16 Oct 2018
iPaaS integration platform-as-a-service – an update
iPaaS (integration platform-as-a-service) was a term first coined by Gartner in 2011(Core Research Note G00210747), and later clarified in a January 2014 ‘Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Integration Platform as a Service‘ report. It was defined as:
a form of platform as a service that provides capabilities to enable subscribers to implement integration projects involving any combination of cloud-resident and on-premises endpoints … [combining] traditional in on-premises integration platform software, such as enterprise service buses (ESBs), data integration tools, B2B gateway software, application service governance platforms and managed file transfer products.
It’s now four years since that magic quadrant, which is an age in software terms. Because of the changes in and around it, it’s time to revisit where iPaaS is now.
Why integration is important
Businesses increasingly operate in digital communities of trading partners – customers, suppliers, distributors – who work together. The ability to improve the integration and sharing of information gives these communities greater insights into customer needs and issues, and helps them to improve customer service and enter new markets.
All-in-one integrated suites, once so popular, are no longer able to address the needs of today’s digital landscape – as was pointed out by Lego. Legacy integrated systems make innovation difficult, only provide updates slowly, inhibit large-scale deployments, and hinder the sharing of data across teams. Instead, companies are adopting cloud and SaaS solutions, which give them the information they need to operate better and respond quicker to customer issues and business changes. But because these solutions tend to be stand-alone they need to be integrated.
The business application life-cycle is speeding up, with applications being changed more frequently than in the past. So integration needs to be more flexible and agile. In addition, whether it’s the ‘shadow IT’ phenomenon, or other reasons, businesses are implementing an increasing number of applications, and whether these are bought or built, they need to be integrated with other systems in the organization.
For enterprises that decide to undertake a digital transformation exercise, the resultant change in application portfolio and the need to have an agile and flexible integration architecture supporting that, means that many businesses are looking at iPaaS solutions.
Business leaders are becoming more aware of the need to break down data silos (repositories of data that are isolated from the rest of the organization) both internally and with trusted business partners. The ability to implement integrations quickly and cost-effectively makes iPaaS an attractive solution.
Having got over their initial reluctance, many businesses are now adding cloud solutions and this is leading to the growth of a hybrid – on-premise plus cloud – infrastructure.
Gartner’s 2014 report commented that iPaaS buyers were not central IT departments but rather business units, this was based on their view that iPaaS is:
an agile approach focused on short time to deployment, and addressing informally and incrementally defined requirements, as opposed to traditional integration approaches
However, this is not born out by the interactions we have had. IT departments seem to be well aware of the need to manage a hybrid architecture and are using an iPaaS to address it.
While the cloud has been the trend that IT pundits discuss, there are still lots of on-premise systems. In our discussions with IT decision makers, the advantage of iPaaS is that it makes it easier to connect between in-house on-premise systems and those on-premise applications used by business or supply chain partners.
According to the sessions on our website, there has been a significant growth in interest in creating and deploying APIs as a way of connecting applications. We are seeing users (both customers and trial users) using specific Connectors, and Flowgear’s generic Web Request node, to build APIs more quickly and easily.
Over the last four years, we have see a segmentation of the iPaaS market as a means of differentiation. This has been on different dimensions including industry sector, application type, company size, and also technology. In Flowgear’s case, our business focus is on the SMB (small and midsize) sector, but we also have a technology differentiator – our platform is based on .NET, as opposed to other platforms that are built on Java. For Microsoft-oriented developers, our platform is easier to work on.
The other change we have seen in the iPaaS market is that regulated industries now considering iPaaS. Only a few years ago, financial services would not look at an iPaaS due to concerns about data security and integrity. However, as the perception of the security of public cloud providers has improved, so regulated industries are starting cloud strategies, although it might be private cloud implementations of iPaaS.
Why iPaaS is resisted
When an organization starts looking at an integration project, it’s a common first step for the IT staff to build integrations themselves, ie, custom integrations. But then they start hitting the problems of custom integration.
- It becomes less cost-effective as the number of integrations increase
- It requires skilled developers
- It takes far longer to complete than budgeted
- They experience problems of stability and scalability
- It is not very flexibility, and prone to errors
Low-code in iPaaS
Another technical objection that can be raised about an iPaaS like Flowgear relates to its visual development “low-code” environment. As Forrester points out, developers raise two issues with low-code, it will:
- limit the kind of integrations I can build, and the scalability of those integrations;
- lock us out of open source and APIs, and limit flexbility.
As with custom code, once developers try out our iPaaS platform, they find that low-code:
- supports complex variations of business requirements,
- enables prototyping, iterating and building of integrations faster than by hand-coding,
- can achieve high levels of scalability,
- includes functions drawn from internet and open sources services, as well as older systems.
Developers can be the biggest obstacle to implementing an iPaaS, but once they have trialed our platform they become our biggest supporters.
Outsourcing to VANs and brokers
One non-technical option for integrating data, especially between business partners in the retail sector, is to outsource the task to a VAN (value added network). However, customers who have initially gone the VAN, or cloud broker, route tell us that it is less flexible when changes need to be made, and more expensive than using an iPaaS.
What iPaaS enables
When Gartner first defined iPaaS in 2014, businesses were still trying to work out the benefits. With four years of customer engagements we can now point out the business and technical advantages of an iPaaS as a modern integration solution
For business, it:
- provides faster time to value
- is easier onboard users and partners
- is more agile
- enables near real-time integration with continuous improvement
- is more cost-effective than traditional integration applications
From the technical perspective, it:
- can support traditional data formats, plus new ones
- includes API management capabilities
- provides a broader range and deeper functionality of integration capabilities than traditional solutions
- can connect easily and flexibly to on-premise, public and private cloud, SaaS applications
- is scalable for handling large volumes of data
- does not require developers to have specialized knowledge of a specific application in order to know how to integrate to it
- uses a low-code approach to make integration both faster for developers, and easier for citizen developers
iPaaS has developed from a point integration solution in 2011 to a platform that can support a broad range of hybrid integration requirements. As e-commerce and electronic trading models increase, as business adopt more flexible applications including cloud and SaaS solutions, and with the growth of loosely coupled API-based integration, traditional IT integration software lacks the agility to quickly and cost-effectively do the job. iPaaS offers a much wider range of application and data connectors, provides support for traditional data formats (eg, XML, EDI), and enables API capabilities. Not only is a cloud-based iPaaS like Flowgear mature enough to deliver flexible and speedy integration capabilities, but its subscription fee model better aligns costs with usage and enables customers to achieve faster ROI.