What is an integration platform as a service (iPaaS)? And what does its future have in store?

This guide to iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service) offers an overview of iPaaS and example use-cases for businesses.

The average company uses more than 100 SaaS applications—and this number is growing by double digit percentages, year over year.

As departments across your organization, from IT to finance to HR to sales, adopt an increasing number of applications to manage their function’s day-to-day tasks, they’re creating data silos (i.e. the information each department collects is only visible to them).

These data silos cause a variety of issues. Employees have to re-enter data several times, switch between applications to perform a task, and can’t uncover all the data they need to perform their job effectively.

Enter iPaaS, short for integration platform as a service. With an iPaaS, your organization can connect all of your applications. This allows your data to move freely between your systems, effectively eliminating the data silo that previously existed. 

This only scratches the surface. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about an iPaaS. This includes how it works, its benefits, its drawbacks, and why your organization needs to move beyond an iPaaS and use an integration-led automation platform instead.

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What is iPaaS?

iPaaS is a cloud-based platform that allows your organization to build integrations between cloud and on-premise applications, develop data flows between them, and then deploy these data flows.

To really understand what an iPaaS is and to help you evaluate any, you’ll need to review Gartner’s critical capabilities of an iPaaS. In short, they believe an iPaaS should:

  • Move specific pieces of data between API endpoints 
  • Map data between applications, even if the data doesn’t appear in a consistent format 
  • Transform data in ways that allow it to become more valuable for other systems 
  • Assess the quality of data that comes in and improve it when necessary
  • Enforce a variety of API policies, like authentication and authorization

To better understand an iPaaS, you’ll need to know how it complements and differs from other cloud-based service business models:

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software that’s hosted over the internet. The vendors themselves manage the servers, data, and code that’s required to maintain and improve the software over time. Many popular technologies you use day-to-day fall under SaaS, including Salesforce, Slack, etc.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides an environment that allows developers to build, manage, and launch applications without worrying about infrastructure requirements.

Integration as a Service (IaaS), according to Gartner, is an “integration functionality (secure B2B communications, data and message translation, and adapters for applications, data and cloud APIs) delivered as a service.”

The following don’t use the same business model but are also worth mentioning, as when they’re combined, they make up an iPaaS.

Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) is an architecture that allows you to connect your applications via specific rules.

Enterprise application integration (EAI) uses a middleware framework to connect your on-prem and cloud systems—allowing data to move between them easily.

Why is an iPaaS important?

Now that you know what an iPaaS is, let’s explore some of the reasons why it’s important:

1. It saves your team a significant amount of time. 

Imagine you work in sales and need to use multiple applications to find information on a prospect:

  • Salesforce for identifying contacts at an account
  • Marketo for understanding the emails they’ve received from marketing
  • Intercom to see what they’ve said in live chat conversations
  • Eventbrite to look at events they’ve attended in the past

Since you’re targeting several prospects at a time, it’s clear that this process of hopping between applications to find information on each one isn’t scalable. 

By using an iPaaS vendor, you can display all the relevant information on a single platform. From our example, this means you can look at a prospect in Salesforce and see all of the emails they’ve received from marketing, their previous live chat conversations, etc. 

2. It can move data in real-time.

Beyond accessing data within the apps they use, your employees need visibility into real-time data. It’s only with this type of data that your employees can engage in specific activities successfully, such as solving customer issues quickly or responding to inbound leads soon after they arrive.

An iPaaS solution neatly addresses this, as it can share data across the cloud applications and on-premise systems that are integrated in real-time.

3. It protects your data and keeps you compliant.

An iPaaS can protect your data by managing access. Also, it can provide fraud detection and intruder alerts (which are easy to uncover and act on, since you’re using a centralized platform). 

These protection measures can safeguard your reputation with customers as well as keep you compliant with GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, etc.

4. It prevents human errors.

The process of manually transferring data between applications can leave you vulnerable to making mistakes—you’re human, after all. An iPaaS can mitigate any by automatically transferring the data for you.

Related: Why data integration is critical

5. It improves employee and customer satisfaction.

Helping employees easily access and use the data they need empowers them to focus less on the tedious, mind-numbing parts of their work and more on the strategic, exciting tasks. This, in turn, should significantly improve their day-to-day happiness at work.

Customers are also set to benefit. Employees can now respond to customers faster when there’s an issue, resolve customer issues more thoughtfully, and make less mistakes on important items, like invoices. Plus, research has shown that a happier employee base generally provides better customer experiences.

6. It helps you spot and troubleshoot issues across your integrations.

By having a centralized view of your integration ecosystem, your iPaaS provider can help you easily identify issues—such as data loss or data inconsistencies across systems.

