iPaaS 2.0? Dell Boomi's vision for the future of integration

Digital transformation priorities shift all the time, but one of the biggest technologies underpinning it might be changing too. Dell Boomi outlines why they think the iPaaS vendors of today are the data management vendors of tomorrow.

Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) may not be the most glamorous of technologies within the enterprise IT space, but data and application integration remain some of the most important imperatives for many contemporary B2B organisations. The technology has come a long way from the early days when simply connecting and integrating your enterprise data from Salesforce and SAP was top of mind, developing into an ecosystem of different technologies from a wide range of vendors.

When iPaaS first came along, cloud, at least in the sense of widespread adoption, was still in its infancy. Fast forward to now, and cloud-driven digital transformation is having a profound effect on all facets of business. Ensuring that the disparate services, processes, applications, and data can all speak to each other in a useful and somewhat coherent manner has the capacity to drive some serious value gains, and this has become increasingly recognised as time goes on. It's this sense of market recognition that led to Salesforce's massive $6.5 billion acquisition of MuleSoft, which was completed in May of last year. 

iPaaS vendors have also started to offer more ubiquitous, hybrid-based integrations, which has opened the market to those larger firms with more complex IT environments who might be looking to connect both on-prem, and private/public cloud. As well as this, modern iPaaS vendors now offer capabilities that extend beyond simple integrations, to things like API and EDI management, which have become central offerings for many leading vendors. This is because APIs and cloud-based systems integration are two unique concepts that are, in many ways, inextricably linked.

Taking all of this into consideration, there is no doubt that iPaaS - both as a software platform and technology market - is evolving. This is partially a result of market consolidation, which Gartner says is leading to fewer big-budget players that are able to buy out other smaller names to integrate with or supplement their existing services. This is also leading to a market where vendors are trying to wedge themselves in front of each other as a means to innovate and lead a transformation of the technology.

One such big player is Dell Boomi (formerly just ‘Boomi'), which Dell acquired way back in 2010. Boomi was one of the first vendors to offer integration services through the cloud, bringing the concept of iPaaS into the limelight. The company's vision for the future of iPaaS is firmly based around the value of data, and linking an organisations' entire ecosystem of software, hardware, and even partners/supplier ecosystem. This was one of the key takeaways from the company's Boomiworld conference, which IDG Connect attended in September. At the event, Boomi positioned iPaaS as less of an integration machine, and more of an intelligent data management platform.

Transforming a transformation platform

While ‘data management' already describes a healthy, populated ecosystem of different tools and vendors, Dell Boomi hopes to approach this concept in a way that only an iPaaS vendor can. One of the principal ideas, here, is that DB can use their existing integration capabilities to harvest valuable information, and patterns about an organisation's crucial business data. The company says iPaaS is well-positioned to do that because it is connected to whatever important data that an enterprise wishes it to be, meaning the potential for dragging knowledge out of this data is already there.

It's looking to offer this capability using what it calls ‘Insights', which essentially monitors the metadata of all integrated data that runs through the platform to deliver pertinent business information. The company says this is distinct from an analytics offering though, as the data itself is never directly assessed. In an interview at the event, Dell Boomi CPO Steve Wood explains where the company has positioned insights in terms of how they see its value.

"We were careful not to call our insights platform ‘analytics'," Wood explains. "If an analytics vendor were giving you dashboards and reports on your business, they would typically want all of that data to be in one central place for the analytics to work from. So, in that scenario, it's realistically about the data itself. Insights is slightly different.

"As an example, we know what a lead looks like. We know what its properties are, and we know what the naming conventions typically are. So even if you're moving leads from system to system, they never see each other from a business operating perspective. Where Insights fits in is it's able to provide information about that data, based on the metadata that we have around it."

Broadly, there are a few types of metadata that make up this capability. The first is the metadata that defines the solutions (including metadata associated with configuration information and data mappings, data labels, and naming) developed on the Boomi platform. This metadata could include a variety of things such as PII (last names, email addresses, payment info, etc) from a data mapping, or integration configuration metadata (such as IP addresses, or URL metadata).

The second type of metadata is around execution, which includes the starting time of an integration process, how long it connected to an application, and how many bytes were moved. Finally, the iPaaS can source metadata about where the integration solution runs, both in terms of physical location and what the solution environment looks like (i.e. cloud, on-prem, edge). Boomi says that this is enough data to ‘define how your business runs' and can, therefore, provide a decent backbone for delivering insights.

In terms of use cases for Insights, one tangible example Wood provides is around automated notifications. The platform would grant the capability of notifying a CMO, for example, if their lead volume dropped over the course of a month, which is possible without actually looking at the leads themselves. It also doesn't need the data to be centralised, as the platform can determine where the leads are moving, as well as how many leads are moving.

