to handle complex use cases.

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Build it Yourself (DIY) Integrations

By leveraging code and APIs, custom integrations can be very powerful and are often the preferred path taken by operational teams. However, they are incredibly time consuming and require a host of trained technical resources. DIY application integrations require the building of critical functionality such as error-handling and data-delivery guarantees. Further, as processes change, these application integrations need to be meticulously maintained and updated by stretched technical resources.

Integration Type Pros Cons
Native or built-in Handles most common use cases, easiest to set up Limited ability to handle customizations and edge cases
3rd Party Point to Point (P2P) Simple to use, low upfront costs Limited number of prebuilt use-cases, hard to customize and scale
Build it yourself Most control and customization Heavy dependence on technical resources for building and maintaining, hard to scale

One of the increasingly common integration strategies today involves the adoption of an integration Platform as a Service, or iPaaS.

Standardizing integrations with iPaaS

The term “iPaaS” was coined by advisory firm Gartner in referring to a cloud-based integration platform that makes connecting applications and business processes remarkably easy. Integration Platform as a Service solutions holistically standardize how applications are added to an organization, making it easy to move static or transactional data across applications while providing critical functionality out-of-the-box.

Leveraging a platform is more reliable for growing companies since it standardizes how to monitor, maintain, and update processes across applications. Companies no longer need to reinvent the wheel every time a new appis added since non-technical and line-of-business users can now manage cloud application integrations.

Infographic showing iPaaS, integration Platform as a Service, cleanly connecting business apps

The term iPaaS is relatively unknown. However, according to Gartner, integration Platform as a Service is the fastest-growing segment in the enterprise market space.

Common Features of iPaaS Technologies

Functionalities of integration Platform as a Service solutions typically include:

Icon for Guaranteed data delivery section

Guaranteed data delivery

The ability to hold data until it has safely reached its destination

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Error handling

The ability to indicate where errors occur in the transfer of data

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Endpoint adaptors and connectors

iPaaS solutions typically make it easier to connect with specific applications without needing to code directly via API; this includes specific business applications; communication protocols, such as FTP/SFTP; HTTP/S, OFTP, OFTP2; XML standards; as well as EDI, EDIFACT, SWIFT, and many others

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Data governance

Enables only users who are granted specific permission to access data

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Lifecycle management

A centralized console for use in creating, managing, and governing integrations; develop integration flows that automate the exchange of data between disparate applications, siloed data sources, and trading partners

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Developer tools

Developer tools enabling deep customization and complexity when building integration flows

The Next Generation of iPaaS

As can be seen, the concept of integration has been around for quite awhile. As each era of business applications rose, whether Mainframe, Client/Server, ASP, or SaaS, new sets of integration technologies connecting the next wave of applications likewise emerged.

Infographic timeline showing the evolution of enterprise integration, iPaaS, until today



Because of this, integration solutions themselves are generally one generation behind the applications with which they were designed to connect. The first generation of integration Platform as a Service solutions (what we call iPaaS 1.0) was developed in response to the first generation of SaaS applications. This was a time when IT departments solely managed and maintained all of a company's systems and applications. Without a tech team, a business was typically at the mercy of the limitations of the available integration technologies.

However, as the number of business applications has exploded, the responsibility of app procurement and management is shifting towards line of business users.  Independent of an IT team, these users are now empowered to decide on the tools they need to best tackle their business challenges. In fact, some of these companies have no IT department at all and are able to grow faster than companies still reliant on the legacy IT infrastructure and resources embedded deep within their operations.

Illustration showing business apps users struggling to organize apps

Custom integrations led entirely by technical teams are no longer suited in this new era.

In today's business climate, processes need continuous modifications. Market opportunities and threats appear in the blink of an eye. Employees come and go. Customers expect immediate and perfect responses. New applications become prominent while others become less and less useful all the time.

As a result, IT departments often struggle to consistently manage the changing needs of companies that are progressively automating. A desire has also grown to offload some of the integration management to line of business users themselves.

All of this requires a new approach to iPaaS, one designed to allow both technical and non-technical users to quickly integrate applications. It needs to be a simple solution that easily guides business users through the step-by-step process of creating and managing powerful integrations without having to rely on IT. Similarly, the tech department is now able to focus on projects that more relevantly drive bottom-line revenue.

The elements of iPaaS 2.0

So, what’s different with the next-generation of integration Platform as a Service solutions? Today's typical line of business user has developed certain expectations of how cloud applications should work, and an iPaaS 2.0 schema should reflect that sensibility. This means:

Platforms need to be as intuitive as any cloud application
Users should be guided clearly through the integration process
Integrations can be federated across different parts of the organization
It should be easy to deploy, customize, maintain, and scale
Best-practices should be productized into pre-built integrations that can be reused
Pricing models should fit the needs accommodate small and large businesses


Leveraging Pre-Built Best Practices

Many integration use cases have already been performed and documented - lead to cash, procure to pay, hire to retire, and more. It is important for the next generation of iPaaS to make it easier to leverage that work into future integrations so that workflows no longer have to be rebuilt from scratch.


Screen grab of integrator.io wizard interface while connecting Amazon to an ERP platform

Integration should be simple

iPaaS 2.0 as a Key Component of Any Automation Strategy

Automation is one of the most important tactics to ensure operational success in an age of soaring competition and high customer expectations. Integration is a key component to automation. Today, iPaaS 2.0 technology is becoming more and more a critical a part of a company’s tech stack and considered much earlier in the process.

With the next-generation of integration Platform as a Service solutions, IT can centralize integrations and automation onto a single platform while significantly reducing the time and resources needed to build and maintain these integrations. iPaaS's ease of use allows integrations to be done by junior developers or even non-developers. From systems analysts to administrators, now anyone can manage ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting, while updates can be handed off to other departments, freeing up IT bandwidth to spend on higher value activities.

 

Automation is one of the most important tactics to ensure operational success in an age of soaring competition and high customer expectations. Integration is a key component to automation.

Technical resources are best spent driving bottom-line revenue. A well-considered integration strategy supported by a robust iPaaS 2.0 solution ensures applications are working in concert, offering maximum efficiencies and productivity gains. In the end, by allowing IT to hand off much of the building, managing, troubleshooting, and updating of cloud app integrations to other departments, an entire organization's resources that can be recalibrated to focus on far more interesting projects that add strategic and financial value to the organization.

Automation is the future of business, and the companies that don’t adopt a powerful, holistic application integration strategy will lose out to those who do.

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