Integration and Workflow Management Platforms: A Brief Primer

Written by Bart Nachimow

December 5, 2019

At the Business Software Education Center, we’re all about finding ways to make your work life easier. From helping our readers know more about digital transformation to helping them understand the wide variety of solutions available to get their business from present to future, we have taken it upon ourselves to discuss the market for a specific software product each month.

From collaboration platforms to business intelligence solutions, we are today taking a second to investigate integration platforms, solutions designed to connect two systems and make the overwhelming more manageable.

What Can Integration and Workflow Management Platforms Do?

The market goes by many names, the solutions serve a variety of use cases, and the integrations range from simple to complex. However, they all exist for the same purpose: connect applications and processes.

Many Levels of Integration Complexity

As defined in our Business Software Glossary, Integration is the act of combining software parts into one system. Knowing this, integration exists in many forms with many levels of complexity.

  • Want your smart light to flash blue and red when the Rangers score? That’s integration.
  • Want to create, use, and share automated approval workflows to quickly respond to and process requests, from time off and travel plans to sales opportunities? Integration.
  • Want to build a complex network of applications, data, and devices, set up a workflow that spans dozens of offices to save thousands of hours per year? Just another example of integration.

In theory, each of the above-mentioned use cases is the same: Use a platform to connect two or more applications. In practice, however, each of the above-mentioned processes requires a different level of technical expertise to set up, test, and manage.

Definitions in Integration

Whether it’s a light or a system of IIoT devices, the integration platform takes an input, organizes it in the way you tell it to, and sends a trigger to something else. Like ERP and accounting software, many of these terms do feature overlapping functionality. When looking at integration products, you may come across the following terms:

  • Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS): Integration platforms as a service (iPaaS) provide a centralized console to manage, govern, and integrate cloud-based applications. These tools work by connecting cloud applications and services, and controlling integration flows.
  • Enterprise Service Bus: Enterprise service bus (ESB) software provides an architecture for application interaction. These solutions provide processes, protocols, and rules to facilitate secure data transfers and manage service-oriented applications. These tools can add new data and capabilities to existing enterprise applications.
  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): The electronic interchange of business information using a standardized format; a process which allows one company to send information to another company electronically rather than with paper. Business entities conducting business electronically are called trading partners
  • Workflow Management: A software application designed for setting up and monitoring a defined set of tasks along with its sequence.

Many Options Available, Here Are Some of Our Favorites

Looking at just some of the options on Gartner and G2 Crowd, you’ll notice dozens of products across a variety of categories. The following list is by no means comprehensive, but includes options ranging from those designed for your time off the clock and those built to facilitate the connection of APIs, as well as those built to deliver custom workflows for any application in the cloud or on-premises.

Want to see the top customer-rated products? Check out the G2 Reviews for Enterprise Service Bus solutions and Integration Platform as a Service solutions.

IFTTT: Integration and Automation 101

Though unlikely used in the enterprise, those looking to understand the basics should check out IFTTT. One of the first consumer-facing applications built for integration, IFTTT (If This, Then That) is a free product whose mission is to build a more connected world. Designed around “recipes,” IFTTT is easy to use and features nearly 500 products, news sources, websites, or data sources. This is a perfect product for someone looking to automate consumer IoT devices, get updates from a website, or simply understand the benefits of integrating products.

Zapier

Zapier empowers anyone to integrate their apps and automate work, without writing any code. For growing businesses that want to make the most of their time, Zapier offers an easy, powerful, and cost-effective automation solution. Delivering a similar-but-more-business-focused user experience to IFTTT, Zapier scales every level of need, ranging from the free plan to an enterprise level one.

IBM App Connect

IBM App Connect offers powerful integration capabilities for quickly connecting a range of application types and exposing data as REST APIs using a model-driven approach. It supports a range of integration styles including real-time event-based and scheduled batch data copy/synchronization.

Thousands of businesses rely on IBM App Connect to instantly connect applications, data, heritage systems and modern technologies through a variety of integration styles — from traditional service-oriented architectures to modern, agile and event-driven ones — virtualizing access to data wherever it lives for exposure as APIs.

MuleSoft Anypoint Platform

One of the most repeatable and diverse solutions for enterprises, MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform™ is a leading solution for API-led connectivity that creates an application network of apps, data, and devices, both on-premises and in the cloud. This hybrid integration platform includes iPaaS, ESB, and a unified solution for API management, design and publishing. One of the largest providers of integration solutions, MuleSoft is highly rated by both G2 an Gartner.

Talend

Listed as a Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Data Integration Tools, Talend is a cloud integration platform designed to provide broad connectivity, built-in data quality, and native support for the latest big data and cloud technologies across on premises, hybrid, and multi-cloud environments.

Dell Boomi

Built to scale, delivering integration for a variety of business solutions both on-premises and in the cloud, Boomi quickly and easily unites everything in your digital technology foundation. With over 9,000 customers in healthcare, higher education, manufacturing, retail, and the public sector, Boomi aims to connect, modernize, transform, and give you the power to innovate.

Celigo Integrator.io

Leveraging a combination of pre-built integrations, custom integrations, and a product marketplace, Celigo Integrator.io allows you to build workflows, orchestrate integrations, transform source data to destination APIs, and organize business integration in a user friendly dashboard.

Salesforce Connect

One of the product-focused platforms, Salesforce Connect is a point and click integration product that lets you integrate and access data from external sources and multiple Salesforce orgs, using either clicks or code. Tightly integrate external data sources into your apps, giving employees a unified customer view, on any device. Admins can use point-and-click tools to bring data in or connect data between Salesforce instances, and developers can code simple APEX adapters to connect data from any web service API.

Microsoft Power Automate (Formerly Microsoft Flow)

Built as part of the Microsoft Power Platform, Power Automate is a fast growing automation solution that has continued to improve. With hundreds of templates connecting nearly 300 applications, Microsoft Power Automate lets you turn repetitive tasks into simplified workflows. Turn tweets into leads, subscribers into sales, and so much more. Allowing an affordable or free way to connect applications, build multi-step workflows, or simplify business processes, this product is easy to set up and has added a variety of new features in recent updates.

Stay Up to Date

These are just our picks, out of dozens of alternatives—nearly all of which are agnostic to vendors. The best solution will be one that aligns well with your needs.

That said, while all solutions are both usable and incredibly useful, the easiest way to make this happen is to work with a partner who can get you up and running.

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