iPaaS 101: What is iPaaS and Why Does it Matter?

John Ferguson
August 29, 2019
IT & Development

iPaaS 101: What is iPaaS and Why Does it Matter?

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the iPaaS

It’s undeniable that technology has grown in scale, complexity, and usage in the business world, at tech and non-tech companies alike. But this growth has raised concerns and questions of how to manage the myriad necessary applications. The answer? Integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS) software

The exponential growth in data and corresponding communications between various software is quickly growing beyond anyone’s ability to manually process.  With the average enterprise having 464 applications deployed, there is a clear and pressing demand for cross-application integration, communication, and automation.

What is iPaaS?

Fortunately, the last decade has seen the emergence of iPaaS to address the pain that comes from modern sprawling Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environments. Broadly speaking, iPaaS are cloud-based platforms that host the integrations between various SaaS applications, as well as on-premise enterprise applications. By utilizing cloud-based structures and a visual user interface, iPaaS are relatively lightweight solutions to the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individual integrations that modern businesses need., And you don’t need to be a developer to use iPaaS – these tools  strive to limit the need for prior coding experience.

As an example, let’s say a customer contacts you looking for help with troubleshooting. Using integrations via an iPaaS, your inbound source can automatically pull the customer’s data from your CRM, notify their representative on your team, and send a ticket notification to the product team depending on the customer’s request. iPaaS makes life easier by allowing your systems to communicate automatically. But that only scratches the surface of what iPaaS can do! 

Technically speaking, iPaaS is a subset of the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) category, which provides platforms for developing and deploying applications. Within this ecosystem, iPaaS specifically handles the interactions between applications. iPaaS also serves as an evolution of the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB)’s functionality. While both iPaaS and ESBs integrate applications, ESBs traditionally are on-premise software connecting on-premise applications. iPaaS’s elevation to the cloud lowers the cost and accessibility threshold of integration, particularly for non-enterprise organizations.

Why iPaaS Matters

The iPaaS market has grown quickly as a response to the rapid pace of SaaS expansion. The immense number of available applications, from niche, industry-specific tools to broad platforms or cross-industry communication tools, creates a concurrent need for these applications to talk to and share information with each other. This includes not only avenues to send information back and forth, but also an interface for the receiving apps to know what to do with incoming data.

This dynamic scales quickly; large organizations with unique application requirements for each team can add up to hundreds of application deployments. Many of these apps need to integrate with each other, particularly between intertwined departments like Marketing and Sales. This prevents data silos that can directly affect agility and ultimately competitiveness. 

What Can iPaaS Do?

In response to these issues, iPaaS offerings use a combination of integrations, application programming interfaces (APIs), and ETL processes to automate communication and workflow between applications. 

Prebuilt Connectors

Most iPaaS vendors provide prebuilt connectors between highly-used applications like Salesforce or Slack. These are typically listed on their site so you can see if an iPaaS has the connectors you need. 

Customizable Integrations

For more specialized integrations or connectors, iPaaS solutions offer customizable integrations or build-your-own capabilities for tech-savvy users. iPaaS also provide prebuilt APIs and the ability to manage native and 3rd-party APIs on the platform.

Workflow Automation

Workflow automation is a near-universal aspect of current iPaaS. This functionality automates the process of not only getting data from one application to another, but automatically transforming it into the correct structure or format for the receiving application to know what to do with the data and make it actionable upon reception. This can range from standardizing date formats to more robust transformations like converting data types into usable formats. These features bundle the ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) process, which previously existed in standalone products, into the broader integration ecosystem.

User-Friendly UI

There are some variations between iPaaS product capabilities. However, the market standard is quickly becoming for iPaaS to have a drag-and-drop interface. Between the UI and the prebuilt connectors, iPaaS administrators can go “low-code” or even “no-code” when using the platform.

Benefits of iPaaS

  • Scalability- As your business adds more applications, data sources, etc., iPaaS is designed to grow with you, allowing you to turn SaaS sprawl into effective workflows for your team.
  • Time Savings- Automated communication and data transfers between your programs mitigates routine tasks that suck up valuable time.
  • Ease of use- iPaaS was first designed for small to mid-sized businesses’ integration needs. With this group in mind, iPaaS vendors continually strive to make the technology usable by non-specialist and Line of Business users, in contrast to more complex legacy systems that necessitated IT management.
  • Reduced IT burden- With iPaaS accessible for non-IT professionals, the burden of managing an organization’s integrations is mitigated for IT departments, allowing them to focus on tasks and issues that can’t be outsourced or automated.

iPaaS for Companies of Every Size

The iPaaS market includes products for businesses of different sizes. Large enterprises benefit from the increased speed of building integrations between their applications within  an external iPaaS platform, as well as centralizing said integration into a single interface. In particular, a class of Enterprise iPaaS (EiPaaS) has emerged to address the scaled needs of enterprises. Vendors that specialize in enterprise use cases include Informatica, Dell, and Oracle.

Small to mid-sized businesses can also reap the benefits of iPaaS. Some vendors, like Zapier, are designed to service the integration needs of smaller organizations, with an emphasis on automating processes like notifications, updating customer data, etc. Others focus specifically on services for very small organizations. Example include products that emphasize syncing customer data, such as PieSync, or enabling cross-platform communication with customers, like IFTTT

The Future of iPaaS

iPaaS is a relatively new category of software, and is rapidly evolving to better serve businesses. For example, our research on buyers’ experiences with iPaaS indicated that  buyers frequently purchase more capabilities than they actually need. As a result, vendors are beginning to structure iPaaS products as microservices, which leads to faster product development and easier isolation of components making it much easier to update functionality since there are far fewer dependencies.  

As an emerging market, it is not entirely clear how the broader iPaaS market will change in the future. But with the spate of mergers and acquisitions and new products entering the marketplace in the last couple of years, this market bears all the hallmarks of a fast-growing and innovative space. 

Ultimately, the key benefits of iPaaS for business are the integrations between cloud-based applications and software without using on-site hardware or coding knowledge. As iPaaS continues to evolve to provide greater functionality and ease of use, they also become increasingly feasible for people and businesses of all kinds to use! 

When you buy your next software, or onboard a new program, consider how you want the program to interact with the rest of your ecosystem. If it’s time to make integration a feature instead of a roadblock for your business, iPaaS is the answer.

About the Author

John Ferguson
John is a Research Associate at TrustRadius, focusing on content development and buyer-guided research. His goal is to support and enable better software buying decisions, with an eye towards helping people from all backgrounds navigate the world of business software. He has a BA in Politics from Centre College.

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