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If the company you work for is anything like normal, you've been accumulating data management solutions for years without any real success at integration. The average major corporation currently uses a whopping 130 SaaS apps, with a staggering growth rate of more than 33% in both volume and cost year over year.

These cloud applications don't always talk to each other very well, and you can't go back to the beginning and rebuild your ecosystem from scratch. Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) fixes this, and it does what you need in a pretty clever way.

Cloud Services And The State Of Application Integration

To understand what iPaaS does for you, it's helpful to get a broad overview of what your current business processes are at the moment. Think of iPaaS as the top layer of a series of nested boxes, a series you have to move up through as your workflows get more complicated.

IaaS

At the bottom level, or the innermost nested box, is infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This is the first real investment in automation many companies make, and it's a good place to start. When the on-premises hardware and software a small business uses are no longer getting the job done, it's typical to replace existing legacy systems with baby steps into cloud computing. Large providers, such as Google, can relieve you of the burden of keeping a bunch of buzzing servers in your own data center by providing expanded functionality and advanced operating systems from their own machines.

This can really speed up workflows, and it's the first experience a lot of businesses have with real scalability. This is also where a lot of the trouble starts with increasing data silos and real-time collaboration, since the ever-expanding list of apps grows faster than you thought possible. In time, your needs are likely going to grow beyond a discrete set of pay-as-you-go apps, each configured for a different purpose and few of them able to share data efficiently.

PaaS

Platform as a service (PaaS) is the next step up for many users. This is the next-bigger box your IaaS templates sit inside. This level is where you start adding in purpose-built operating systems and dev tools to handle specialized tasks. It's an added layer of complexity, which potentially hurts data integration more, but it still has potential to streamline processes with more advanced custom integrations. 

SaaS

When you've grown beyond the second box, software as a service (SaaS) is the typical next step in business operations. This is the advanced software applications that sit on top of your lower-level PaaS and IaaS frameworks. Think of it as the fun stuff you can download or access to get really advanced work done once you've invested in the network architecture needed to run some serious apps through your service provider.

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iPaaS

Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) is a suite of integration solutions that pulls all of the above together and lets you integrate all the complex stuff you've been doing into a single low-code interface. That is, it acts as the top-level box in the hierarchy, linking everything below it together and running your on-premise systems from the early days, IoT devices, mobile apps, cloud applications, and application development tools together as if the new data flows had been designed that way.

Benefits Of iPaaS 

The most obvious benefit of an iPaaS solution is scalability. While your earlier integration solutions always had the potential to be clunky and overly complex, creating a real headache for expansion as your needs grew, linking it all together through a conveniently user-friendly piece of middleware saves a world of trouble. You can imagine this as yet another layer of cloud integration, one that links your previous levels together and sets up simple-looking data flows between them.

iPaaS Use Cases

To better understand how iPaaS works, it can help to imagine various use cases where it can come in handy.

Integration Flows

Say you run a small ecommerce site and you're still manually filling your orders as they come in. You have an inventory management system, an order processing app, and Slack notifications. Depending on what specific apps you're invested in, connecting these all together is somewhere between time-consuming and impossible. Using any one of the fairly simple iPaaS platforms out there, you can link these all together so a new customer order refers directly through to your inventory management system and sends you an alert to get right on it.

Low-Level Corrections

You have a customer who accidentally ordered the wrong thing, or just ordered one but really wants two, sent to different addresses and one of them with a gift invoice. And can you please change their username and password? They've been locked out of the system and they used the wrong credit card and would like to buy the extended warranty and file a complaint about your hold music.

That's a lot of tasks, and a non-iPaaS environment might have your customer service rep bouncing between 10 or more apps to do it all, possibly escalating to a specialist along the way. A solid iPaaS interface, however, makes all this easy. If it's no-code, your rep can hop around making calls on a single system they've been trained on, get the needed changes made, upsell the customer on some gift cards while they're on the line, and ensure the changes propagate across the entire cloud ecosystem you're using with a single keystroke.

Smart(er) Security

Your customer service center has over a hundred reps, each of whom used to operate in a dozen different apps. There was a customer ID app, a billing app, an order app, another for generating trouble tickets, another for internal note taking, and so on. Every single one of these apps connects with some pretty sensitive customer and company information, and you'd like to keep that private. So everybody has to have unique passwords for every system, virtually guaranteeing daily calls to IT for hundreds of password resets. When you network everything together through an iPaaS system, your reps get a single log-in point where they can use "P4ssw0rd!" as their only password for everything, reducing reset requests from hundreds to just a dozen or so per day.

