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3 ways to grade integration platform-as-a-service vendors

The best iPaaS vendors offer a mix of standardization and flexibility, and they can't leave out compliance. Learn how to compare offerings based on these crucial capabilities.

Enterprises rely on a complex mix of internal applications and data to enable business outcomes, and they increasingly also adopt outside services and third-party data. Silos of tools and services can hobble business if they aren't interoperable. Interoperability needs to drive organizations to integration platforms capable of connecting disparate workloads and data, entrusting them with business workflows.

Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) vendors promote their products' ability to manage the interaction between diverse applications and data sets. But iPaaS adopters must understand the limitations and risks of the available technology before they enter into an agreement with one or more integration platform-as-a-service vendors.

The goal of any iPaaS platform is to connect applications and data sets, but there is no single, universal set of features and functionality that's essential for every iPaaS offering. First, you should find which of the three primary types of iPaaS -- cloud/SaaS; e-commerce/B2B; and enterprise service bus (ESB)/service-oriented architecture (SOA) -- fits your organization. Then, use these basic guidelines around workflow features, monitoring and auditability, and ease of use to compare and evaluate iPaaS products.

Integration workflows

Integration is not a single thing, but rather the result of a combination of steps or processes. Integration platform-as-a-service vendors should offer tools and features that enable the user to create and manage integration workflows. Some vendor tools will also include precreated integrations, which new users often find even more helpful. For example, the iPaaS user can conveniently click a box to connect in-house application A to Salesforce or rely on standards, such as Health Level Seven International, as a common exchange for integrated electronic health information. If a tool includes precreated integrations, users should also be able to modify the integration and create custom ones.

An ideal iPaaS offering should also manage integration lifecycles by helping users to spot and remediate integration changes. For example, if the iPaaS product helps determine whether errors are the result of connectivity problems, data store issues or changes in API or data format, then the IT team can troubleshoot the problem quickly with less workflow disruptions for the business.

The market of iPaaS vendors

Some of the more well-known integration platform-as-a-service vendors include Informatica, Tibco Software, Dell Boomi, MuleSoft, Jitterbit, SnapLogic and IBM. But while these iPaaS offerings all share the same basic goals, that doesn't mean all these iPaaS products -- or any iPaaS products -- are the same. Potential adopters should conduct extensive research to determine if an iPaaS vendor can meet their primary business needs.

For example, IBM's iPaaS products interoperate with other IBM offerings, such as IBM API Connect and IBM App Connect, which makes them an attractive option for IT shops that already rely on these management tools. Organizations with a diverse mix of applications and data to interconnect might prefer SnapLogic for its large array of prebuilt connectors.

Understanding the iPaaS market itself can pose a challenge for adopters, as every vendor seeks to differentiate its offering from the others. Integration platform-as-a-service vendors take on responsibility for service availability and make service changes and upgrades, which pulls control away from an IT operations team. But what happens to your organization if the iPaaS goes down?

Also, remember that, if an iPaaS vendor gets bought out, goes out of business or even just denigrates its features, it isn't necessarily possible to migrate from one iPaaS setup to another without significant disruption. Keep that in mind before you select a platform.

Performance monitoring

An iPaaS product should provide detailed monitoring of the integrated applications and data sets so administrators can oversee application availability and performance. If an integration fails, users need to know what the problem is and how to remediate the issue quickly, so they should know if applications go down or experience service degradations.

Make sure to test if an iPaaS offering works at the scale that your business workflows require.

Ask an iPaaS vendor how comprehensive the service's logging, auditing and related features are before choosing its product. This iPaaS capability is particularly important for organizations under corporate governance and regulatory compliance rules. Users should be able to generate reports that detail integration behaviors and the data shared across the iPaaS product.

User experience

A useful iPaaS product will alleviate the overhead of on-premises tool hosting and management. Therefore, iPaaS users expect cloudlike features, including self-service and elasticity. Make sure to test if an iPaaS offering works at the scale that your business workflows require and if users can easily create new integrations, modify existing ones and resolve problems. Enterprises' suites of productivity applications aren't static. If the business adopts a new SaaS tool in HR, for example, the IT organization should be able to update its iPaaS tool to integrate that SaaS application into workflows, without the iPaaS vendor's intervention.

As iPaaS is a relatively new service field for enterprise IT, new features and functionality will emerge over time. Each iPaaS vendor emphasizes features that suit specific use cases, such as health care data exchanges or other electronic data interchanges, so organizations must know what type of iPaaS they require for a given set of workflows before evaluating specific vendors.

This was last published in February 2019

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