With the rapid and accelerated enthusiasm towards digital transformation initiatives, organizations have begun to move away from traditional development and iPaaS solutions are becoming more popular. iPaaS stands for Integration Platform as a Service and facilitates developing, deploying, executing, managing, and monitoring integration processes connecting multiple endpoints.
With an iPaaS solution, external development teams are not required for a company’s digital transformation efforts. Now, every company must become a software company. Therefore, employees in each organization must become developers and contribute to the development process. Aside from full-time professional developers in the central IT team, developers exist in different lines of business.. While the primary IT team continues to employ full-time professional developers who play their roles as integration specialists, other lines of business would acquire ad-hoc integrators and citizen developers.
EiPaaS Solutions and Integration Personas
There are three types of integration personas: integration specialists, ad-hoc integrators, and citizen integrators. Integration specialists are expert-level integration developers. Ad-hoc integrators know basic programming concepts but it is not their main function. FCitizen integrators are experts in their domain but are not programmers.
It is recommended for organizations to opt for an EiPaaS (Enterprise iPaaS) solution, which encompasses is a suite of iPaaS technologies designed to support enterprise-level integration initiatives, as opposed to a standard iPaaS solution. One unique distinction of EiPaaS solutions over iPaaS solutions is the capability to support multiple integration personas, especially integration specialists, and ad-hoc integrators. However, recently, EiPaaS solution providers have focused on empowering less technical integration personas, such as citizen integrators.
Low-code, in combination with business process management, allows for faster and interactive digital transformation. Therefore, all EiPaaS platforms in the market offer low-code support and no-code support. Hence, all EiPaaS platforms are also low-code platforms for integration. Currently, the EiPaaS market (and the low-code market) is fast-evolving and over-crowded, making it challenging to choose the most appropriate low-code integration solution. Through this article, we will provide a guide to help select a low-code development platform for integration with the most suitable low-code development tools.
In our article, How to Choose an EiPaaS platform?, we identified providing low-code and no-code support as “Golden Features''. Any chosen EiPaaS platform should provide business users with low-code and no-code support with a set of comprehensive low-code development tools. Low-code, no-code, and code could be identified as integration tool sets, while various integration personas would work with different combinations of these low-code tools.
<p>An integration solution with low-code support allows developers to drag-and-drop connectors and logic constructs to create integration flows and custom applications, and perform workflow automation with minimal coding. Ideally, low-code development platforms should have visual modeling tools and only require text entry for formulae or simple expressions. No-code support refers to the availability of reusable components and integration artifacts such as cloud streams and prepackaged integration processes in the form of templates. Most popular EiPaaS vendors provide reusable integration templates which speeds up the development process.
While citizen integrators would prefer to work with no-code due to it's visual development environment and would look to reuse integration templates as much as possible, ad-hoc integrators could prefer to work with low-code. Therefore, if an organization;s workforce integration persona consists of citizen integrators, it is important to ensure that the chosen EiPaaS low-code platform includes a collection of reusable integration templates. It is equally important to ensure the integration templates are modifiable through the low-code graphical user interface. However, we believe that the capabilities of an EiPaaS platform (or a low-code integration platform) should not be limited only to the number of readily available reusable integration templates that the low-code platform provides.
Certain EiPaaS vendors facilitate collaborative development among integration developers. In such low-code platforms, ad-hoc integrators and integration specialists may develop integration templates that are useful for citizen developers. Some low-code platforms, such as SnapLogic, allow tech-savvy integration personas to develop reusable integration patterns that can be used by citizen integrators. Other EiPaaS low-code platforms provide integration template marketplaces. As third parties can share their own integration templates with the public through the no-code platforms marketplace, we would recommend choosing such EiPaaS platforms, without limiting themselves to integration templates that are readily available.
Equivalent Code Generation from Low-code
Integration specialists identify themselves as experts in implementing business processes by developing integration flows through coding. Most specialists have their own personal preferences of integration programming languages. However, integration specialists and ad-hoc developers prefer to develop integrations by reusing existing integration templates and modifying them. Sometimes, integration specialists would prefer if a low-code platform for integration could generate the equivalent code for the developed low-code diagram. Based on our experience, we believe low-code platforms that provide only low-code support would hinder developers during the development of complex integration scenarios.
With low-code integration platforms that provide low-code support, integration specialists can further enhance the integration flows and develop custom code. Similar to equivalent code generation from low-code, the platform should generate an equivalent low-code representation for the modified code. The SnapLogic platform does this well, while other low-code platforms including Dell Boomi, Informatica, Jitterbit, MuleSoft and Workato, do not.
Availability of Sufficient Programming Constructs for Low-code Development
When evaluating capabilities of low-code platforms, it is important to assess the availability of sufficient programming constructs for low-code development and the various low-code capabilities available in these platforms. Popular low-code development platforms provide support for programming constructs such as looping, branching, parallel and sequential flows, and mapping tasks. However, it would be useful to evaluate the user experience using the low-code platform for developers during development of integration flows. Examples include the guidance provided by the low-code platform while choosing connectors and the ease of implementing the integration using available programming constructs.
Target Audience of Low-code Development Canvas
Another important factor for evaluation related to the user experience provided by low-code development platforms is the target audience of the low-code development canvas. While some integration platforms such as Dell Boomi provide the same adaptive UI for all integration personas, others such as MuleSoft provide separate environments for different integration personas. Nevertheless, it is recommended for both Dell Boomi and MuleSoft to increase their citizen integrator support. However, other integration platforms such as SnapLogic and Workato have gained traction as they empower less technical integration roles by lowering the barriers to entry for citizen integrators towards integration development.