Centralization of Management

If you're in a position of oversight for multiple departments, you might have a customer service unit doing customer service stuff, a salesforce using different apps, an HR team managing people's benefits and time off, a team of supervisors drafting schedules, and so forth. Wouldn't it be nice to see all that at once? With every one of your 130 apps integrated via iPaaS, you can. In fact, you can see your top-performing salesman closing sales, track those orders through the fulfillment process, see how few of them need revisions or refunds, reward your top performer with an extra vacation day, put it on the schedule as time off or extra pay, and get a notification as soon as it's redeemed. All this in a single interface you can run from your office or mobile device, streamlining virtually everything you need to do.

Drawbacks Of iPaaS

Bumping up into iPaaS is not 100% perfect, of course. If it was, every company in the world would have done it already. There are drawbacks and certain environments where this is not your best choice for cloud integration.

Cost

Pricing is an issue for everything, and iPaaS isn't free. If you're still able to handle everything on-premise or with a small IaaS commitment, a full iPaaS suite may not be for you yet.

Transition Time

Every change you make, no matter how minor, is a change, and it takes proper change management, time and investment to get used to it. Even though an iPaaS interface is very likely to be a single drag-and-drop system, it's still another system to train everybody on. There's also going to be a learning curve as teams get comfortable with your new architecture. If it's not a pressing need at the moment, you're likely to put off the switch over and over because it's never the right time to eat a week of reduced productivity while everybody adjusts.

iPaas Vs PaaS

iPaaS and PaaS have similar names, but that's where the similarity ends. Beginners might easily get confused by the names, but these two approaches serve very different purposes, work on different levels, and are appropriate for different use cases.

PaaS is basically a tool that lets a third party deliver hardware access and software tools over an internet connection. It connects small to medium-sized business clients with stable computing, off-the-shelf operating systems, and a security suite that might be more advanced than the company could have had access to before. At this level, you're still using commercially available apps, such as Office Suite or SQL Server, and the dev tools are probably really limited in their bespoke configurations.

By the time you're shopping for iPaaS, you've zoomed past PaaS and are using custom apps in a unique cloud computing environment. You've probably got several interfaces to integrate, lots of different systems, dozens or hundreds of employees running their own software in each department, and maybe a few mobile devices and a public-facing website. Using iPaaS, you can link these all together for a monthly or annual fee, make unlimited use of custom software applications, and integrate every lower level of the nested box hierarchy until you're comfortable with one-click controls in a low- or no-code interface.

Diverse Integration

This is not to say you'll necessarily use just one or the other. As noted, these are different approaches with different users and workflows, they serve different purposes, and there's no law saying you can't use both. You could, for example, keep your company financials in a secure PaaS ecosystem with the most advanced security tools available.

Entirely separate from that, you might have a second PaaS universe handling your regulatory reports with advanced computing and tax software. Each of these can conceivably be its own little silo, which invites human-caused errors and data discrepancies, but they can also link up through iPaaS to keep each other updated and ensure a keystroke in one department is seen in the other.

How Far Can iPaaS Reach?

This concept, of linking networks via a shared iPaaS language, is so powerful that you're bound to keep finding new uses for it. Say you work in ecommerce and don't actually make the items you list for sale. You almost certainly partner with resellers outside your company. It would be a real time-saver if you could integrate your online sales app with these partners' order fulfillment and inventory management systems.

This can be really hard to do safely if everybody uses different systems and apps. It's extra-hard if you don't know about their security, and it's expensive to vet them all before you let them have access to your sales system. Instead, using iPaaS, a single point of contact applies up-to-date security and propagates changes throughout your partner environment, all while letting you monitor and manage the sharing of data. 

Staying Ahead Of The Game

Making the decision to build iPaaS into your systems should be easy. When you need it, you'll definitely know. If you subscribe to our newsletter, the rate at which you know things is bound to increase, since it has regular updates on all things related to revenue operations, leadership and more. Click through and sign up today, with bonus points if you do it through your company's existing iPaaS newsletter-sign-up app.

Phil Gray
By Phil Gray

Philip Gray is the COO of Black and White Zebra and Founding Editor of The RevOps Team. A business renaissance man with his hands in many departmental pies, he is an advocate of centralized data management, holistic planning, and process automation. It's this love for data and all things revenue operations landed him the role as resident big brain for The RevOps Team.

With 10+ years of experience in leadership and operations in industries that include biotechnology, healthcare, logistics, and SaaS, he applies a considerable broad scope of experience in business that lets him see the big picture. An unapologetic buzzword apologist, you can often find him double clicking, drilling down, and unpacking all the things.