CIOs today more than ever are under pressure to deliver real business outcomes through the digital initiatives they are investing in. Implementations of SaaS applications, virtual infrastructure, microservices development, DevOps, Data Analytics, Integration and Data Science projects all form part of the mix of initiatives in progress in many organisations. On top of this, a global pandemic has brought unprecedented change to businesses and their ability to operate with highly distributed resources.
What has changed?
Achieving a sense of business as usual and continuing to deliver business outcomes or value has been a real challenge for the majority of CIOs. IT operations have been truly tested in their ability to adapt and adopt change in a highly challenging climate. Gaps in remote working capability have become gulfs as have gaps in knowledge sharing technology and automation of key business processes. For many organisations, just addressing these gaps will have overwhelmed other initiatives with the priority shifting to enabling a remote and dispersed workforce.
The need to support cross-functional automated business processes has become greater now than ever before. Everything that could previously be met with manual intervention for many organisations has needed to be met with remote manual intervention and for some processes or businesses this simply hasn’t been an option. These aren’t new issues in today’s pressing digital climate. For many organisations though, a global event has sharply brought a lot of these challenges into much clearer focus. Things that were on the roadmap of activity will have suddenly become critical activities e.g. what is our standard company tooling for virtual meetings?
The ability to tack the boat or change course in the world of integration is something we’d historically associate with turning a cruise ship or an aircraft carrier. The market of Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS) has shifted that perception in recent years. Customer success stories detailing rapid delivery cycles and time to value have been key in shifting those perceptions.
Why Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS)
Integration has been an enterprise concern for decades with organisations deploying Enterprise Service Bus or Integration Broker/Server technologies to meet the needs of application and process integration. Organisations have been deploying Enterprise Integration Patterns for as long as they’ve been in existence to solve their integration challenges. It has always been an approach we associate with long delivery cycles, expensive technology, expensive projects and many deployment failures. Why? It’s complex.
Over the years, vendors matured their technologies and put significant effort into democratising the technology. Low code solutions emerged with drag and drop configurable components to create integration processes. In the last ten years, analysts started referring to cloud based integration technologies as IPaaS. A set of criteria emerged for products appearing in analyst quadrants covering the market of IPaaS. Gartner’s Hybrid Integration Platform also emerged to position the use cases for multiple integration technologies within organisations. In bigger enterprises, IPaaS was initially seen as the bridge between cloud based SaaS application deployments and legacy on-premise application deployments.
The market for IPaaS is characterised with low-code web based integration design environments, lots of pre-built connectors for popular applications/technologies, in cloud processing engines and agent or gateway software to connect to on-premise systems. More recently, the ability to expose integration processes through an API Management layer was added. Even more recently, AI functionality, bots and RPA functionality has entered the mix. Most IPaaS vendors tout the ability for business users (Citizen Integrators) to connect applications and automate business processes.
Secrets of success
One of the first and still market leading products in this space built ground up as IPaaS was Boomi by Dell Technologies. Boomi now boasts over 15,000 customers worldwide. A relative newcomer to the space is Workato, but they have quickly amassed over 7,000 customers and positioned themselves as a leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. The secret of both companies successes are:
- Ease of use through a low code UI
- Intelligent AI to assist end users throughout the development process
- Ground up built as IPaaS technologies with build, deployment and management features embedded in the platform
- Resilient, scalable and secure cloud- native architecture
In recent years, Boomi has added Flow for rapid application development and Data Catalog and Preparation. Workato’s functionality around workbots and RPA features is also highly differentiating with their customers. The overall experience of making something difficult like integration significantly easier and layering value on top of that is key to the success of both vendors.
Another major benefit of an IPaaS technology is the overall lack of infrastructure to manage with everything deployed and managed through the cloud there is less for the customer to do. For some solutions like Workato, both infrastructure and solution are deployed in the vendor’s cloud. Although on-premise connectivity can be achieved through an agent gateway deployed to route traffic to on-premise or private cloud applications. With Boomi, the customer has the option to deploy on-premise agents so that the customer maintains control of where integration processes are transacted.
What business outcomes should we focus on with an IPaaS solution?
Much of IPaaS’s value has been proven through SaaS integration and cloud-to-ground scenarios. A lot of the value is perceived as being the connectors a given vendor supports. This is largely due to the initial use cases organisations focus on to build their business cases.
Quote-to-Cash and Order-to-Cash are common starting points as they are easy processes to demonstrate value in:
- Cost of manually rekeying data between systems
- Cost of data errors rekeying
- Overall impact on revenue recognition
- Overall visibility of the connected process in management information terms
- Achieving 360 customer view in the CRM system by being able to see previous orders etc
Coverage of those key applications by connectors in a given IPaaS product gives a perception of a much faster delivery cycle for integration. It clearly does make a difference to the integration developer in setup terms, but it is the overall development and deployment capability of the IPaaS product that is key. Getting connected to a given application isn’t generally the bulk of the complexity in the development lifecycle.
