Integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS) Buyer’s Guide
1. Introducing iPaaS
What is in this iPaaS Buyer’s Guide?
This guide is designed to reduce the pressure of choosing the best iPaaS solution for your business. We will help you understand what an iPaaS is, figure out how to ensure what’s included and what’s not, and justify your choice within the scope of your organization’s budget and unique needs.
The guide is divided into three sections:
- First, we will cover the problems that a cloud-based integration platform is uniquely able to solve. We will provide a view of today’s iPaaS market landscape, and how it is likely to change in the coming years.
- Next, we will help you demystify the features available across popular solutions. You will learn how to differentiate for yourself and the business between which features are necessary, helpful-but-not-critical, and unlikely to ever be used.
- Finally, we will help you navigate tricky areas some iPaaS buyers aren’t aware of. We will help you understand what to look for not just technically, but in terms of support, pricing, and customer experience. We’ll also help you take the early steps towards building a business case with internal stakeholders that anticipates current and future needs.
We have made this simple, understandable—and valuable for your whole organization.
What are the challenges to buying an iPaaS?
The relatively young nature of the iPaaS market presents special problems to buyers. Our own research identifies three major challenges you should focus on to guide your business toward success:
- Figuring out what features matter
The essential first step in buying an iPaaS is figuring out which features each solution provides. You then need to determine the set of features that are critical for your organization today, those that will become worthwhile tomorrow, and those that your organization will never need.
- Deciphering pricing differences
Understanding pricing is nearly as important as understanding features. That’s because pricing is a powerful factor for buying decisions—and short-term and long-term pricing considerations are often not in alignment. Whether the pricing is fixed, subscription, or price-per-transaction, estimates should be carefully scrutinized for future scenarios as your business grows. Paying for capacity you don’t use is a waste. And transaction-based charges should align with the ROI you’ll get.
- Justifying your purchase
In order to build support for an iPaaS that benefits the entire organization, it’s essential to justify the purchase by understanding, and measuring, immediate value and total cost of ownership. For an iPaaS, areas to focus on include: (1) fewer full-time equivalents creating and managing the hundreds of integration jobs needed for regular processes; (2) structural and organization-wide efficiency gains from standardization, reuse, and collaboration; (3) and major cost savings by supporting legacy technologies while enabling modern paradigms like the Internet of Things (IoT), edge, and flexible data standards.
Pssst… What’s an iPaaS anyway?
An integration Platform-as-a-Service, or iPaaS, is an integration platform that is deployed to the cloud. It’s really that simple! Here’s a quick overview of how it fits into the range of “as-a-service” solutions:
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): SaaS is any cloud service that delivers an individual application and is generally accessed directly through a browser. It’s a broad category that most people will recognize from examples like Dropbox, WebEx, and GotoMeeting. These days, a large organization may have hundreds or even a thousand SaaS applications—which can risk vendor lock-in and interoperability issues.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): A PaaS is a broader computing platform in the cloud that lets developers focus on application development instead of dealing with the complexity of operating systems and infrastructure. A PaaS generally enables easy, enterprise class scalability and security.
Integration Platform-as-a-Service (iPaaS): An iPaaS is just a class of PaaS for creating integrations, APIs, and microservices that in the best of cases also lets you manage your APIs and integrate with trading partners. It should integrate between SaaS and on-premises apps. The top solutions tend to be lightweight, cloud-native, and easily accessible by developers and non-technical users alike via visually intuitive user interfaces and dashboards.
2. How to know what you’re getting
Differentiating features and functions—Can anyone integrate?
Perhaps the biggest challenge for prospective iPaaS buyers is identifying business problems and use cases. Without a clear understanding of needs, it’s difficult to decide which solutions can handle those needs. A key question is who will be building integrations; these are the main stakeholders. The best iPaaS solutions let anyone integrate, whether that user is a skilled developer who can code like a wizard, or a non-technical business lead. Here are the features and functions you should look out for:
- User interface/ease of use: It’s critical that iPaaS workflows can be understood, developed, and modified by non-developers so that anyone can integrate. That means visual dashboards, drag-and-drop design, and powerful AI and machine learning features that anticipate and suggest common actions without coding. At the same time, you want to give your top developers the ability to get under the hood and write custom connectors and integrations.
- Number and quality of connectors: Whoever has access to the most connectors has the flexibility and agility to tear down silos and expose innovations for new products and services for customers. But be careful! Quality matters too. Some vendors make lofty claims about how many connectors they provide, but don’t disclose how many of those connectors are unique, useful, non-overlapping, or available depending on different pricing and service tiers. Paying extra for connectors that you won’t use is almost as bad as thinking you’re buying 100 unique connectors, but only really getting a fraction of that.
- Ease of modifying or building new connectors: The connectors that come with a solution are only part of the equation. To make use of a powerful iPaaS, it should be easy to modify existing, or build totally new, connectors for custom applications or new technologies. Don’t get locked into the past.
- Flexible support for different integration styles: Having access to real-time, batch, scheduled, event-based, and even streaming integration styles is vital. Your integration platform will serve a variety of needs over time.
- Data transformation and complex orchestration: You want your team to be able to create simple automated workflows for data replication or batch integration. If you’re looking at real-time use cases that involve complex logic with multiple application endpoints and data transformation, though, make sure the platform can meet your needs.
- Integrate anywhere: Many solutions are geared towards cloud or on-premises integrations, but the best can integrate across both in a hybrid model. That can also include integrating across public clouds, private clouds, multi-cloud and more. Integration can even be embedded in your application. This ensures you can have a single platform for all your integration needs and aren’t locked into any cloud vendor.
