A smart buyer always asks the right questions about a product before buying. Choosing a product that works perfectly in harmony with your business operations is a difficult task. No two businesses are the same, even if they belong to the same industry vertical. So, it’s necessary to ask the right questions to identify the correct product that seamlessly aligns not only with your business processes but also with your company goals.
So, when choosing a business application integration platform, many factors need to be considered. The data generated by a business is dynamic and streamed across the organization. The seamless timebound transfer of this data across all sections of an organization requires a robust and flexible integration platform. With the ever-changing needs of application integration of modern enterprises, it is quite natural that software solution providers employ iPaaS platforms to deliver solutions tailored to a specific business need and to optimally utilize the features to enhance not only seamless data integration but also save man-hours and aid in making business decisions. iPaaS being a platform is the most popular choice for solution providers to deliver the ever-changing business processes quickly and efficiently.
The list of suitable integration platforms can be narrowed down by selecting solutions that are comprehensive, both from the commercial and the technical perspectives of a business. Whether you are a business that already has an unsatisfactory integration platform and planning to shift to a new one or a new company planning to implement their first integration tool, the ideal solution should be capable of the following services, such as:
- Compatibility with multiple data formats till present date.
- Seamless integration of both cloud and on-premises business applications.
- Real-time data transfer across all applications.
- A well-defined SDK to cater to integration with complex business applications
- A less steep learning curve through an intuitive and user-friendly interface.
- Pre-packaged out-of-the-box support for integration of popular and industry-standard applications.
- Flexibility to adapt to different IT infrastructures.
- Frequent and steady updates and support for the solution vendor.
- A robust data security system.
21 Questions to ask before choosing your ideal integration platform
With the rise of the digital era of commerce, enterprises are hastily implementing integration solutions to automate their business processes. While businesses are implementing these integration platforms, most do not properly analyze these solutions before implementing them. Business application integration in a complex business environment is a combination of on-premises and cloud applications integration, and operating it is not possible without an effective iPaaS solution.
So let us take a look at the 21 questions you must ask before purchasing an iPaaS solution to identify the ideal solution for your business.
1. How secure is the integration solution?
With the increasing threats of cyberattacks, having an integration solution with a robust security infrastructure is of utmost importance. Statistics estimate that a business will be a victim of ransomware attacks every 11 seconds in 2021, and cybercrime will cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025. An integration platform operates with some of the most critical data generated by a business, such as personal information, customer records, and passwords, which are high priority targets for misuse and data breach. For an unbreachable data network, the integration platform must have robust security systems. Features like password protection, data encryption, data access control, session management, information security standards are all a must-have for the platform.
2. How user-friendly is the solution?
A tool that is difficult to understand will have ineffective utilization. A complex platform requires employees to undergo thorough training to use it properly. A difficult-to-use tool is prone to user errors as well. An iPaaS with a steep learning curve results in a loss of both time and money for the company. With an intuitive and user-friendly platform, a company can rapidly and effectively design, organize, and deploy integration workflows for both on-premises and cloud applications. A simplified GUI (Graphical User Interface) enables visualization of API-based business processes and empowers both technical and non-technical users with the capability to effortlessly create integrations to streamline business processes.
3. Is the solution flexible?
The integration platform chosen should have a flexible architecture. The types of software solutions used, and the IT infrastructure of a business vary from company to company. An integration platform that is not flexible cannot seamlessly integrate all the different software applications. Moreover, a company experiences increased data flow and changes in its corporate culture throughout its life cycle. The iPaaS solution should be flexible enough to meet all the current and possible future requirements of the business. The flexibility of an iPaaS provides the company with the necessary speed and agility to rapidly and cost-effectively adapt their workflow to changing business ecosystems.
4. How accurately does the solution deal with data exceptions?
An iPaaS operates with a vast amount of data coming in from several data points throughout the business process. With the variety of data the platform manages, the iPaaS needs to effectively handle data exceptions. Most solutions solve data exceptions by automatically cleaning the data, but it is not always possible to continuously execute the process without fail. The integration platform should have an effective system to track all the transactions, log all exceptional data entries to a database and automatically retry them later or notify the IT Systems department for manual data cleansing. An ideal integration platform should have built-in features of data error handling without requiring any input from the implementation.
5. How effective is the solution in Process Automation?
One of the primary goals of an iPaaS is to automate business processes. Business processes automation can be achieved through specific trigger events, pre-specified schedules, or a set of predetermined rules. Every integration platform should have the capacity to seamlessly automate data and process synchronization and remove the need for manual interaction with the system. The integration platform should have the feature to implement a suite of automation triggers based on criteria such as during transaction receipt and non-receipt generation, data errors, etc.
With the amount of data complexity brought upon by the myriad of software applications used by modern businesses, an iPaaS needs to be able to manage and operate with a variety of data formats. Moreover, the data generated is heterogeneous and often comes from different internal and external sources. While integration and automation are the primary operation of an iPaaS, the data within the system needs to be homogenized by the iPaaS for error-free data transfer. For data standardization across the system, the iPaaS must be compatible with all mainstream data formats along with the option to enable compatibility with proprietary data formats of the business’ data ecosystem.