Typically, a low-code platform is geared towards users with a lower integration skill-set. However, we have identified that most low-code integration platforms still expect a certain level of domain knowledge when selecting connectors for specific automation tasks. A developer is expected to be aware of which integration patterns and data mapping approaches should be followed for a given integration scenario. Therefore, when selecting a low-code platform for integration, do investigate the documentation level support and guidance provided by the platform developers. In addition to this, if a low-code platform facilitates Artificial Intelligence-assisted integration development, we would recommend choosing that low-code integration platform. We justify our selection in the section below.
AI-assisted Low-code Development
We have identified four areas where Artificial Intelligence could provide guidance and enhance user experience during integration development in a low-code development platform.
AI-based Automatic Data Mapping
Firstly, this could be used to map data elements between two distinct data models, which is a critical requirement for any integration scenario. Since the complexity of mapping attributes between multiple data models increases with the number of attributes in both data models, all EiPaaS solutions provide visual data mapping as a key feature. As mentioned earlier in our article, How to choose an EiPaaS platform ,Visual data mapping is a “Golden feature”.. However, since the process of visual data mapping could also be cumbersome, some EiPaaS vendors provide AI-assisted data mapping capabilities, where data attributes are mapped in a split second in a single click. These data mapping recommendation systems provide mappings along with the level of confidence for each mapping. Thus, integration developers only need to change the incorrect mappings and fill the missing mappings, saving time and effort. Jitterbit, MuleSoft, and SnapLogic are low-code integration platforms that use AI for intelligent data mapping.
AI-assisted Next Connector/Component Prediction
An important feature is connector/component suggestion during low-code development. This is available in SnapLogic and Workato, while other popular vendors such as Boomi, Informatica, and Mulesoft have not provided the capability at the time of writing. This feature would save time and effort of integration developers struggling on choosing the next connector or component to drag and drop to the low-code canvas. Although this feature is identified to be a “Nice-to-Have'' in our article “How to choose an EiPaaS platform? ”, we strongly believe that it would be an inevitable feature, since it would significantly improve the user experience, resulting in a faster integration.
AI-based Performance Feedback
The development of integration flows consists of connecting to different endpoints that are on-premises as well as in the cloud through connectors. Different arrangements of connectors joined by other programming constructs in each integration could lead to varying performance counters. Although experienced integration specialists would follow development best- practices that can optimize integration performance, providing performance-level feedback for other less technical integration personas during low-code development would be an added advantage. This allows all integration developers to be guided towards writing performance-optimized code. Although this feature (or other features that aim to optimize performance) was unavailable in other EiPaaS solutions, we expect that performance of integrations are crucial towards business success.
AI-assisted Low-code Testing
Although EiPaaS vendors provide support during validation/testing of integration flows, they require users to manually generate all test cases, which is cumbersome and time-consuming. Therefore, EiPaaS low-code providers can leverage Natural Language Processing towards automatic generation of test cases which cover multiple paths of the integration flow. While Dell Boomi and SnapLogic claim to perform automated regression testing, none of the other popular platforms seem to have considered providing AI-assisted integration testing capabilities.
Thus, we strongly feel that low-code integration platforms with AI-assisted features would have a competitive edge over other low-code platforms, whereas integration developers would have to refer to multiple documents to complete tasks.
We recommend choosing a low-code development platform that provides both low-code support and no-code support. The chosen EiPaaS platform should either provide a considerable collection of no-code integration templates and/or facilitate development of reusable integration templates within the organization or through a marketplace. It is essential to ensure that no-code templates are modifiable through the low-code canvas. If integration specialists prefer to have the equivalent code generated for the low-code diagram being developed, choose a low-code integration platform that provides this feature.
We recommend prioritizing such equivalent code generation low-code platforms as they empower integration specialists, who are the backbone of the digital transformation process. It is also important to assess the availability of sufficient programming constructs for low-code development and evaluate the user experience provided for low-code development by the integration platform. Investigate the documentation standard since less technical integrators would heavily rely on it. We strongly recommend choosing a low-code development platform for integration that provides a guided user experience through AI capabilities since this provides a competitive edge over other low-code platforms, where less technical integration personas would face roadblocks during development.
WSO2 presents, Choreo, a Next-Generation Integration Platform as a Service
WSO2 attempts to mitigate these problems by providing its own solution. With Choreo, enterprise developers can:
- Create integrations. Triggered periodically or by an event, developers can execute low-code integration logic to control hundreds of software as a service (SaaS) APIs via Choreo’s pre-built connectors and templates or using the organization’s own custom-built templates.
- Create Microservices and APis. Developers can write services that compose and expose APIs and along with their integration and business logic using low-code or code.
- Manage APIs. Developers can publish their services as managed APIs and control them using the market-leading API management capabilities from WSO2.
- Share via an API Marketplace. Choreo also comes with a marketplace for an organization’s APIs, event streams, and data sources. Developers can share integrations and microservices for re-use by no-code enterprise users via templates.
- Run professional DevOps. IT teams can build, deploy, and run on Kubernetes (without setting up any YAML files for deployment); manage multiple environments; and observe them—all in a few clicks.
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