An integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) is a cloud-based software package used to create new applications or to orchestrate data flows by linking together existing services and applications. It provides a way for organisations to readily make use of basic building blocks to streamline a process or establish a new service.
For example, an iPaaS might stitch together a database that stores customer information, an API for converting an address into geographic coordinates, and a third-party service for processing credit card transactions so that users can complete tasks with one stop.
These platforms are equipped with routines for interacting with existing services using standard protocols and data formats. They are adept at requesting data from one service before filtering the data and converting it into another data format required by a different service, acting like transportation hubs for data transfers.
Similar approaches to integrating data flows are undertaken by technologies such as enterprise service buses (ESBs) and robotic process automation (RPA). Each does similar work in integrating existing software packages and services.
The business case for using an iPaaS
iPaaS tools are engineered to handle the latest protocols and authentication methods, as well as the wide variety of architectures in use today. Sophisticated iPaas tools can link software running in different clouds, both public and private, and in different data centres owned by different companies with varying levels of trust. They can also integrate with so-called “dusty deck” software on older hardware, enabling organisations to squeeze more years out of legacy software.
A common feature among iPaaS tools is the ability to integrate with newer technologies and algorithms such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the blockchain. Because of this, iPaaS can add features from these algorithms to older systems using existing connectors, making them one of the simplest and fastest ways to leverage the latest technologies.
Using an iPaaS can also save organisations a substantial amount of time and coding effort. Ideally, much of the integration glue code is already baked into the platforms and the development team can operate at the highest levels of abstraction.
Some iPaaS include sophisticated visualisation dashboards for tracking progress and creating new integrations. Their visual programming languages can simplify the process of integration, enabling non-developers to contribute more easily and professional developers to create services more quickly.
How an iPaas works
iPaaS do much of the same work as raw code, but they hide much of the syntactic complexity behind a nice web application. The central hub can be configured with various modules that can connect with a variety tools and then feed the result to other services or applications. iPaaS vendors maintain a large collection of these connectors to many of the most common APIs and services on the internet.
Before the iPaaS can do its work, developers must create a description of how the data is transformed once it arrives. Some platforms require users to to write functions in traditional programming languages to filter and manipulate data.
Others offer visual tools that can simplify the work and eliminate some of the issues with syntax that can make programming difficult. While these visual tools can open up the process to non-programmers, configuring the iPaaS still requires thinking like a developer about the abstract formats and data flows.
Once the connections are defined and the right modules installed, the iPaaS will run in the background ensuring that the data enters and leaves.
One of the most important challenges for an iPaaS is getting authentication correct to ensure links between services don’t turn into backdoors for access into the network. Protocols such as OAuth ensure that only the iPaaS can access the data. At the same time, single sign-on options make it simpler for users to authenticate themselves once in order to accomplish all of the tasks that the iPaaS can deliver.
iPaas examples in action
iPaaS can be made use of at all levels of a typical enterprise software stack. They may tackle smaller jobs such as integrating workflows at a regional office, or they may play a bigger role collecting and coordinating multiple offices, regions, and subdivisions. Here are some hypothetical examples:
- When the two businesses merge, an iPaaS can synchronise orders from both sides of the merged entity into a centralised reporting tool. New management can then track the performance of both businesses while integrating them.
- An iPaaS can be used to collect information as part of an experimental project to compare production efficiency between plants, routing the information from the various systems running each plant to a graphical dashboard.
- A multinational vendor seeking to track sales across international borders can use an iPaaS to collect accounting information from both sides of the border and adjust them using current exchange rates.
- A sales team can set up an iPaaS to coordinate tracking early inquiries and matching them with eventual transactions.
Much of the work of an iPaaS is done during the transformation process when the data arrives in the hub. Some options include:
- Filtering: An iPaaS can remove extra data and pass along only the data that fits a particular set of rules.
- Cleaning: An iPaaS can fix data inconsistencies, removing spurious fields and ensuring that the fields use the same standard formats.
- Transformation: An iPaaS can transform data from the format produced by one service to the format required by another.
- Privacy: An iPaaS can remove personal data, replacing it with placeholders or anonymised pseudonyms.
- Security: An iPaaS can add encryption to protect information before shipping it to a distant service.
- Intuition: An iPaaS can deploy machine learning or other AI algorithms to make decisions and watch for anomalies to flag.
Top iPaas vendors
The iPaaS space is growing, as a number of vendors continue to revise and extend their integration tools to work with more platforms and services. The vendors all offer a central hub for data exchange that’s supported by modules that connect the hub with a wide variety tools, services, and even other iPaaS systems.
Finding the best option begins with checking to see how well the products work with the services and tools in your current stack. The leading vendors boast a wide range of connector modules. Some also offer free plans for initial exploration and testing.
- Amazon Web Services: Amazon’s cloud includes a number of tools for integrating data flows. At the lowest levels, Lambda functions can control many of the features inside AWS offering serverless computation. At a higher level, AppFlow offers so-called “no code” integration.
- Boomi: The Boomi platform offers such a large selection of connectors and integration modules.
- io: Cenit.io’s tool is free and built around an open source community.
- io: Elastic.io can be used either inside an enterprise or as a white-label service for building your own iPaaS.
- IBM: Big Blue offers a number of products and services for integration under the IBM Cloud umbrella, such as IBM Cloud Pak for Integration, IBM AppConnect, IBM APIConnect and IBM EventStreams.
- Informatica: The CLAIRE engine from Informatica focuses on data integration and data quality.
- Jitterbit: Jitterbit’s platform includes Cloud Studio, which offers “citizens” a chance to integrate tools with recipes.
- Oracle: Oracle has a wide range of integration tools in its cloud for organising data and APIs, the main one being Application Integration.
- SnapLogic: SnapLogic calls its tool “Enterprise Automation Vision” and includes intelligent connectors called “Snaps” that can, to some extent, configure themselves.
- Tibco: Cloud Integration from Tibco offers event- and API-driven integration.
- Workato: The Workato platform offers a sophisticated collection of workflow automation tools to track the movement of data through its network.
- Zapier: The Zapier platform offers integration with many popular web apps such as GMail, Slack, and Mailchimp.