7. How effective is the solution’s data transformation process?
While an iPaaS may have compatibility with several data formats, the iPaaS should also have the capability to effectively transform all the data formats to a homogenized structure to ensure data integrity across all integrated applications. The iPaaS needs to provide robust and automated data transformation to enable users to make bound to API-first connectivity. The API platform provided by an iPaaS allows users to securely create, run, manage and evaluate all APIs and microservices associated with data transformation. An iPaaS simplifies and automates the data transformation workflow through the following steps of Data Mapping, where the data is initially mapped from the different applications, then put through Data Transformation, where the mapped data is transformed to a single format that fits the entire data ecosystem and then finally provides the platform for Custom Functions, where users can write and deploy custom logic to the data.
8. Does the solution provide robust data mapping functionalities?
Business software applications from different vendors do not usually have out-of-the-box compatibility with each other. These applications work in isolation and do not communicate with each other seamlessly. The function of the iPaaS is to facilitate communication across all these applications. The robust visual data mapping tools of an iPaaS allow the user to create a singular data model to be used across the integration. The iPaaS removes the need to manually create a unified data format by automatically mapping data to and from the data model and the integrated system. Moreover, once a data map is established, it can be further used in the future to modify and update and the system effortlessly.
9. Does the solution have a Low Code Development environment?
The iPaaS needs to provide a low-code environment to enable developers to visually map out integration and deploy pre-built connectors. An iPaaS helps accelerate the digital transformation process of an organization by giving the developers the tools needed to solve any integration issues faced across all on-premises and cloud applications. With a low-code development environment, the user gets a birds-eye-view of the entire integration flow across the organization and removes the time-consuming, paper-oriented design phase of the integration. This allows the integration process to be accomplished with less technical knowledge.
10. Does the solution have a robust Data Visualization interface?
A robust iPaaS solution provides the data visualization capabilities needed to get a complete overview of data flow across the entire organization. The data visualization capabilities of an iPaaS enable the users to view and transform the data according to their needs without having to rely on the iPaaS provider to process the data. An iPaaS provides a centralized dashboard to view and track all the data flow across the entire organization. The data overview provided by the centralized data visualization platform improves tracking of daily business operations and provides the necessary data and insight required for making long-term strategic decisions.
The main objective of any company is to grow its business. With a growing business, the tools the organization uses also need to adapt and grow with it. An iPaaS should have the parameters to enable the scalable growth of business operations. A competent iPaaS should be able to grow alongside a business. The scalability of the iPaaS should remove the need for manually managing the scaling of operations and integration of newer tools. The iPaaS needs to be able to effortlessly adapt and manage the growing data pool of the expanding business and seamlessly integrate all the new business automation tools being implemented into the IT infrastructure of the organization.
12. Is the solution providing reasonable ROI?
Every tool a company purchases is an investment on its part. An application that does not provide acceptable returns on investments for the company is not an asset and is not worth the purchase. Thus, an organization needs to evaluate the value provided by the iPaaS in comparison to the cost of implementing it. The iPaaS needs to be assessed based on both the increased profits and additional features provided by it. The value of the added benefits of reduced data errors and redundancies, manual labor, real-time data transfer, long-term support for business scalability, security against data breaches and much more. All these benefits provided should be under consideration before determining the return on investment of an integration platform.
13. How effective are the solution’s data monitoring protocols?
Every powerful iPaaS should offer an in-built data monitoring system that enables users to check trigger history, run history, status, performance, etc. The iPaaS manages IoT endpoints and monitors the data to ensure that it is analyzed, accumulated, consumed, and distributed across the system in a structured and streamlined format. Moreover, the system must have the features to log and report the integration process when a user executes one. The report should contain detailed data regarding how long the process lasted and the number of successful and failed records. The system should also allow the users to observe the execution history associated with a solution in the user interface. A notification system should exist for record and solution failures, connector installations, system updates and have the option to be configured to send the notification through either email or other communication platforms when a specified trigger event occurs.
14. Does the solution provide a centralized management platform?
One of the features of an iPaaS is that it offers the users a centralized platform to administer, manage, and integrate both on-premises and cloud-based business software applications. An iPaaS connects all the services and business applications under a single platform to provide a comprehensive summary of all the integration and data flow processes taking place within the organization. The centralized dashboard provided by an iPaaS allows the user to streamline management and operation of business processes and helps keep track of daily operations, get a clear insight into business operations based on data and analytics, and provides a place to report and plan future strategies.
15. Does the solution support both Hybrid integration?
A hybrid integration platform enables organizations to connect and manage both cloud on and on-premises business software applications. Most modern companies do not have all their business software on one singular platform. With the increasing popularity of cloud applications, most of the new software implemented tends to be cloud applications. On the other hand, there are on-premises applications that cannot be removed or updated to a cloud platform because they are legacy systems containing several years of business-critical data. Manually connecting data streams from source systems to the entire hybrid infrastructure environments is a challenging and complex task. Implementing a hybrid integration capable iPaaS solution can make the process much easier. It provides the necessary set of scalable tools to manage all data connections and sync data across multiple systems.
