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What is iPaaS? Everything You Need to Understand

Modern organizations deploy an average of 175 applications creating an explosion of integration possibilities. In this post we explore integration platform as a service (iPaaS), its benefits, best practices and vendors.

Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) provides an environment to automate and manage integrations between multiple applications. Traditionally, integrating different applications and services required IT administrators to hand-craft integrations every time two or more applications had to communicate. As more and more applications have been brought to market and adopted by organizations, automating integrations can help streamline operations and ensure higher cross-system efficiency. This is especially important in today’s environment, where large organizations deploy an average of 175 applications, whereas smaller organizations deploy an average of 73 applications.

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What is iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service)?

iPaaS is an environment which offers a collection of tools and communication protocols that helps users to define, deploy, and maintain integration workflows. The tools provide the ability to define how distinct services - such as data storage, data processing, and visualisation software - establish connections to exchange data in a frictionless manner. iPaaS is often used to facilitate the integration of different infrastructure and service models, such as on-premise and cloud-based infrastructure, data warehouses, and SaaS.

How does iPaaS work?

The engine that powers the integration capabilities of iPaaS are application programming interfaces (API). While APIs are also extensively used standalone, iPaaS enhances user experience by implementing other value-adding services such as out-of-the-box connectors, multiple communication protocols (e.g. SOAP and REST API), easy monitoring and troubleshooting, as well as multi-tenant environments. As such, iPaaS facilitates integrations using pre-built connectors and guided integrations. 

Pre-built connectors

Also referred to as out-of-the-box connectors, are integrations which have been pre-defined by the iPaaS vendor between popular tools. For example, your iPaaS vendor can have pre-built connectors between Salesforce and Slack, enabling the two applications to communicate with minimal configuration time. Pre-built connectors are particularly useful when deploying new applications or replacing existing ones, helping system administrators integrate these new applications within the wider system in as little time as possible.

Guided API Integrations 

For applications which are not included in the out-of-the-box connectors - such as legacy or bespoke applications - iPaaS solutions can streamline the integration process by providing a user-friendly method for integrating via the application’s APIs. An iPaaS solution can suggest which calls and associated methods to use, how to use the payloads and what calls to string together.

Types of integrations

iPaaS vendors should support multiple types of API integrations. These take the following forms:

  1. Application-to-application - two apps communicate with each other in realtime or on-demand, where data from one application can be directly pulled into a different application 
  2. Database consolidation - the iPaaS solution pulls data from multiple sources to validate or enhance information
  3. Business processes - enables realtime cross-platform usage from a single application, such as managers approving purchase orders

Benefits of iPaaS

iPaaS provides a means to modernise existing infrastructure and ensure new implementations and software are scalable and fault-tolerant. Previously complex work to integrate applications is made simple with clear, intuitive tools that allow users to integrate applications themselves, without the need for technological experts. With iPaaS, a data analyst can easily integrate data storage solutions with visualisation tools. Easy integrations allow non-developers to quickly iterate solutions, leveraging the data an organisation has, providing data-driven creativity.

