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What Is iPaaS? Unpacking Integration Platform as a Service

What is iPaaS and how does it work?

Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) tools are cloud-based platforms that integrate applications and data from different sources, whether in the cloud or on-premise. The goal is to seamlessly facilitate the movement of data, better enable automation initiatives, and reduce the need for manual maintenance across apps. 

iPaaS tools attempt to standardize the way a company’s various applications communicate with one-another. The concept follows the idea that data is king, and that by moving and sharing data through connectors, common protocols, and APIs, more useful work can be done. 

This can be a complicated undertaking. As organizations grow and broaden digital transformation efforts, they often find themselves inundated with applications. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that “the number of software applications deployed by large firms across all industries world-wide has increased 68% over the past 4 years,” with “nearly 10% of businesses” employing “more than 200 applications” in their enterprise. That number’s only gone up thanks to COVID-19, which increased the demand for digital solutions.  

The issue is that most applications operate independently, and are typically deployed to target a specific problem. Most operate in silos, and don’t offer native connections, meaning they don’t integrate easily with other tools. And the more apps you have, the more complicated and time-consuming managing and running processes across them becomes.

To mitigate this, enterprises have turned to tools that promise simplification and connection. Tools like RPA and iBPM are popular choices, but actually exacerbate the problem of application sprawl. 

This is where iPaaS comes in. 

Benefits of iPaaS

iPaaS platforms make it easier to connect and automatically pass data back and forth between applications and data systems—which reduces the amount of manual work required of running processes end-to-end. iPaaS tools allow organizations to simplify their operations, as well as reduce development times and costs, because they empower developers to build new tools using fewer technological resources. 

iPaaS platforms also standardize interactions between systems, whether they be actions performed inside just one organization or across multiple. iPaaS platforms ground information shared between two partnered financial institutions in a single, synchronized system—the iPaaS platform—and provide both institutions a common source of truth. 

Limitations of iPaaS

iPaaS platforms can be difficult to use. According to the Gartner Market share analysis, the most popular iPaaS platforms—such as Informatica, MuleSoft, Oracle, and Boomi, which account for 60% of the iPaaS market—tend to be geared toward developers and technical consultants, who are most often tasked with using the tool. This is because making use of iPaaS platforms requires a relatively high level of technical expertise, be it related to fetching and transforming data, interfacing with different systems, or proficiency in coding constructs, language, and techniques. Extending the functionality of iPaaS solutions beyond data movement, meanwhile, requires the creation of custom user interfaces (UI)—which requires not only developmental expertise, but change management and the training of end users during deployment. Such requirements negatively impact the overall adoption potential, as people need to change their processes and take the time to learn how to use something new in order to get value out of the tool.

iPaaS tools are likewise unable to automate processes that rely on human touch points. At its core, an iPaaS platform focuses on moving data from one application or system to another. It is not designed to mediate between systems and people. In fact, one of the most common uses of iPaaS is to remove people from a process and run in a head-less mode. Since true end-to-end business processes are multi-touch and require human decision making for approvals or exception handling, this can be critically limiting.

The most common workaround for this is to combine iPaaS with another tool like iBPM, which can be used to design and implement more holistically capable automations. 

An Alternative: Composability platforms

An alternative approach is to utilize an enterprise-grade, composable process automation platform, like Tonkean.

Composability is a way of building software using “building blocks” composed of business capabilities. These building blocks—which in enterprise software are known as enterprise components (ECs)—are modular and interchangeable. Curated by IT, they perform actions or complete steps in a business process. (These actions take one of three forms: 1) actions on people; 2) actions on systems or data; 3) and actions that perform business logic.) They can be assembled and reassembled by nontechnical teams to create full blown software solutions. 

Key are composable platforms, which sit a layer above all your other tools, and are truly no-code. They allow IT to curate enterprise components, so as to safely and holistically integrate their company’s technology and data. Nontechnical teams, meanwhile, can use them to compose their own software solutions via the no-code builder. If your RevOps team wants to compose a tool that automatically transfers data from Gmail to their Salesforce CRM, they can do that, using components composed of iPaaS functionality. 

Composability platforms combine the utility and functionality of iPaaS tools with the features and functionality of other automation tools, like iBPM and RPA, and in a completely no-code environment—which enables anyone inside an organization to tap into the innovative power of things like integration and automation on their own terms. I.e., they can build their own solutions and connect the tools they use as they see fit. 

Similarly, processes built using composability platforms can be made to interface with and utilize each and every element of the existing technology stack, meaning they can be made to establish touchpoints with users in whatever systems they like using—without the need to create or deploy a net-new application. This means that the technology can blend into the background, allowing end-users to operate as they typically would without needing to learn a new interface or process. 

iPaaS on its own cannot automate processes end-to-end. It  mandates a high degree of technical knowledge and skills. It is a powerful tool but built for a very specific purpose. 

If you’re looking for something more holistically capable, that truly enables all users inside your organization to build, maintain, and iterate on workflows—and that can automate processes end-to-end—composability platforms are worth taking a look at.  

For more details on the differences between tools like RPA, iBPM, and iPaaS, check out our Ultimate Buyer’s Guide for Evaluating Automation Platforms.

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