How to Choose a Low-Code Integration Platform
It is challenging in the fast-evolving, over-crowded EiPaaS market to choose a low-code integration solution. This article guides you as you make a selection.
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With the rapid and accelerated enthusiasm towards digital transformation initiatives, iPaaS solutions have become increasingly 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 developers are not required for a company’s digital transformation efforts. Now, every company must become a software company. Therefore, everyone in the business must become a developer, and developers could exist in different lines of business, apart from the full-time developers in the central IT team. While the central IT team would continue to have full-time developers playing their role as integration specialists, other lines of business would have other integration personas such as ad hoc integrators and citizen developers.
EiPaaS Solutions and Integration Personas
There are mainly three types of integration personas: integration specialists, ad hoc integrators, and citizen integrators. Integration specialists are the expert integration developers. Ad hoc integrators are those who know basic programming concepts but do not do programming as their main function. Citizen integrators are experts in their domain but are not programmers.
However, for enterprises, it is recommended to opt for an EiPaaS (Enterprise iPaaS) solution, which is a suite of iPaaS technologies designed to support enterprise-level integration initiatives, versus 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, in recent times, EiPaaS solution providers are focusing on empowering less technical integration personas such as citizen integrators.
All EiPaaS platforms in the market nowadays offer low-code support and no-code support as essential features. Hence, all EiPaaS platforms are also low-code integration platforms. Currently, the EiPaaS market (and the low-code integration development market) is fast-evolving and over-crowded, which makes it challenging to choose the right low-code integration solution. Through this article, we wish to provide a guide to select a low-code integration solution.
In our article “How to Choose an EiPaaS Platform?”, we identified “providing low-code support” and “providing no-code support” as “Golden Features”. Any chosen EiPaaS platform should essentially provide low-code and no-code support. Low-code, no-code, and code could be identified as integration toolsets, while different integration personas would require working with different combinations of these toolsets.
An integration solution with low-code support allows developers to drag and drop connectors and logic constructs to create integration flows with minimal coding. Ideally, low-code development should only require text entry for formulae or simple expressions. No-code support refers to the availability of reusable integration artifacts such as cloud streams and prepackaged integration processes in the form of templates. All popular EiPaaS vendors provide reusable integration templates.
While citizen integrators would prefer to work with no-code and would try to reuse integration templates as much as possible, ad hoc integrators would prefer to work with low-code. Therefore, if your integration persona workforce consists of a considerable amount of citizen integrators, ensure that the EiPaaS platform you choose consists of a collection of reusable integration templates. It is equally important to ensure that the integration templates are modifiable through the low-code canvas. 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 platform provides.
Certain EiPaaS vendors facilitate collaborative development among integration developers. In such platforms, ad hoc integrators and integration specialists could develop integration templates that would be useful for citizen developers. Some platforms, e.g.,SnapLogic, allow tech-savvy integration personas to develop reusable integration patterns that could be used by citizen integrators during integration. Some other EiPaaS platforms provide integration template marketplaces. Since even third parties can share their integration templates with the public through the no-code marketplace, we would recommend choosing such EiPaaS platforms, without limiting only to the integration templates that are readily available.
Equivalent Code Generation From Low-code
Integration specialists identify themselves as experts in developing integration flows through coding. Most specialists have their own personal preferences for integration programming languages. However, integration specialists and ad hoc developers prefer to develop integrations by reusing existing integration templates and by modifying those templates. Sometimes, integration specialists would prefer if the low-code integration platform could generate the equivalent code for the developed low-code diagram. Furthermore, based on our experience, we believe that platforms that provide only low-code support would limit developers during the development of complex integration scenarios.
With low-code integration platforms that provide code support, integration specialists can further enhance the integration flows. Like equivalent code generation from low-code, the platform should also be capable of generating the equivalent low-code representation for the modified code. SnapLogic is a platform that generates the equivalent code, while other low-code integration platforms, such as Boomi, Informatica, Jitterbit, MuleSoft, and Workato, do not generate an equivalent integration code.