Enterprise class capabilities— Can it handle your future?
Another set of considerations is whether the solution you’re thinking about buying is really enterprise class. Will it be able to handle your future needs? Buying anything less is a recipe for having to buy now, and then again when you outgrow its capabilities.
Here are five questions to help you identify an enterprise class iPaaS:
- Does it support hybrid integrations? Can it handle all of your integration needs across a distributed landscape? While many integrations happen in the cloud and there are lots of options that support that, it can be extremely limiting for companies with legacy applications that live on premise. Often there are “lite” versions of iPaaS offerings that only handle the most modern applications but leave out many of the applications that companies still rely on every day.
- Can it handle continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD)? To avoid major disruptions and ensure the highest quality customer service, it’s critical for an iPaaS to be able to operate in a CI/CD environment—a hallmark of a DevOps approach. From automating the process of merging changes to integrations into a central repository to automated testing to automated delivery, CI/CD improves software quality, reduces validation time, and helps identify and address bugs more quickly.
- Can it scale? An enterprise class iPaaS should be justified for today, but it has to scale fast and remain stable as you open new revenue streams and channels. It also must respond to the demands of the cloud, adding technologies like IoT and 3rd party systems without replacing systems of record.
- How easy and sophisticated is its monitoring? Centralizing visibility, monitoring, and usage tracking is essential. An enterprise-class iPaaS needs to be easy to use, simple to understand—yet offer sophisticated monitoring to grow as you need it to. It needs to give you the ability to drill down to look at even the smallest details so nothing is missed. This would include, for example, being able to do user- and service-specific analysis across hybrid and cloud environments. Being able to do all this allows you to do detailed auditing and security logging of all your integrations in one central place.
- Is it compatible with existing and future ecosystems? An enterprise buyer needs an iPaaS with proven reliability, predictable cost, and fast time-to-market. But it’s important to take into account the long-term relationships you’ll have with vendors. Look for a history of delivering futureproof technology able to quickly adapt to market changes and customer demands. Before you make a decision, look to see if a vendor publishes regular roadmaps and whether it has regular product releases. That’s often an indication of how much a vendor is invested in keeping their platform current.
Things you might not have thought about—The hidden factors for success!
Many iPaaS buyers overlook these considerations:
- Ease of API development and implementation: Integration and API go hand-in hand; APIs are often seen as the face of integration services that run on your iPaaS. API development and implementation needs to be easy enough to accelerate delivery of new digital capabilities in order to satisfy both business analysts and IT specialists.
- How it’s priced and sold: Pricing transparency, flexibility, and planning needs to be aligned with projected growth prospects. Be wary of pricing models that can look attractive to lock in your business—only to result in sticker shock when you need to expand capabilities, pay for higher capacity, or include hand-coding to make the solution work properly within your ecosystem.
- What happens after you purchase—support and training: Many iPaaS buyers end up with solutions that look great on paper, and then have trouble actually implementing them. They can have capabilities they’ve paid for that sit on the shelf due to a lack of resources. Work with a vendor who provides easy to reach, friendly, and comprehensive post-purchase support and training. The best iPaaS vendor relationships result in active partnerships.
- Developer experience: Is there a community to answer questions? How good is the documentation? Are there free trainings and videos? If needed, ask stakeholders within your organization to evaluate these things before you decide to purchase an iPaaS.
- Viability: Is there a public roadmap for the future? The iPaaS market and its solutions are evolving rapidly to accommodate new technologies (like IoT) and innovations. Make sure that whatever solution you consider has a public roadmap, and a track record of long-term stability, so you can be confident you won’t be left hanging in a few years (or even months).
3. Building a business case and moving forward—your next steps!
A unified platform for creating integrations, APIs, and microservices will let your business run in a fully hybrid environment. This includes end-to-end workflow visibility connecting cloud and on-premises systems, and a robust DevOps process.
Once you’ve identified candidates, these are your next steps:
Build a business case
The full process of building a business goes beyond the scope of this guide, but when it comes to an iPaaS, the first step is identifying and gathering input from C-level leaders, IT directors and managers, enterprise architects, and finally, your developers, who will be working directly with any new tools or environments to put the iPaaS to work.
Utilizing their input and calculating ROI based on various scenarios will help you justify not only the technical solution, but how to approach different pricing models and considerations based on projected business outcomes. This step will ensure that today’s decision not only gets buy-in but still looks like a win in the future.
Keep in mind: iPaaS buyers who get to this stage profit by focusing on agility and planning for the future. After all, an iPaaS is designed to help maximize these two things, so don’t let the platform itself get in the way.
Get trusted advice and evaluate solutions
The following three rules ensure that the information you collect about any given iPaaS is accurate, applies to your situation, and is unbiased:
- Don’t buy an iPaaS without trying it. No amount of prior research will tell you what an actual trial can—with your applications, your data, and your environment. Look for a free trial, and use it.
- Find out what other users, particularly in your industry, actually think. Peer reviews like Gartner Peer Reviews are some of the best external research sources you have access to. They will give you real-world, longer-term feedback on tangibles like capabilities and functions, and intangibles, like post-sales support, and the daily reality of working with a vendor.
- Reach out to experts who can answer open questions. The field of iPaaS experts has grown, and these are the people you want to ask your open-ended questions. The top experts have worked with multiple businesses in your industry, and have enough experience to know what works, what doesn’t, and what details need to be in place for success.