However, this buying behaviour often drives adoption. We buy from vendors that cover all our core applications and technologies in wrapped connectors. With Salesforce, Magento and Sage connectors I can deliver against one of the most visible processes in the organisation. There is nothing to say that is a flawed approach either. More that it is a reality in how organisations often buy. Especially smaller and mid-market organisations.
Another key driver for organisations of this size can be replacing integrations that have been developed in custom code. Loss of key resource often highlights how fragile the approach can be long term.
In larger enterprises where existing Enterprise Service Bus implementations may already exist time to value or an overloaded integration development team can be a principal driver in adoption of IPaaS technology. A long development cycle for an integration with a key SaaS implementation can be the basis of the business case to procure IPaaS.
With all of the examples above there is a clear pain point through which it becomes relatively easy to build a business case for IPaaS adoption.
What business outcomes should we focus on with an IPaaS solution? Business outcomes that can be valued sufficiently to justify the technology investment. That’s not always a directly quantifiable value in terms of avoidance of pain. It may also be avoidance of potential risk or increasingly it may be all about potential opportunity a connected process offers.
How do we accelerate business outcomes with IPaaS?
Accelerating business outcomes generally comes down to speeding up the delivery cycle around integration. At an organisational level, there are a number of things that can be done to accelerate integration projects:
- Ensuring early visibility of integration needs and developing a roadmap of planned integration activities
- Categorising integration needs into the three core patterns of integration:
- Data consistency – e.g. ensuring customer data in 3 different systems is the same
- Multistep process – e.g. implementing a business process like Quote-to-Cash across systems
- Composite services – e.g. a new application or services using data from multiple systems
- Standardising on requirements, mapping templates, solution design and testing documentation
- Building templates for common patterns of integration to enable reuse
Features to accelerate business outcomes
We should then look at how we harmonize the above with the technology or product. Where does the above fit in Boomi’s development life cycle of Build, Deploy and Manage? The are features that the technology inherently has that help to accelerate the overall delivery:
- Connectors make working with a given vendor application API simpler and faster
- The overall low-code drag and drop development experience takes time out of the delivery cycle
- Boomi’s pattern library, Workato’s community library and recipe lifecycle management enables us to build out or export reusable components. How do we ensure we actually do that? Do we embed time into the delivery cycle to harvest common reusable artefacts into the library
- In platform package and deploy features will deliver time savings vs deploying code or Enterprise Service Bus components across environments
- The overall cloud architecture and management plane also delivers measurable time savings vs more legacy approaches to integration
Well thought out adoption of IPaaS technology purely in the integration domain will help organisations to dramatically accelerate their progress with Digital Transformation initiatives.
Stepping beyond the integration domain, organisations can leverage additional benefits looking at products like Boomi Flow and Boomi Data Catalog and Preparation (DCP) in the atmosphere platform:
- Boomi Flow is a low-code application development platform that enables organisations to build and deploy sophisticated workflow applications and end user experiences.
- Boomi DCP provides an interface for end users focused on data insight to connect disparate data sources in the organisation into one unified view.
Boomi’s combined platform of technologies and Workato’s innovative workbot implementation are good examples of where IPaaS vendors can offer organisations opportunities to accelerate business outcomes across a number of areas. It’s important that organisations carefully plan their adoption and focus on high value use cases that drive continual adoption and success with the platform.
Maintaining a focus on value
For most organisations, value is something we consider at the beginning of an investment in integration technology. As discussed, that value is often defined in pain avoidance terms and that is fine given it builds powerful business cases. However, when the pain is removed or the benefit of opportunity realised, the ongoing value of the integration function is often forgotten or it becomes anecdotal. Smart integration functions within organisations continually report their ongoing value. How do they do that?
It’s important that there are some solid high level assumptions around the cost savings or opportunity an implementation is delivering. We associate value metrics that we can agree with the business for any given integration process or delivery. Those metrics don’t need to be highly granular, just reasonable and agreeable. With the right assumptions and metrics we should be able to continually attach value to the execution of integration processes.
A project predicted to save £1m in organisational man days over two years that justifies the purchase of Dell Boomi or Workato can logically be split across integration processes and anticipated transaction volumes over that duration. Even if it appears somewhat arbitrary, over time it enables the integration function to provide the business with ongoing meaningful metrics regarding the value of the function and what it does for the business.
New projects, growth in transactions, new integration processes etc don’t get lost by the wayside in anecdotal stories about how important integration is to the business. Done well, continuous value reporting in integration keeps the organisation focused on how important their ongoing investment in their integration function and technology actually is.
Analysts have predicted that the market of IPaaS will grow to $5.6 billion by 2024. There are around 100 vendors competing for share of that market. That is not however the value of IPaaS to the organisations that use it. Procurement of technology in this market as we have already seen is based on business cases that far exceed the cost of the technology. It’s likely that investment in a market leading IPaaS technology like Dell Boomi will return a healthy multiple of that investment in terms of accelerating business outcomes within the organisation.
Providing, of course, that the organisation sets itself up to measure the value of integration both at inception of adoption and throughout the lifetime of their integration function. Valuing technology the right way underpins the ongoing success of any initiative and in many cases ongoing justifies outsourcing an entire integration function.