How integration platform as a service (iPaaS) offers a comprehensive and standardized way to develop and integrate business-critical applications.
Every business technology system consists of multiple subsystems working together to form a cohesive environment that can handle mission-critical operations and workflows at the speed and agility demanded by today’s market. Running a business also demands the collaboration of people and systems from across a wide range of operations, such as sales, marketing, and customer support. Each of these departments uses different apps and systems, which all need to work together to achieve smooth operations. If they do not, each department will operate in a silo, to the detriment of customer and employee experience alike.
Among the most pervasive challenges facing today’s enterprises is the need to integrate new apps and functions into increasingly complex and disparate technology environments. Further adding to this overarching challenge is the fact that developing and integrating new software is often a lengthy process fraught with myriad difficulties of its own. These include addressing the demands of information governance, security, privacy, and availability, to name a few. This is why organizations need integration platforms to build more efficient and scalable technology systems that can easily adapt to ever-changing business needs.
What is integration platform as a service?
An integration platform is itself a type of software that serves as an intermediary between all the other software and systems in the enterprise. This involves establishing connections that push or pull data from software and orchestrate and execute workflows in accordance with business rules and needs. The most common ways to accomplish this is through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) and webhooks. Modern software development and integration platforms, such as Corteza, are heavily API-centric, allowing for practically limitless adaptability.
Today, most business software is delivered as a service, hence the numerous acronyms that end in ‘as-a-service’. Integration platform as a service (iPaaS), is one of the many subsets of the software service delivery model. Put simply, iPaaS uses cloud-based services to bring disparate IT systems and resources together. iPaaS is platform-agnostic by design, meaning that they can facilitate the connection of virtually any application or data source with any other, including other cloud-hosted systems or on-premises systems. For this reason, iPaaS is vital in established enterprises, which often need to integrate legacy systems and data sources.
How does iPaaS facilitate digital transformation?
As most business leaders realize, data is the key to a successful digital transformation. Yet all too often data exists in siloes due to the myriad different applications and databases in use in the typical enterprise. When data exists in siloes, it is not readily accessible to those who need it, thereby hindering mission-critical operations. There is also a risk of reduced data quality due to duplicate data held across multiple apps and databases, which are not likely to be consistently updated and maintained across the board.
For example, many of us have experienced the hassle of changing to a different GP. Many of the delays involved in the process come down to the fact that different healthcare institutions and facilities use different patient management systems and other software. In addition to the information privacy and security concerns around healthcare data is the fact that such systems often lack interoperability, even within the same organization. Therefore, it can take weeks or even months to integrate new data sources, while patient experience suffers in the meantime.
Of course, much the same can be said of any organization in any industry. After all, we have all heard the excuses from businesses along the lines of delays being caused by upgrades to computing systems. The fact is that, while the excuses might be legitimate, customers are not interested in hearing about how a business cannot retrieve their records or deliver the service they expect due to a technical issue. More often than not, these “technical issues” come down to a lack of interoperability between computing systems.
To operate at peak efficiency and, in doing so, achieve a smooth digital transformation, enterprises must have a way to achieve continuous integration. In other words, it must be possible to quickly integrate new applications and data sources in order to derive maximum value from that data. iPaaS is rapidly becoming the industry standard for unlocking the power of data by breaking down the communication bottlenecks and operational siloes to grant organizations full visibility into their data environments.
Why do you need low-code integration platforms?
The functionalities and capabilities of integration platforms vary widely, as do the development methods involved. Some platforms, including a few iPaaS offerings, rely purely on programing. However, the majority involve at least some form of visual modelling with the goal of making them more accessible to a broader audience.
Low-code and no-code integration platforms are becoming extremely valuable for the simple reason that software integration is not just about technology, but also about people. As such, a truly integrated technology environment can really only be achieved if people, and the routine workflows that they rely on, are taken into account. One of the biggest strengths of low-code solutions is that they allow people with domain-specific knowledge, such as marketing, sales, support, and supply chain management, to get involved in the software development and integration process.
These domain experts, however, often don’t have programming skills, hence the need for low code. Low-code environments abstract development and integration away from the underlying code to facilitate the quick and easy creation of new apps and integrations. At the same time, professional developers can always step in to code in rarer functions that cannot be implemented through the visual workflow developer. Open-source platforms, such as Corteza, go even further by allowing developers to modify the source code of the platform itself.
While low code is certainly not a solution for everything, it is fast becoming a non-negotiable component of iPaaS by providing an optimal combination of ease of use and expressive power in software development. This is because they depend on a visual process language, which is typically represented by drag-and-drop functions and follow a standardized model such as the Business Process Model Notation (BPMN). The main advantage of BPMN and models like it is that it uses functions and language that align to domain-specific business functions, rather than those that only professional programmers are likely to understand.
