API Integration Platforms vs. Custom Solutions: What’s Best For Your Business?

by Mark Benvegnu
API Integration Platforms vs. Custom Solutions: What’s Best For Your Business?

In today’s business environment, technology is often considered the most direct path to gaining a competitive edge. So businesses are investing heavily in new computing resources, often while hanging on to older, capital-intensive ones like legacy ERPs.

Systems and applications are proliferating and becoming more decentralized. Computing architectures are increasingly complex and data stores are expanding exponentially. But in too many cases, that data is siloed and not available for use across departments, systems and applications. 

Integrations Unlock the Value of Business Data

When data is released from data silos via APIs and integrations, it can improve processes, enhance customer engagement, help design new products, and more. Its value increases dramatically when its applied to solve business problems and exploit new opportunities.

An all-encompassing integration strategy links all computing and data resources — enabling you to exchange or move data in real-time to where it does the most good for your business.

Critical Considerations When Building an Integration Strategy

When designing an integration strategy for your business, you have many factors to consider. And each of these factors should be weighed against your particular requirements and vision. 

  • Buy vs. Build – Like any software, you have a choice between licensing a generic, proprietary solution vs. building one to your precise specs. 
  • Reliability/Maintainability – Your integration solution must be reliable and reasonable to maintain. Frequent downtime defeats the purpose of automation.
  • Flexibility/No Resource Coverage Gaps – If you go with an off-the-shelf platform, ensure it can accommodate all the computing resources you need to integrate. Or at least allows you to customize it sufficiently.
  • Data Integrity and Consistency – Ensure that your solution will safeguard your critical data and not introduce data corruption or duplication.
  • Security and Authentication – Security is key, and authentication must be foolproof to protect against threats ranging from hackers to rogue access.
  • Adequate Functionality – Your requirements will dictate the capabilities you will need. If you opt for a packaged platform, ensure it accommodates all processes, functions, and resources in your environment.

Integration Strategy Delivery Models

The Gartner Group has identified 4 primary integration delivery models. These vary in methodology, tools, and use cases. 

  • Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS) – Web-based, proprietary integration and automation solutions.
  • Software-Based Integration Platforms – Legacy integration platforms, including B2B Gateways, Message-Oriented Middleware, and Enterprise Service Bus, some of which are decades old. Traditionally used primarily with on-prem applications.
  • Code-Based Frameworks – Traditional integration frameworks based largely on open-source code.
  • Outsourced Managed Services – An entirely service-based approach most applicable to EDI implementations. 

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on IPaaS. The other 3 models are either too costly or simply a poor fit for Small to Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs).

IPaaS Platforms: An Off-the-Shelf Integration Strategy

IPaaS integration platforms like Zapier are seeing increasing uptake, especially among SMBs. They are a cloud-based integration model offered via subscription, much like Software as a Service (SaaS).

They are designed for ease of use and utilize a low-code/no-code interface to automate workflows and create integrations, most often between web applications. Because no software programming or scripting is required, IPaaS platforms are more accessible to more users than more conventional integration methods and tools.

When business requirements are vanilla and the number and complexity of integrations is minimal, IPaaS API integration platforms can work for some businesses. For some other businesses, they may provide a useful component within a larger integration strategy.

For businesses with complex integration requirements, diverse computing resources, or lots of on-prem applications, an IPaaS API integration tool is just a bad fit. 

For example, an IPaaS platform will not provide adequate functionality if a legacy Sage ERP is the center of a business’ technology architecture as its primary data repository. In that instance, a custom integration strategy is likely the best solution.

How do IPaaS API Integration Platforms Work?

In a nutshell, IPaaS allows users to connect web apps with a drag-and-drop interface. An IPaaS platform includes pre-built connectors and code modules that can be assembled into multipart workflows. These workflows may include conditions, filters, queries, and other dependencies depending on the capabilities of the specific platform.

Representative IPaaS Integration Platforms

Over 150+ IPaaS platforms are currently available. They vary widely in capabilities, intended use cases, and pricing. We’ve included 5 snapshots of highly-rated IPaaS platforms below that represent a variety of integration approaches.

  • Zapier – Best suited for small businesses or independent contractors. Includes 5000+ pre-built integrations. A free version is available, but pricing can go as high as $799 per month, depending on functionality.
  • Make (formerly Integromat) – A good balance between functionality and price, Make has over 500,000 users. Pricing starts at $9 per month and goes up to $29.
  • Dell Boomi – An advanced feature set earns Boomi a #1 ranking in some surveys. It’s also fairly affordable, with a starting price of $50 per month.
  • Microsoft Power Automate – A highly functional tool that comes with Microsoft support. The lowest price is $15 per month per user but requires an MS Azure subscription.
  • Mulesoft Anypoint – Built for enterprise deployments, including specialized versions for healthcare and other industries. Pricing is by quote only, and the purchase of multiple add-on modules is needed for some use cases.

IPaaS Pros:

Due to the wide range of functionality among IPaaS platforms, the applicability of these pros will vary from product to product.

  • Very easy to use, with no coding is required (for almost all IPaaS platforms).
  • Rapid development and implementation using templates and pre-built modules.
  • Most platforms come with hundreds or even thousands of app connectors.
  • Security, authentication, and user logging/monitoring are built in.

IPaaS Cons:

As with the pros listed above, the items listed below are general and will not apply uniformly to all IPaaS platforms.

  • Like all no-code tools, functionality is limited.
  • With over 150+ vendors, there is a wide disparity in functionality. 
  • Applicable to web apps only. Legacy ERPs and on-prem apps are usually not covered.
  • Templated architecture lacks flexibility and customizability.
  • Costs (including ongoing) can really add up, especially for high-end platforms.
  • Businesses don’t own the resulting intellectual property (IP). 
  • These platforms have vendor lock-in, so the integrations or automations you build aren’t portable.
  • You have no control over your vendor’s destiny. For instance, one vendor, automate.io, shut down with little warning to locked-in customers.

API Integration Platforms vs. Custom Solutions

Many of the benefits of building custom solutions vs. licensing proprietary software hold true here. For starters, you don’t own the IP that makes up your integration strategy. To learn more about the importance of IP ownership, see, What Does it Mean to Own Your Own Software IP

Like most off-the-shelf tools, an IPaaS is inflexible and not easily or effectively customized. Proprietary tools are typically designed to deliver a base level of functionality to the widest possible range of customers.  It’s the swiss-army knife effect.  It “does everything” but nothing particularly well.

Your business is unique, and it’s unlikely that any packaged solution will be a precise fit for your needs. It will always be a compromise, and you’ll encounter instances when your business will have to adapt to the software and not the other way around.

When you develop a custom integration solution vs. licensing a proprietary platform, you take control. 

You don’t have to wait on a vendor to meet a much-needed request, and you don’t have to worry they will get bought or go out of business. You can integrate what you want, how you want, on your timeframe.

Pell Software Can Deliver the Right Integration Solution for Your Business

Pell Software is a premier custom software developer with broad and deep expertise in APIs, integrations, workflow automations, and integration strategies. With years of  successful engagements with businesses like yours, we know what works and what doesn’t. 

We’ve worked with companies ranging from startups to SMBs to national companies in a range of industries. And while our technical skills are world-class, our primary focus is partnering with you to solve your business problems and get a leg up on your competition.

We will work with you to design and develop a detailed integration strategy that precisely fits your business goals. And we’ll implement that strategy to deliver a solution that meets – or exceeds – your objectives now and as your business grows.

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