  1. Single Pane of Glass - Maintaining many distinct applications and all of the integrations necessary can not only become very complex, but is also very time consuming. iPaaS solutions provide the means to have a single solution with all of the required integrations for different applications. This allows fewer IT staff to have a higher level of control than if there were to be many integrations with different platforms scattered throughout infrastructure. It reduces the time needed to deploy integrations, and ensures that even non-technical users can understand and configure cross-application communication.
  2. Data Consistency - Data duplication, redundancy and inconsistency is common when replicating data for use in distinct applications. iPaaS provides the tools necessary to ensure data is distributed correctly and consistently without the need for manual copying or bodged custom solutions. This allows data to be well-organised in a defined manner. Moreover, iPaaS’s monitoring capabilities report on issues, misconfigurations, or errors such that issues can be addressed as soon as they are identified. 
  3. Improved end-user Experience - A smooth internal development process will have positive effects on the end-user experience, such near-realtime results and simpler user journeys.
  4. Real-Time Processing - iPasS Integrations allow data to be distributed and loaded by applications in real-time, preventing any lag that might occur between data being generated and being available in relevant applications. This helps people to move quickly, delivering value more frequently. 
  5. Increased Efficiency - Centralised rules and integrations minimises the chance of data loss and redundancy. Having a single place where data is shifted between data stores and applications reduces the risk of a redundant integration breaking something, and also ensures data is managed efficiently. 
  6. Internal Data Sharing - iPaaS allows tenants of an application to share instances of a piece of software instead of purchasing additional user licenses. Typically, an instance is required per user of an application; with iPaaS, instances of an application are shared amongst users. This helps to save costs accrued from paying for multiple instances to a software vendor.  
  7. Improved Security and Compliance - Having a single, centralized repository of integrations simply makes detecting potential threats quicker and more simple. It also ensures reacting to identified threats can be completed more quickly; as all data integrations are in a single location 

Best Practices for iPaaS Integration

As with any cloud computing offering, iPaaS can provide immense value when set up and used correctly. There are some steps that should be taken in order to ensure the most value is being extracted from an iPaaS platform.

Define Integrations Based on Business Needs

Not all integrations are created equal. To ensure that the cross-application connections have a meaningful purpose in your business’ context, you must first decide what you want to achieve, and then identify the best way to do it. We have previously described three types of integration: App-to-app, database consolidation, and business logic. If you need to connect multiple business support systems for the HR functions, a business logic type of integration will suit you best. Further questions to better define the scope could be “Would it be better to pre-process data through a data cleaning platform prior to sending it to a data analytics tool?” 

Leveraging Knowledge Bases

Many iPaaS vendors provide training materials in the form of documentation and knowledge bases. Ensuring staff are well trained on the iPaaS platform allows it to be used to its full potential. Understanding the different integrations available and how they can be customised allows for complex workflows to be created whilst remaining simple and easy to maintain. 

Evaluate Available Tools and Choose the Appropriate One

Whilst most iPaaS tools share the same core functionality - namely to facilitate integration - you should also consider other value-adding factors and features. These can range from how the integrations are leveraged within a wider event-driven workflow, or whether the vendor is suitable to work with highly regulated industries which require industry-specific certifications. 

iPaaS Vendors

The iPaaS landscape has a multitude of vendors with powerful capabilities. These vendors are either pure-play iPaaS providers, or are larger players who offer iPaaS as part of a wider portfolio.

Mulesoft

Mulestoft provide a powerful integration platform as a service suitable for large enterprises. It has a good selection of out-of-the box connectors, supports legacy system modernization and journeys to the cloud, which makes it a good iPaaS choice for large corporations.

Celigo

Boasting a good selection of pre-defined connectors, Celigo’s iPaaS platform also features advanced accreditations for data governance, the platform being GDPR, CCPA and HIPAA compliant, alongside a SOC 1 and 2 certification. 

X-Functions

X-Functions’ automation-first platform provides the ability to integrate across cloud providers, on-premise and legacy applications. Connect your cloud apps, infrastructure and data sources to unify your customer and business data. While integrations are a key component in X-Function’s platform, they are a supporting feature for the wider purpose of enabling real-time data processing and event-driven workflows for business logic.

Conclusion 

iPaaS provides a single pane of glass to create and manage integrations between different infrastructure environments, applications and services. It is a critical tool for complex IT infrastructure to create a unified and efficient user and developer experience. The streamlined integration process enables customers to extract value from their data more quickly, whilst also reducing error rates, redundancy and duplication. 

iPaaS works best when working in conjunction with other automation services to enable the creation of end-to-end business processes. To achieve this, leading iPaaS platforms will focus on delivering a smooth user experience that will enable non-technical users to define bespoke processes for their functions. To see how X-Functions implements iPaaS functionality within a wider automation-first platform, sign up for early access.



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