We live in a world where our refrigerators have been talking to our phones for years, so shouldn’t our business systems talk to each other as well? While the business value of integration tools, such as Integration Platforms as a Service (iPaaS), are apparent (read this if they’re not yet or if you’re not clear what an iPaaS is), knowing which iPaaS is best for you is much more complicated. If you’re not sure what to look for in the myriad iPaaS available, here’s the top 10 self-evaluation questions to ask yourself to determine what you need. These questions revolve around 3 key areas: You, Your Tech Ecosystem, and Your Data.
These are the eagle-eye questions to ask yourself to solidify what you want out of an iPaaS and the people who will be using the platform. The answers will serve as the background for more effectively exploring the rest of the questions.
1. What do you want to do with an iPaaS above all else?
When in doubt, start with the basics. What’s the key function that you envision your iPaaS performing? Understanding what the key value proposition for iPaaS is for you helps drill down into the granularity of your use case.
Let’s assume the most simplistic key functionality: you want to easily transfer data between systems and ensure the data is consistent across locations. There are lots of data type that can be synchronized, from contact info to website events to bulk monitoring data. Each one has its own challenges, and different iPaaS vendors specialize in integrating certain types of data.
But those are down-the-road considerations. You may instead prioritize workflow automation to reduce the manual labor requirements for routine tasks, notifications, etc. You may be on the techier side and want to develop your own APIs and custom integrations. Many iPaaS possess several or all of these capabilities, but not all offerings are created equal. You have to know what your top deliverable priority is in order to recognize whether a particular product could be a good fit.
2. How tech-savvy is the user base?
Speaking of techier folks, how much technical know-how does your future iPaaS’s user base have? If this seems like a vague question, try this framing: Does your organization have an in-house IT team, or will “citizen integrators” be the ones working directly with the platform to create and manage integrations and data flows?
The answer to this question helps determine how accessible your iPaaS should be. Will the functionality revolve around only flipping on-or-off prebuilt integrations with automated data mapping? Will users have a basic level of knowledge to utilize a drag-and-drop integration builder? In the case of an IT team, will they be willing and able to dive straight into the code to customize prebuilt integrations and build their own from scratch? Knowing where your user base falls on this spectrum will enable you to get an iPaaS that best supports your business to maximize its pre-existing tech talent pool—however deep or shallow it may be!
3. Who will manage the implementation and training process?
Onboarding a new software is always a laborious process, but it can be managed effectively. In line with the previous question, be aware of who will be in charge of implementing the platform and training the rest of the business on how to use it. Will it be citizen integrators, dedicated IT staff, or a 3rd party consultant/MSP to handle implementation?
This question is important because it affects how important it is that an iPaaS be easy and straightforward to implement. In any case, making implementation easier is preferable. However, if it’s less technical citizen integrators who are in charge of the front-end onboarding labor, smooth implementation can be the difference between successful setup and adoption and leaving money on the table with unused capabilities or inefficient processes. The less experienced the implementers are, the closer you should look at what the onboarding experience has looked like for other users.
Now that you know what personnel environment you’ll be deploying your iPaaS in, let’s dive into the tech ecosystem that the iPaaS will actually be integrating. These questions will help you develop a list of functions and capabilities that your iPaaS needs to be effective.
4. How many programs (apps, data sources, SaaS) are you integrating? How many will you be integrating?
Knowing how many systems need integrating can help you get a grasp on the scale of iPaaS your business will need. For pricing considerations, add a layer of complexity and ask “how many connections will I be integrating,” as that’s a common factor in pricing modules.
The quantity of software that needs integrating, and the corresponding integrations count, also gives you an idea of how much the resource cost of each integration matters. For instance, whether implementing an integration takes 10 minutes vs. 20 minutes matters a lot more if you need to integrate 30 applications with each other vs. 4 apps.
We also advise that you think towards the future: How many systems could you be integrating in the next five to ten years? It may end up cost prohibitive, but if possible, getting an iPaaS that can scale efficiently with your organization can save you time, money, and labor if you don’t have you switch to a larger-scale iPaaS down the road.
