Jan 26 2021

What is Integration Platform as a Service (iPaas) and How Can it Help State Agencies?

Integration Platform as a Service helps government agencies connect applications and data flows across the enterprise.

Connecting applications and the data they hold has never been particularly easy, but with the rise of cloud-based Software as a Service products, that connection is even more difficult.

Integration Platform as a Service falls into the general category of “middleware,” software that sits between applications. While middleware is a well-established class of technology, iPaaS is a variation focused on the newest flavor of middleware: linking up cloud-based SaaS applications.

MORE FROM STATETECH: What does cloud-smart mean for state government?

What Is Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS)?

iPaaS products are all quite different, but they have common elements. iPaaS is delivered as a cloud-based service to connect applications and data flows within an enterprise, whether cloud-based or on-premises. The goal of IPaaS is to act as a hub, connecting multiple applications and their data, and applying some business rules and logic to link things together.

Government IT managers are looking at iPaaS technology to deliver a stronger application portfolio to end users, whether they are staffers or citizens.

When applications are integrated, users see consistent data across systems and more complete data overall. This aids in analysis and makes it easier for users to interpret and use the deep pools of data available in many government systems, while reducing the chance of misinterpretation. iPaaS simplifies and speeds up workflows with little development time, giving every user a better government experience; IPaaS enables agencies to operate on “internet time” rather than “government time.”

iPaaS vs. PaaS

In a world overloaded with buzzwords, IT managers who haven’t seen “iPaaS” as an acronym can be excused for thinking that iPaaS and Platform as a Service are related. In fact, the only relationship is the as-a-service part: They are both services delivered by cloud-based vendors, but have no other similarities or relationship.

iPaaS is much closer to SaaS: a software tool delivered as a service. The difference is that SaaS usually refers to end-user applications, tools such as those from Salesforce and Microsoft 365, while iPaaS is a developer toolkit.

Meanwhile, Platform as a Service enables agencies to develop, run and manage apps without building out the infrastructure they would normally need to do that.

LEARN MORE: What does software-defined everything mean for state governments?

Integration Platform as a Service Examples in Government

The best way to understand how iPaaS works for government agencies is to explore specific use cases. A simple Internet of Things example, traffic cameras, highlights how iPaaS can aid local agencies.

Many local governments have outsourced their traffic camera data management to a third party that takes responsibility for collecting the data, warehousing it in the cloud, making it available for playback or analysis, and running the entire network. A local government’s traffic camera system may be able to generate enforcement events, noting when a certain car ran a red light and capturing that vehicle’s license plate.

iPaaS vendors provide a toolkit that can talk to multiple applications, including the traffic camera system, the local department of motor vehicles, law enforcement and other systems. Rather than asking one vendor or one developer to be responsible for making the links, an iPaaS vendor can take disparate systems with different data types and build the connections. Some iPaaS vendors, for example, including those with artificial intelligence–type capabilities, can make connections where data elements are not going to match all of the time, such as names and addresses.

One important aspect of iPaaS is that the agency that owns the data is fully in control. Agencies don’t have to settle for whatever capabilities and individual integrations the camera vendor is offering; they can build their own integrations. And IT leaders can do so as quickly as they need to, because the IPaaS toolkit is there and designed to be easy to use, with a central management console and a quick overview of how data is shared among applications.

Joel Snyder
IPaaS simplifies and speeds up workflows with little development time, giving every user a better government experience; IPaaS enables agencies to operate on 'internet time' rather than 'government time.'”

Joel Snyder Senior Partner, Opus One

Another example revolves around “see it/click it/fix it” applications, which are increasingly popular in city and county governments as a one-stop solution for residents to report problems to the city without having to navigate a complex menu of agencies and jurisdictions. Automating the process of handling this data is critical to keeping costs down and speeding up the response of government services.

Moving data from the end-user application to various city and county systems is an immense programming job. However, with an iPaaS toolkit and hub connecting different systems, the application can be deployed without having to dive into different applications managed by different groups or governmental agencies. It’s not entirely programmer-free, but it requires a lot less programming than would be needed to make direct, one-to-one links to every system in a city or county. The results are increased efficiency and near real-time processing.

Yet another example involves sales tax. Most states have marketplace facilitator laws in place that require online merchants above a certain sales threshold — such as Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Etsy — to collect and submit sales tax.

However, states needs to determine how to distribute the taxes collected to every taxable jurisdiction. To do so, they may need to deal with in-house applications, SaaS apps and everything in between, across the entire state. The more this process can be automated, the less money is wasted in overhead. IPaaS technology and tools are excellent candidates, handling ETL (extract/transform/load) operations, making conversions between systems, and even building links to electronic data interchange systems for payment transfers.

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Finding the Right Integration Platform as a Service Vendor

iPaaS products are difficult to compare; therefore, it isn’t easy for government agencies to simply put vendors in a hat and let procurement teams get the best deal on substitutable products. Finding an IPaaS vendor that works for a government agency means spending time up front clearly defining two major questions.

The first is, what is the agency trying to accomplish, and what resources are available? An agency could be helping decision-makers with data-based reports and analysis. Or it could be filling in gaps among applications by keeping information in sync across different platforms. The agency might be trying to implement business rules by linking applications that otherwise might require manual intervention.

Answering that first question and addressing complicating factors of staff expertise, data management, and security and access controls should enable IT leaders to create a picture of what they want an IPaaS solution to do.

The second question is, what type of integration is needed, and which applications and databases are going to be affected? Data elements may be something as vague as photographs or as specific as dates and geographic locations. Yet, transformations may be required, and just as important, IT leaders need to determine which applications are housing the data, and whether they are on-premises or cloud-based apps.

The answers to these questions will quickly help to disqualify iPaaS vendors that don’t have the technology or expertise to meet an agency’s particular requirements.

Once IT leaders can clearly describe what they need to accomplish and where the data is hiding, iPaaS vendors will be in a better position to understand the agency’s requirements and explain whether they can help.

Research on iPaaS can start with traditional sources: Gartner has a magic quadrant, of course, which lists nearly 20 vendors — but seeing that Boomi (a part of Dell) is more up and to the right in Gartner’s magic quadrant system than IBM isn’t all that useful if Boomi can’t solve your particular problem.

The products offered by vendors in the iPaaS space are all over the map. iPaaS vendors also have different levels of experience in various industries and markets, which means that talking to peers at similar agencies and departments will help IT leaders find a vendor that speaks their language.

iPaaS may not be a household term in the state and local IT world, but it offers significant benefits for agencies looking to easily integrate data from multiple applications and sources.

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