Related: The complete list of benefits that an iPaaS provides

7. It offers a library of pre-built connectors.

The process of building to an app’s API can be time intensive for your developers, especially when there are several apps you’re looking to connect and the integration capabilities you’re looking for are fairly complex.

To solve for this, many iPaaS solutions offer pre-built connectors, allowing you to leverage the apps’ API endpoints simply through authentication.

Why iPaaS doesn’t address the needs of today’s enterprise

As valuable as an iPaaS is, it has two serious limitations: It isn’t scalable, and it can’t automate processes. These shortcomings likely explain the following eye-popping stat we uncovered in our “State of Business Technology” report

Only 38% of organizations are very satisfied with the integrations and workflow automations they’ve implemented.

Let’s take a closer look at each shortcoming:

It lacks scalability and efficacy across lines of business

You need to have a technical background to use an iPaaS, which restricts the number of people who can use it.

A breakdown on the teams that can and can't use an iPaaS.

This means that as your organization adopts more applications over time, the process of integrating any app is likely to get delayed. Our report proves this issue is already widespread. More than 4 in every 5 (82%) business technology professionals report being backlogged with their application integrations and workflow automations.

This small group of iPaaS users also aren’t experts in each line of business. This can cause them to miss out on building workflows that benefit their teams. Lines of business seem to be well aware of this, as only half (52%) say they trust iPaaS users to build integrations and automate processes that benefit them.

It can’t automate workflows

Gone are the days when you use one platform to build integrations and another to build automations. Business users want and expect to do both in a single platform. 

A traditional iPaaS, however, can’t build workflow automations. Why? Because it can’t “listen” to your applications for business events (triggers) and then use an event to deliver real-time outcomes (actions). 

This limitation also prevents an iPaaS from using bots. Bots can make your workflow automations all the more valuable, as they can communicate information from applications to a communications platform, like Slack. This allows your team to get the data it needs, quickly and easily.

The future of iPaaS: An integration-led automation platform

An integration-led automation platform has the integration functionality of an iPaaS, and neatly addresses its drawbacks. Here’s how:

There’s no coding requirements

This means that just about anyone can use an EA platform to build and maintain integrations and workflow automations. 

The teams that can use an integration-led automation platform.

This cuts down on bottlenecks, and allows organizations to be agile in managing their processes. 

It also saves engineers and IT staff time, which they can reallocate towards more business-critical activities. Basile Senesi, Head of Sales Operations at Fundbox, adds more on this:

“Frankly, our engineering team’s highest and best use case isn’t maintaining a data pathway into Salesforce—it’s innovating and building out our product.”
Basile Senesi Head of Sales Operations at Fundbox

Organizations can use it to build integrations and automations

In other words, organizations can now use an EA platform to connect their apps, monitor their events, and act on them instantly.

It enables a built-in bot framework

You can use a variety of bots to share information with employees in the communications tools they use every day. In addition to sharing information from your applications, bots can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to deliver even more personalized experiences for your team.

For example, a bot can use AI to qualify a sales lead and to determine which sales rep they send it to (it considers factors like which reps can take on more leads and where they’re located).

Related: Everything you need to know about cloud integration

It allows for an extremely fast go-to-market

An EA platform can help you go from ideating a workflow to taking it live within a week! This can help your organization be more productive, move faster, and better appreciate the business  technology team (which is a serious issue, as just 18% of BT professionals feel appreciated). 

It offers community recipes so you can build quality automations, quickly

An EA platform allows you to see how other organizations use automations via recipes (steps the platform follows to get work done between your apps). This can help you brainstorm automations, or even copy one directly—which you can later customize to meet your needs.

It’s infinitely scalable

Since an EA platform operates in the cloud, it enables instant provisioning, 100% uptime, and zero maintenance requirements.

Workato’s CEO, Vijay Tella, offers more on why you need to use an integration-led automation platform instead of an iPaaS:

Workato offers the only integration-led automation platform

Workato’s team of executives have a history of starting and building forward-looking integration companies. This includes the likes of TIBCO and Oracle Fusion Middleware

While working at these companies, they began to ideate a more powerful platform that fully addresses the needs of the enterprise. 

It would be built in the cloud, and manage all types of applications, data, and APIs; it would allow you to build workflow automations that transform business processes end-to-end; it would empower any business user to build integrations and automations under the governance of IT; and it would make use of AI-powered chatbots so that anyone can access the data they need in their communications platform.

They turned this vision into a reality by building the only integration-led automation platform in the market: Workato. 

Learn how Workato can help your organization transform business processes by scheduling a demo with one of our automation experts.

About the author
Jon Gitlin Content Strategist @ Workato
Jon Gitlin is the managing editor of The Connector, where you can get the latest news on Workato and uncover tips and frameworks for implementing powerful integrations and automations. In his free time, he loves to run outside, watch soccer (er...football) matches, and explore local restaurants.