All iPaaS will provide organizations with the required tools to connect their business software applications seamlessly, but only a few quality iPaaS solutions will come packaged with pre-built connectors for some of the most common business software applications right out of the box. Having a vast library of pre-built connectors for some of the more popular business software applications implemented by most modern businesses allows for easy plug-and-play integration of the iPaaS. Having pre-built connectors packaged with the iPaaS that enables quicker deployment of integrations within minutes without the need for any coding skills should be a factor to consider when selecting an iPaaS.
17. Does the solution support Real-Time and Asynchronous data integration?
Real-Time and Asynchronous data integration refers to the timeframe of the API to return the requested data. Under Real-Time data integration, the data transfer upon request is carried out immediately without any delays. For Asynchronous integrations, the requested data does not transfer to the user in real-time. The API logs the request and is delivered to the user when the requested resources are available. Asynchronous data integrations are best suited for functionality maintenance in an application. Real-time integrations are best suited for scenarios where data transfer is high and low latency is a requirement. Since both forms of data transfers are necessary to maintain proper business operations, an iPaaS needs to support both forms of data integrations to ensure a smooth workflow.
18. Does the solution have Smart API Versioning?
API versioning is the process of managing and cataloging changes made to an API throughout its entire lifetime. Maintaining a record of all API changes is a difficult task, for once a new update is released and is put into circulation, it becomes a dependency for every application within the IT infrastructure that is using it. For APIs, minor changes such as altering a single letter of a property name can break the entire system. Making changes to an API without smart versioning can be devastating to a company’s business process. The way to effectively achieve API changes is by continued support for existing endpoints, adding new endpoints instead of changing existing ones, and disabling obsolete APIs without removing them. A robust integration platform will offer Smart API versioning tools to allow users to carry out the task without breaking the existing system.
19. How updated is the solution?
Updated software provides the necessary repairing of discovered security holes and adds critical new features needed for managing new business workflows. With the ever-increasing risks of cyber-attacks, constant software updates are required to combat the latest generation of cyber vulnerability exploitation and breach tools used by hackers. Hackers exploit software vulnerability by coding malware packages that use the software logic loophole to either nullify the software or use the software as a trojan horse to infect other connected systems. Updated software irons out security flaws that can be exploited by existing hacking tools. Moreover, updated software also comes with features that the users require but were not available with the initial launch. Having an updated product ensures it has the necessary tools needed for modern business workflows. An updated iPaaS ensures that the platform will also have integration support for new and upcoming business software applications. So, when selecting an iPaaS for implementation, how updated the platform is should be a key point of consideration.
20. Does the solution get proper product support?
A good software solution needs to be backed by a strong support team as well. The factors that determine if the software is getting proper support from the vendor include:
Frequent Updates: All modern software requires regular updates at a consistent pace to ensure they have new necessary new features needed by the industry and have security protocols to combat the latest cyber threats. It has become an industry standard to release quarterly updates, and anything less than that reduces efficiency and hinders long-term planning strategies.
Process of Updating: How the updates are implemented is also an important part of the product support ecosystem. Are updates carried out automatically, does the vendor require the users to use a specific tool to update the application, do the users have to manually update the systems, and much more, all fall under the product support by the vendor.
Proper Documentation: Proper documentation of a product includes a detailed user manual, a list of features added, bugs removed, and everything else the user would need.
21. How viable is the solution vendor?
The preferred integration platform can have all the above features, but if the vendor that is offering the integration solution is not viable, then long-term operations with the vendor are not possible. It is important to properly evaluate the vendor’s capability to provide support around the clock and under difficult economic times. If the selected vendor is from a different time zone, they should have the infrastructure and manpower to provide customer support around the clock. Moreover, the COVID pandemic has shown that most businesses do not have the infrastructure and logistics to operate under difficult economic times. For these reasons, it’s necessary to analyze a vendor’s capability to operate and provide service in tough global economic times. Some good indicators of a vendor’s long-term operation stability include vendors who continue to invest in their products, have good financial planning and backup planning for difficult times. Factors such as the vendor’s company size, annual cash flow, outstanding A/R, percent of permanent employees to outsourcing contracts, and other such criteria can also help identify the viability of an iPaaS vendor.
Buying and implementing a new product for your business can be a difficult and overwhelming task. Looking up every aspect of a business and identifying how implementing a new product can affect and change its workflow is not always possible. The process of implementing a new product should be taken in logical incremental steps without rushing to a conclusion. While implementing an integration platform requires in-depth knowledge of the technological infrastructure, it depends on other not-so-obvious factors as well. But with this list of 21 questions to ask before buying a new integration tool, you can identify what features you need for business and implement the tool that is perfect for you.