According to Dell Boomi some other use cases include providing consumption and utilisation information of applications to the C-suite, a salesperson providing information about total number of invoices to their managers, or insights related to B2B EDI where information is provided to businesses about trading partners and supply chain. However, in the initial period, the company is tackling one of the biggest pain points for the modern enterprise…  

An answer to privacy and compliance?

As Dell Boomi's Insights platform runs off metadata, one of the more obvious use cases is around privacy and compliance. This is probably where things get most interesting for the average enterprise, as even the smallest compliance mishap can lead to massive headaches for global organisations. Dell Boomi showed off its vision for how iPaaS vendors can be of assistance, tackling compliance concerns associated with varying frameworks such as GDPR or CCPA. 

At the conference, the company demonstrated some key capabilities that allow businesses to track where their PII data is flowing, and therefore ascertain what regulatory constraints they might be subject to. Dell Boomi CTO Michael Morton talked about what this looks like on stage at Boomi World, demonstrating how the platform can use the metadata to deliver some intriguing insights.

In the demonstration, the platform used a combination of metadata, namely customer information (PII) from a data mapping and location data from IP addresses and URLs, to track where PII is flowing geographically and what applications it is connecting to. This creates a map that could track PII and inform relevant stakeholders that data could be traveling to a region that they didn't know about.

"It's a different mindset to think about. You're building (an integration) solution, but you're really building the engine of your business, and data privacy is the first (use case) of many that we're looking into. It's perfect for an integration platform to tell you about how your data is traveling," Morton said.

While this capability is undoubtedly a hint of what's to come, and how Dell Boomi is starting to shift their mindset on iPaaS slightly, the solution is far from turnkey at present. This will not be a cure-all answer to privacy, and whether it will even develop to that point, isn't really clear, as Wood explains.

"At this stage, we can give you an indication that there may be data privacy concerns. We don't have a full picture of all of a company's data, so it's not a full picture of data privacy, but we do provide a bit of an indicator, as we can tell where data is flowing geographically," Wood says.

"From that perspective, businesses may find it useful to find out where their data is flowing, but in no way are we making assertions that we're covering the whole picture, and I don't think we really want to move into that fully either."

One step further?

A more substantial—but purely hypothetical—version of this would involve having the capability to determine GDPR, CCPA, or any other compliance standard natively within the platform, as processes are developed, which was a concept discussed at the event. This would start when processes are created, with the platform able to automatically determine whether processes and data flows achieve compliance dependant on where the data is located. In a sense, flick a switch and achieve compliance, which is something I'm sure many enterprise organisations can get behind. 

In describing what this might look like, DB API management and iPaaS engineering leader Rajesh Raheja said, "There is this question over whether we would be able to actually prevent data privacy issues proactively, rather than just telling customers about it. An example of this would be, when customers design a process, they should just have a checkbox that says ‘GDPR enable this'. 

"That would get into much more concrete recommendations, because we would have to fill in the profile of what we understand GDPR compliance to be, and then apply that using the machine learning algorithms. That would provide a much higher degree of certainty than what the ML would come up in a generic sense (without specifically baking GDPR into the algorithms) bringing the accuracy up from something like 80% to 95% (hypothetically)."

Would this be something Boomi would actually be keen on exploring? Possibly, but not for a while, as Wood describes.

"At the moment we're probably grappling most with getting our arms around the basic level of insights and getting started on that journey, but I think it would be fantastic—in the future—to be able to start providing that level of comprehensive capability for compliance."

Still in the early stages

While Dell Boomi is in the very early stages of developing these capabilities, Insights could mark an interesting shift in how iPaaS is positioned within the market. Moving from pureplay cloud-based data integration into what they're framing as intelligent ‘data management' could make sense for a platform that sees and connects to all your data. DB is also supporting some interesting intelligence-based work on the partner side as well, with firms like Accenture building out Natural Language Processing capabilities that plug into multiple systems to deliver business information in real-time. 

Having said that, we won't really know how useful the features will be to businesses until they have some time to grow. Realistically, ‘Insights' is the first tier, and these features are not overly developed at this stage and have only just started to roll out, so whether the market will respond positively remains to be seen.  However, the company is adamant that the shift is happening.

"The iPaaS vendors of today will be the data management vendors of tomorrow," Wood says.

"Data is going to be a huge piece that needs to be managed in many ways, from discovering it, to cataloguing it, to moving it around, aggregating it, doing transformations with it, doing analytics with it, and all that kind of stuff. Generally, the data management piece is huge (for us).

"In that sense, intelligence will be a critical part of the data management vendors of tomorrow. You're seeing that happen with Insights, but I think intelligence will be increasingly a key piece. It gives you the scale that you need, given that there is more data than ever, wanting to get to you faster than ever. To manage that sheer volumes of data, and the scale of data, we're going to need machine learning to help us."