Key functions and capabilities of iPaaS
Since iPaaS refers to a group of technologies rather than a specific product, there are multiple ways to implement them. That said, there are several core functions and capabilities that any iPaaS should have. These include the ability to connect siloed data systems, with the ultimate goals being to consolidate disparate business units and achieve a closer alignment between business and IT. While the following features and functions are not necessarily universal in all iPaaS offerings, they are nonetheless worthy of serious consideration:
#1. Inclusion of graphical modelling methods
Since one of the fundamental goals of iPaaS is to enable closer business and IT alignment, it stands to reason that any platform should let people work intuitively across teams. If, however, the platform is only understandable to programmers, then its potential use cases will likely be very limited.
Graphical modelling methods based on widely recognized industry standards, such as BPMN, have a relatively lower learning curve, thus allowing for faster development and integration. A low-code environment is ideal for most business use cases, since it allows citizen developers to create complex apps that previously required experienced programmers.
#2. Simplified collaboration with cloud access
By definition, iPaaS is a cloud-based offering, in which the entire development and integration process happens in a web-based interface, rather than relying on desktop software. The main advantage of this approach is that it simplifies collaboration, particularly across remote work environments.
With visual development tools being located in the cloud, citizen developers and professional developers alike can collaborate on the same projects in real-time, regardless of the device or operating system they are using. Moreover, many iPaaS solutions offer one-click deployment to the cloud, which also makes it easier to apply changes.
#3. Support for diverse data sources and applications
A truly comprehensive iPaaS solution should facilitate the seamless integration of individual data sources and applications alike, typically through the use of APIs and webhooks. Ideally, it should be possible to connect data from different sources and formats and transform it into an open format that lets you build or deploy applications that can communicate with each other. This is vital, given that data sources are enormously diverse and include everything from IoT devices, legacy systems, and cloud-hosted resources.
With the right iPaaS, businesses should be able to achieve an omnichannel user experience by defining integrations once and keeping them in sync even when individual applications are updated or changed. With reusable components, citizen developers can create and deploy updates almost effortlessly and, in doing so, achieve continuous integration.
#4. Full lifecycle API management
Visual workflows and connectors all sound useful, but they offer little value just by themselves. Businesses also need a way to manage and maintain their applications and integrations. This is especially important given that apps and data sources change frequently. As such, an iPaaS that offers seamless integration with API management allows you to maintain full control over those connections and which people or systems have access to which resources.
Full lifecycle API management encompasses the creation, deployment, maintenance, security and governance of your APIs. As a component of the broader iPaaS environment, it provides a single pane of glass allowing businesses to retain complete visibility into the flow of data. This also reduces the risk of shadow IT and helps uphold the demand for information security, privacy, and compliance. After all, a truly connected environment is much easier to take care of than a disparate range of resources spanning multiple cloud vendors and on-premises systems.
#5. Monitoring and analytics
To attain maximum value from your iPaaS, it is essential that you know how your integrations and connections are performing once they have been deployed in a production environment. Thus, the platform should monitor all connections for latency, resource utilization, failure, and workflow performance in real time. If, for example, a routine API call fails or is unusually slow, you will know about it right away. With a fully auditable data trail, it should be easy to identify the root cause of the problem and take action as necessary – minimizing disruption to the end user in the process.
iPaaS does not necessarily replace the systems that enterprises already use to monitor and track their foundational APIs. That said, there are iPaaS offerings that offer API management as part of their broader services portfolios.
Building your enterprise command center
To stay competitive, businesses must be agile. All too often are IT systems the weakest links in agility. Siloed systems are inherently lacking in agility, since each system must be updated independently. This is time-consuming and complicated, especially if it requires involvement of professional programmers and other advanced technical skills.
Ultimately, the goal must be to identify the opportunities where technology can be applied in a way that complements, rather than competes with, the work of other teams. Business-wide integration of applications and data is essential for making that happen, and that is far easier to achieve with a low-code platform.
A comprehensive and intuitive iPaaS solution serves as an enterprise command center, where IT teams can collaborate directly with domain experts from different departments to build the apps and integrations they need to do their best work. With the right iPaaS, disparate systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and point-of-sale (POS) systems can be integrated in days rather than months. In today’s fast-paced world, those benefits are much too great to ignore.
Planet Crust is the creator and driving force behind Corteza, a 100% open-source low-code software development platform that lets you import data from any source and use intuitive drag-and-drop tools to create custom applications for your unique business needs. Get started for free today.