5. How complex is the technical ecosystem you need to integrate?
Different segments of iPaaS are targeted for different levels of technical complexity. In order to know which segment you should focus on, consider your systems’ sophistication. Are you integrating events and activity from websites and social platforms, integrating CRM data from different sources, or handling specialized data situations in an enterprise context? Your answer to Question 1 can help guide you here. If you’re still not sure where you fall, look at our iPaaS market landscape and segment breakdowns on small, midmarket, and enterprise iPaaS to see which one most closely aligns with the scale of your business.
6. Where are your systems?
In other words, are the systems you need to integrate all cloud-based? Are they on-site with your business (“on-premise”)? Is there a mix of cloud-based and on-premise systems that require hybrid integration? All iPaaS by definition integrate cloud-based systems, but support for on-premise integrations is not universal. If you need hybrid integration capabilities, particularly for legacy systems, you will want to ensure that all iPaaS you’re looking at offer this feature, including support for the specific types of on-premise systems you want to integrate.
A related question to ask is: Do you need to integrate devices as well? This is a more niche requirement, but can be absolutely essential in some cases, such as monitoring and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) support. Support for devices integration (via “Internet of Things” support) is not universal among iPaaS, but it is a rising trend among forward-thinking vendors.
iPaaS’s core purpose is to integrate your data, so it only makes sense to dive into what exactly your data will look like, and what your business needs iPaaS to do with it.
7. Do you need your data to be altered, or Transformed, in order to be usable by the source iPaaS is sending it to?
Consider where your data is coming from and where its ultimately going. Can both endpoints work with data in the same format? If not, many iPaaS can alter the data it’s integrating with an Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) process. Transformations can range from automatically reformatting dates to data mapping to applying complex formulas so the data is business-ready when it reaches the end user.
This functionality also rubs shoulders with “workflow automation” capabilities. The distinction is that workflow automation is offered in some form across iPaaS segments, but ETL is found more frequently in midmarket and enterprise iPaaS than the small-scale vendors. If this functionality is a “must” for you, look for iPaaS with “Data Transformation” or “ETL” capabilities.
8. Are there “Big” systems you need to integrate?
Does your business use products from the big enterprise product vendors, such as the Oracles and SAPs of the world? If so, some iPaaS have invested more deeply into their prebuilt integrations and support for particular companies’ offerings. Some vendors have gone so far as to acquire an iPaaS (looking at you, Salesforce) or build their own in-house (Oracle’s Integration Cloud) to facilitate integration with their family of products. If you’ve got “brand loyalty” to a vendor already, it may be worthwhile to see what iPaaS vendors share your enthusiasm.
9. How sensitive is your data?
We all want our data to be “secure,” but what does that actually mean for your business? Are you primarily worried about external attempts to access your data, or do you want to ensure internal data governance? Are you working with sensitive financial or medical data, or just website data or contact information? The answer can inform whether you should explore how each iPaaS interacts with features like OAuth permissions or with your specific firewall setup.
10. What’s your budget?
Because, of course.
The other questions should help you develop and idea of what your iPaaS needs to be able to do and what environment it will be working in. Once you have this information, the last hurdle is to find one within your budget.
Pricing for iPaaS can vary dramatically, from free versions for personal use to thousands of dollars a month for larger enterprises. The most common pricing scheme is to tier price by functionality, such as number and types of apps that can be integrated, and volume, such as quantity of integrations and workflows.
If you’re lucky, your budget can adjust to fit the platform you need, not the other way around, in which case, congrats! If you already have a set budget that you have to operate under, then it may be a longer process of finding an iPaaS that offers the most functionality for a palatable price tag.
Either way, you should now be equipped to know what you need from your future iPaaS. This will enable you to get the functionality that will support your business’s growth without paying for functionality that you don’t need. If you want to better prepare yourself for reaching out and grilling iPaaS vendors, check out the Buyer’s Cheat Sheet for iPaaS Jargon here and keep an eye out for an upcoming list of Questions to ask iPaaS Vendors!