Availability of Sufficient Programming Constructs for Low-code Development
During the evaluation of the capabilities of a low-code integration platform, it is important to assess the availability of sufficient programming constructs for low-code development. All popular low-code integration platforms provide support for programming constructs such as looping, branching, parallel and sequential flows, as well as mapping tasks. However, it would be useful to evaluate the user experience provided by the low-code integration platform for its developers during the development of integration flows; for example, the guidance provided while choosing connectors, ease of implementing the integration using available programming constructs, etc.
Target Audience of the Low-code Development Canvas
Another important factor for evaluation related to the user experience provided by low-code integration platforms is the target audience of the low-code development canvas. While some integration platforms such as Boomi provide the same adaptive UI for all integration personas, some platforms such as MuleSoft provide separate environments for different integration personas. Nevertheless, it is recommended for both Boomi and MuleSoft to increase their citizen integrator support. However, platforms such as SnapLogic and Workato seem to have gained recognition over the fact that they have empowered less technical integration roles by lowering the entry-level barriers of citizen integrators towards integration development.
Typically, any low-code integration platform is geared towards users with a lower integration skill set. However, based on our experience, we have identified that most integration platforms still expect a certain amount of domain knowledge when selecting connectors for a specific automation task. 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 the final low-code integration platform, investigate the documentation level support and guidance provided by the platform developers. In addition to the documentation level support, if a low-code integration platform facilitates AI-assisted integration development, we would recommend choosing that as the final integration platform.
AI-assisted Low-code Development
We have identified four main areas where AI could provide guidance and enhance user experience during integration development in a low-code integration platform.
AI-based Automatic Data Mapping
First and foremost, AI-based automatic data mapping 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 (“Visual data mapping” is a “golden feature” as stated in the article on “How to Choose an EiPaaS Platform?”). 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 with a single click. These data mapping recommendation systems provide their mappings along with the level of confidence for each mapping. Integration developers can only change the incorrect mappings and fill the missing mappings, saving both time and effort. Jitterbit, MuleSoft, and SnapLogic are such low-code integration platforms that use AI technology for intelligent data mapping.
AI-assisted Next Connector/Component Prediction
Another feature that provides AI-assisted integration development capabilities is connector/component suggestion during low-code development. This feature is available in SnapLogic and Workato, while other popular vendors such as Boomi, Informatica, and MuleSoft have not provided the capability yet. This feature would save development time and effort of integration developers struggling to choose the next connector or component to be dragged and dropped to the low-code canvas. Although this feature is identified to be a “Nice-to-Have Differentiator” in our article on “How to choose an EiPaaS platform?”, we strongly believe that it would be an inevitable feature soon, since it would significantly improve the user experience, ultimately leading towards a faster integration experience.
AI-based Performance Feedback
The development of integration flows consists of connecting to different endpoints that are on-premise as well as in the Cloud through connectors. Different arrangements of connectors connected 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. By doing this, all integration developers could be guided towards writing performance-optimized code. Although this feature (or any other features that aim to optimize performance) was not seen in other EiPaaS solutions, we believe that the performance of integrations plays an important role towards business success.
AI-assisted Low-code Testing
Although all EiPaaS vendors provide support during validation/testing of integration flows, they require users to manually generate all test cases, which is a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Therefore, EiPaaS providers could leverage the capabilities of Natural Language Processing towards the automatic generation of test cases covering multiple paths of the integration flow. Although Boomi and SnapLogic claim to perform automated regression testing, none of the other popular platforms seem to have given thought towards providing AI-assisted integration testing capabilities.
Thus, we strongly believe that low-code integration platforms with AI-assisted features would have a competitive edge over other platforms, where integration developers would have to refer to pages of documentation to complete tasks.
We recommend choosing a low-code integration 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 the 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 also recommend prioritizing such equivalent code generation 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. You should investigate the documentation standard since less technical integrators would heavily rely on it. We strongly recommend choosing a low-code integration platform that provides a guided user experience through AI capabilities since this provides a competitive edge over other platforms, where less technical integration personas would face roadblocks during development.
Published at DZone with permission of Duneesha Fernando. See the original article here.
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