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IT pros look to iPaaS tools for LOB integration demands

App integration and automation are tricky for IT, particularly when business users launch their own projects. Workato is among the many iPaaS vendors who aim to address this need.

Enterprise iPaaS adoption continues to accelerate, as IT pros look to provide departmental users with application integration tools they can use to access data.

The increase in integration work derives largely from enterprise cloud adoption and an uptick in IoT endpoints, according to analyst firm Gartner, which counts about 120 integration-platform-as-a-service (iPaaS) vendors in a market that grew 72% in 2017, up from 61% in 2016.

"We don't see it slowing down," said Betty Zakheim, a Gartner research director.

To help IT pros meet the needs of line-of-business (LOB) customers, and also keep company data secure, vendors have released iPaaS tools aimed at nontechnical employees. For example, Workato this week released packages for IT pros and business teams.

They include Automation Editions for business teams, such as sales, marketing and HR. The editions have connectors to apps and systems that are used by each department, as well as workflows to build custom "recipes," or sets of instructions, without the need to code.

Additions to the overall platform include RecipeIQ, which adds machine learning to bolster the recipes' functionality, and OpsIQ, which improves the way the platform manages recipes. The company bases its prices on the number of transactions, connections and features a customer has.

One IT architect for a logistics company that supports retailers said his IT department is constantly paranoid about what users might do on their own. The company uses Workato's integration software with Apigee, an API management tool now owned by Google.

The architect, who declined to be identified, said the tool gives departmental teams access to data, albeit with some guardrails. "They have power, but they can't go overboard," he said.

Application integration and LOBs

Enterprises historically could integrate local data behind a firewall, but as cloud apps appeared and data proliferated, the job grew more difficult. The need to connect people, applications and devices creates an enormous technical challenge for enterprises and vendors. LOB projects typically keep valuable data in discrete systems -- often SaaS apps or legacy databases -- which complicated horizontal integration efforts.

How a company chooses to integrate this data depends on its priorities and existing platforms. Big names that address this market include Informatica, Dell Boomi, SnapLogic and Jitterbit, as well as established legacy companies, such as Microsoft and Oracle.

"Some focus on data integration techniques, some API management, some EDI [electronic data interchange] and some pack in workflows," Zakheim said. Nearly all have included graphical configuration, versus coding, which makes the creation of integration flows more straightforward.

IPaaS tools lay the foundation

The integration of LOB apps and their data is likely to become a significant trend for 2019.

"It needs to be," said Vijay Tella, CEO and founder of Workato, based in Cupertino, Calif. "A lot of the drive comes from the business side. They see this as an automation problem."

Application automation and integration are central to nearly every project these days at Wilbur-Ellis, a $3 billion holding company, with divisions in agribusiness, chemicals and feed.

"If I look back on the last three major projects, they all involve a separate system that has to integrate," said Dan Willey, CIO at the San Francisco-based company.

Many of these iPaaS tools are conceptually good for modern, cloud-based companies, but sometimes you are saddled with an application that doesn't play well. In the case of Wilbur-Ellis, an ERP system by Oracle's JD Edwards is a stumbling block, Willey said.

Wilbur-Ellis uses Dell Boomi's connectors to connect customer and order data. The company will also use the tool in a broader sense as an API management platform.

"It's a hard problem to solve," Willey said. "It's interchanging between your tool sets, data in your back-end systems, front-end systems, IoT data and other things that need to be lined up to make it happen."

"We want to look at how weather will impact our month," he added. "All of that information is available through APIs. You can be very creative, and it's as big as you want to think about it."

Vassar College has used SnapLogic since 2015 to connect systems that share data between many departments that have moved from on-premises storage to SaaS and a Workday ERP system for finance and human capital management. The school has vital processes in place to match student and employee data that funnels down to the college's ID system, said Mark Romanovsky, data system architect at Vassar.

"We knew that IT would still handle integration requirements, but we were concerned the more we pushed specialized solutions to those departments," he said. "SnapLogic lets us structure and deliver a data set for easier reporting based on current projects."

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