Last updated on Sept 19, 2019
Integration platform as a service – or iPaaS – might be a less familiar term than ETL to data analysts, integration architects and anyone else who needs to move and shape data from source systems to target systems. However, the purpose of this tool is the same of ETL’s – extract, transform and load data. It is just that iPaaS doesn’t stop there.
In the following post, you’ll learn about the specifics of iPaaS, how it surpasses ETL in its functionalities and what the areas of its implementation are. Additionally, you will find a few sources that will guide you through the great number of various iPaaS offerings and help you learn about some modern trends in the area of data integration solutions.
Last but not least, you will get to know a few best practices that, hopefully, will help you make an informed decision when selecting the right iPaaS.
It Is All About Data, Isn’t It?
Modern data platforms such as cloud-based data solutions make things much simpler by enabling the transformation of data as it is queried within these platforms.
However, masses of raw data are difficult to make sense of for people who aren’t experts. There is still a need to transform data into a clean and readable format with a strongly defined data model before it is queried. One way to do that is to use iPaaS.
iPaaS is a cloud-based, multi-tenant integration tool for extracting data from different sources, transforming the data by applying a set of rules to prepare it for querying and analysis, and finally, loading the transformed data into the target system(-s), which can be practically anything from a database to data analysis platform to a system of record.
It is not difficult to see, therefore, how iPaaS is simply a means of data integration and a modern successor of the classic ETL tools to consolidate data for driving better business decisions.
But How Is iPaaS Different From a Classic ETL Tool Exactly?
An ETL tool does what its name suggests – it extracts data from a source system, transforms it so that a target system can read it, and loads it into the target system. Its main characteristic, though, is that it moves data in batches, usually on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. Thus, ETL is good when the data is not really time-sensitive, but it will very likely fail when you need real-time or near real-time data. Additionally, it is not well suited for connecting more than two endpoints at a time.
The basic purpose of iPaaS is not different from the one of ETL. As mentioned earlier, it also extracts, transforms and loads data. The main difference is, however, that you can connect far more than two endpoints at a time when using iPaaS, and you can set up a real-time or near real-time data sync. Additionally, it usually comes with various pre-built and pre-configured integration components, like for example connectors for different business applications, which allows to considerably reduce the overall development and implementation efforts.
In general, iPaaS tools are considered to be an optimal solution for people who use data for BI purposes or other business-critical applications.
First and foremost, they make data understandable for the layman analyst by conforming it to business terminology. In addition to that, more often than not, iPaaS is built with a regular user in mind, offering an interface that is equally easy to use by both technical folks and business users. This is another major difference between iPaaS and ETL, with the latter being hardly considered as user-friendly for a regular business user.
5 Ways to Learn More about Data Integration Solutions
iPaaS was originally used to sync data between cloud-based business applications. However, thanks to its specific characteristics, some of which are mentioned above, iPaaS is evolving to support data integration across mobile platforms, IoT platforms, BI platforms, on-premises applications, and, of course, the cloud.
In the end, though, iPaaS is just one of many approaches and tools used for data integration. At this point, it’s important to note that data integration will always be relevant because it drives insights from the data that every business collects. Data-driven insights lead to better business decisions.
It’s imperative, therefore, to keep up to speed on recent developments and trends in data integration, which includes iPaaS and how it is evolving.
Below are five ways to learn more about data integration solutions in modern organizations:
1Peruse the review platforms for Data Integration Solutions
That’s an obvious one and yet, astonishingly many IT professionals haven’t heard of such platforms. While there are many different services out there, two stand out in particular: G2Crowd and Capterra. Both offer a wealth of information on various data integration solutions, and not only in terms of actual reviews. G2Crowd offers, however, a bit more granular overview. For one, it has a separate “iPaaS” category, which Capterra doesn’t.
Plus, you can use the categories to make yourself familiar with other possible data integration solutions out there.
Moreover, you can use the ‘Compare’ feature provided by both platforms to make yourself familiar with the features provided by different, say, iPaaS solutions, check their integration options, and, of course, how easy it is to set up and use a specific iPaaS product in its users’ opinion.
