What Is an Integration Platform? Do I Need One?

4 min read

A closer look at the integration platform, the value it provides and how it differs from iPaaS.

Think of an integration platform like a menu. But not just any menu; rather, your Netflix menu — a hub that features the content you want to consume. Sure, you could find much, if not all, of your preferred programming doing your own online searches. And the viewing experience wouldn’t be any different. But the process of finding that content takes time and a lot of patience. The menu offers efficiency, convenience and organization.

In a business sense, an integration platform provides a similar value. It’s designed to meet the unique needs of its users, and it brings various types of integrations together in one place. IT teams gain freedom and flexibility to adopt resources that enable them to deliver business value in ways that meet (and hopefully exceed) customer expectations.

That’s the power of an integration platform — enabling the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.

What is an integration platform?

An integration platform is a cohesive set of integration software (middleware) products that enable users to do the following:

  • Develop, secure and govern integration flows that connect diverse applications, systems, services and data stores.
  • Enable rapid API creation and lifecycle management to ensure you meet a range of hybrid integration requirements.

In other words, an integration platform provides organizations with the integration tools they need to connect their systems, applications and data across their environment.

To learn more about hybrid integration platforms, see “What is a Hybrid Integration Platform (HIP)?

Why integration platforms are important

Every industry today is talking about integration platforms — and with good reason. Highly competitive markets demand faster, cost-effective solutions that speed up information exchange, improve productivity and streamline operations.

However, the demand for new integrations far surpasses organizations’ capacity to create those integrations. According to Gartner, “70% of digital transformation projects fail due to lack of integration quality.” [1]

Connecting on-premises and cloud-native applications and systems into a highly tuned, cohesive architecture of hardware and software can help in several ways, including the following:

  • Streamline business operations
  • Improve the efficiency of data management
  • Reduce costs
  • Improve customer interactions

Components of an integration platform

Today’s integration teams need access to a mix of components that enable them to balance traditional and modern integration styles. When evaluating integration platforms, here are the most important components to consider:

  • API integration: APIs are among the most common styles of modern integration. Companies need to be able to create, secure, manage and share APIs across environments quickly and easily.
  • Data and application integration: Siloed data is one of the most critical problems organizations face when trying to digitally transform. The ability to copy and synchronize data across applications will help address a variety of issues, including data formats and standards. In addition, the use of automation in data and application integration can further streamline the process.
  • Messaging and event-driven architecture: Syncing and standardizing data is crucial, but if enterprises want to be able to build more engaging customer experiences or react to things in real-time, they need to use message queues and event-driven architecture to securely exchange that data across their ecosystem from any cloud-based or on-premises application.
  • High-speed data transfer: The sheer volume of data being exchanged in a modern environment can be staggering. In fact, by 2025, IDC predicts worldwide data creation will reach 163 zettabytes per year. That’s ten times as much data as the world produced in 2017. Being able to send, share, stream and sync large files reliably and at high speeds is critical to providing the types of real-time responses to data for which modern organizations are looking.

What a complete integration solution provides

Traditionally, integration platforms were built by connecting key capabilities across an organization. This typically included API management software, messaging capabilities and Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) solutions from a variety of vendors. 

However, this approach can be costly and complex to initiate in-house, and it may not account for all of your requirements. Features or capabilities may be duplicated across solutions from multiple vendors, while other capabilities may be left out of the equation entirely.

Complete integration platforms combine all the capabilities you need into a unified, containerized platform. They can also make it easier to bridge the gap between multiple styles of integration.

Another option: Integration platform vs. iPaaS

iPaaS, or Integration Platform as a Service, is a suite of cloud-based offerings that are designed to connect applications. Much like a traditional integration platform, it can help organizations execute and manage their system integration. iPaaS typically uses various combinations of on-premises and cloud-based solutions that can enable a company to move from their SOA and ESB structures into a microservices architecture.  

To learn more about Platform as a Service (PaaS), read "What is PaaS?"

IBM's integration platform

If your company is considering an integration platform, we recommend IBM Cloud Pak® for Integration. With it, you’ll get all of the capabilities you’ll need to improve your application speed and quality: API management, application integration, event streaming and more.

However, we know that integration does not have a one-size-fits-all approach. Because of this, you’ll be able to use multiple styles of integration within IBM Cloud Pak for Integration, and they’ll all be set up to work together. You’ll get pre-built smart connectors, and you’ll benefit from automation capabilities like AI-powered data integration, natural language processing (NLP) and low-code tooling.

To learn more about the solutions IBM offers to meet your integration needs, we encourage you to visit our cloud integration solutions page.

Or, if you’re looking to make a complete change to your integration strategy, take our Integration Maturity Assessment to get recommendations for your next steps.

[1] Forbes-McKinsey Gartner Top 10 Trends in PaaS and Platform Innovation, 2020

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