2Understand the Mechanics of Data Integration
While the previous two resources go right into the realm of products, it’s important to get an extensive overview of the mechanics behind data integration too, particularly for modern enterprises with increasing amounts of data.
A good vendor-independent guide to data integration, such as Enterprise Integration Patterns, provides the bedrock required to understand different integration patterns, how to apply them and what pattern might fit which integration scenario best.
For those who still prefer real books to online sources, there is a book accompanying the website.
Alternatively, you can check out our own e-book Data Integration Best Practices. It is also vendor-neutral (I promise!) and covers a variety of topics around data and application integration. It is more hands-on, though, and a bit less technical as it aims not only at IT people but also at business users.
3Take a Course in Data Integration
The beauty of the Internet is that it contains a vast library of resources useful for almost any field you can think of. There are a host of free or low-cost online and offline courses designed by data and software professionals that go into great detail about data integration and anything around it.
This Udemy course, for example, covers data warehouses, business intelligence, and ETL testing, including the different testing scenarios required to thoroughly test any ETL software. Similarly, on the European Commission’s website, you can find a range of various courses on data integration, but also on big data, data collection, data analysis and other exciting topics.
4Become Familiar with Various iPaaS Offerings
There are so many different data integration solutions that it is hard to decide which one is best for your own organization. I bet sometimes it even seems easier to just scramble something together on your own instead of spending hours doing the research, reading about the specifics of this and that platform and talking to sales reps and consultants.
Luckily, not least of all due to the increased usage of iPaaS solutions, there are quite a few sources out there that have already done at least some of the work for you. One of the main sources of information is certainly Gartner with its numerous Magic Quadrants for virtually any type of data integration solutions. The pro is that Gartner really tries to include and at least briefly mention every possible tool in its respective category. The cons are, however, that only a handful of solutions get a detailed coverage, usually the ones that are already from very well established vendors, so you’d be missing out on truly modern and innovative solutions. Plus these papers are not for free.
If your company doesn’t have regular access to Gartner’s information portals, you can nonetheless find some good overviews of current iPaaS offerings on various expert blogs, like this one on Hubspot in English (listing 19(!) “best iPaaS vendors for any budget”) or this one on Digital Besser in German.
5Follow Best Practices for iPaaS Selection
It is hardly open to debate that choosing a software must be a well-informed decision. This is even more true for data integration solutions, because a wrong tool can mess up with or even corrupt your data, which is nowadays tantamount to a disaster.
So, how to make an informed decision on the right iPaaS tool for you?
First and foremost, you need to make sure that you get a trial period for the iPaaS solutions that you are evaluating. iPaaS providers usually offer only one trial month, but try to get a better deal in a personal call. Take your time to test the software, make careful notes what you like and what can be improved – they might come in handy later in the selection process to a) choose the right iPaaS for your organization and b) to justify your choice to the budget-holders.
After the trial period, no matter how much you liked the platform, wait with the total commitment. Take some more time to build a proof of concept. In this light, take the smallest pricing plan and the shortest billing period offered, preferably a monthly billing option. (Some very large vendors do not offer such a choice, but then again, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.)
After the proof of concept, if everything goes well and depending on your integration needs, it might make sense to define a pilot project. A pilot project is still not a commitment on your part, so the iPaaS provider’s contracts must be flexible enough to allow you to spend on the platform only this and this amount of time until the pilot project is finished and the results can be evaluated. Which brings us back to the benefits of the monthly billing option.
If everything is satisfying, then and only then should you actually commit yourself to one iPaaS provider.
- The ever-growing number of cloud-based platforms and software solutions, the increasing need for extensive data analysis and the rising complexity of business use cases that involve modern technologies – all these are the reasons why iPaaS is slowly but confidently replacing some classic data integration solutions
- While concepts such as data integration and data integration solutions are commonplace in all enterprises that collect and analyze data, it’s vital to understand these concepts fully before deciding how to approach integrating your data.
- Testing is everything. When you deal with such sensitive matter as data, you have to be sure that the tool that you will implement organization-wide will do what it promises, and this is equally true for iPaaS or any other data integration solutions. So, make sure that you dedicate enough time to test a tool in several different ways before committing to it