Integrations play an important role for any SaaS business. However, building and maintaining all integrations in-house can be a development and technical nightmare for developers as it takes the focus away from core product functionalities. In this article, we will focus on how iPaaS, a cloud-based platform for integrations, can help B2B companies seamlessly manage integrations without any additional technical expertise or resources by addressing integration management challenges.
Before moving onto some of the challenges that developers face with integration management and how iPaaS can help, let’s look at what exactly is integration management. Integration management essentially begins once you have built or deployed the integrations and they are now ready to be used. It includes:
Authorization and Authentication
Integration management starts with authorization which ensures that only applications which have the right permissions are able to access data from other connected applications in the integration ecosystem. It generally involves providing an API key or other access key for the requesting system.
Authentication is an important aspect of every integration which helps the different applications being used in authenticating the identity of the user. It ensures that only credible users or those who are authorized to access or exchange data from a particular application get access to the integration. When a company is using several integrations together, each one needs to be authenticated separately. It is essential to ensure the integrity and the security of the systems being integrated and prevent unauthorized access.
Integrations need to be configured for the end user either on the cloud or on premise. It involves defining parameters for data exchange, interfaces, protocols, etc. Under configuration, developers generally set the limits for data exchange and access, establish connectivity via APIs, web services and even configure security and authentication. Configuration ensures that the integration has been set up properly and is able to function smoothly and effectively. Furthermore, configuration helps keep pace with incremental changes in the applications being integrated.
Another part of configuration is the kind of data an integration reads, shared by another application. For instance, a HRIS will typically have data on employee name, payroll, timesheet, attendance, leave requests, etc. However, an employee communication integration will not need access to all this data. Thus, configuration involves ensuring that data limits are set appropriately to ensure that only necessary data is shared. Each of such data limits constitute a separate configuration.
Finally, integration maintenance ensures that integration between two or more applications in place is working smoothly. This involves keeping a check of regular updates, monitoring performance and troubleshooting to fix bugs, and maintaining support documentation with key changes. Maintenance is instrumental in facilitating the overall success of the integration ensuring its sustainability and scalability for integration performance. Integration maintenance includes ongoing activities and processes for integration effectiveness.
Challenges to in-house integration management
As you would have noticed by now, integration management in-house requires a lot of technical expertise and bandwidth. This will either require redirection of existing resources or hiring of new ones, both of which require additional budgets and costs. In fact, each of the components of integration management bring along unique challenges for in-house developers. Let’s look at some of the top challenges that you might face if you are trying to management your integrations in-house:
High costs and bandwidth
The first challenge under integration management is the high cost and bandwidth issue that most growing SaaS companies face. Since each application which forms a part of the integration ecosystem for a business is different, each one requires a unique approach towards management. This comes with incremental cost for management of each integration along with the bandwidth that goes into it.
For instance, the approach or the API used for integration A might be different from what integration B uses. In such a scenario, a developer will have to separately invest time, effort, bandwidth and monetary resources into fixing any bugs that might arise, or even to monitor smooth functioning. Therefore, since each application is different, integration management in-house becomes significantly cost and bandwidth intensive. Costs are also acquired in training additional resources for maintenance as well as costs for monitoring, testing, and troubleshooting.
Shift of focus from core processes
Managing every integration is like managing a whole product in itself. Consequently, managing multiple integrations for SaaS companies requires a lot of technical staff. However, since integration management is not a revenue generating vertical, hiring developers specifically for this doesn’t make sense. Invariably, this leads to an added KPI for developers, shifting their focus from core processes.
Many developers end up spending more time in authentication, configuration and maintenance of integrations over working on and improving the core processes or functionalities of their product. This leads to a declining product experience where developers are only able to spend a part of their time on adding product improvements and fixing issues. Thus, in-house integration management tends to shift the focus of developers from core product KPIs.
While these are the overall challenges, let’s now look at very specific development challenges that come along for each component of the integration management lifecycle.
Authentication and authorization challenge
Let’s start with the authorization and authentication challenge. When it comes to integrations, authorization and authentication can be a complex process due to a variety of reasons. Integration authorization can be challenging with the complexities of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and OAuth (Open Authorization). Authorizing one application to access data of another can bear security threats if access is not properly controlled.
There are several ways of authentication, including password, biometric, two-factor authentication, certificate authentication, among others. Each integration can employ a different way which not only makes the process complex but also adds compatibility challenges for authentication methods and protocols.
Furthermore, any lapse in successful authentication can lead to a security compromise. If an integration is not authenticated correctly, there might be chances of unauthorized access, posing a major security threat. Authentication if not done properly can result in security breaches or even data leaks across integrations.
Another parameter under authentication stems from control of data. When you are managing authentication in-house, you need to set different requirements for access for different data across multiple or even the same integration. You might need to build and manage a functionality which gives different integrations the flexibility to customize the data available to different users.
Finally, the authorization and authentication measures need to be continually updated, especially when applications change their authentication protocols, which can be time and cost intensive. Furthermore, integration authentication is an important part of user onboarding for the integration and your product. If it is too time consuming or difficult, it can lead to a poor user experience. Therefore, in-house integration authentication poses a security, complexity and experience threat.
Configuration helps ensure that the integrations are set up properly for the end user and are deployed effectively. However, the configuration process is always full of challenges when maintained in-house. Under configuration, leveraging webhooks is extremely important. But, webhooks tend to expire to facilitate elimination of the ones which are not being actively used. This expiration needs to be tackled with re-registration of webhooks from time to time. This suggests that webhooks need to be managed and reviewed to ensure that they are relevant and working.
On the flip side, if webhooks are not used, managing and syncing incremental changes can be technically very difficult. Every application comes up with incremental changes and updates very frequently. A major part of integration configuration is to ensure these incremental changes are synced in real time to provide the customer with the best possible experience. However, this syncing when approached in-house manually, can be extremely time consuming, and might even get missed.
Furthermore, within each integration, there can be different levels of configuration depending on the read/write scope based on what data needs to be shared with the integration. Building these configurations combined with regularly managing and updating them can be an engineering challenge, as it can involve multiple configurations for a single integration.
Finally, when you try to manage configuration in-house, you are responsible for pulling out and exchanging large scale data between systems. At times, systems are unable to maintain the volume of data that comes their way which often results in configuration delays or challenges, making in-house configuration a threat to integration success.
Finally, the authentication and configuration challenge is followed by the integration challenge of maintenance. Even after you successfully configure the integrations, you have to take care of maintenance when handling integration management in-house. For instance, for any integration, the endpoints might change. Whether you get intimation from the application a week in advance or receive changes overnight, about changes in endpoints or parameters, the onus falls on you and your team of developers to ensure a smooth experience.
Furthermore, APIs also keep changing over time. As APIs change, the way your systems or applications will communicate and exchange data also changes. As a developer, it is your responsibility to keep pace with changing or unstable APIs to prevent error messages, broken functionalities and unexpected behaviors for your customers. Invariably, when the old endpoints retire, a new version of the API comes to light, which needs to be deployed for your customers without any disruption in their workflow.
Maintenance of unstable APIs, changing endpoints, etc. is one of the key maintenance issues that takes up significant bandwidth for engineering teams that seek to manage integrations in-house.
At the same time, as applications keep getting updated, integration maintenance calls for testing to ensure smooth functioning. This also requires constant monitoring to quickly identify problems. Many developers believe that lack of bandwidth to monitor integration leads to a lack of visibility into integration challenges on the go, resulting in delayed redressal.
Additionally, each integration can have its own way of sending out error messages which can be vague or abstract. They may be in a language that you don’t understand. As a developer, it will be extremely difficult for you to address a challenge or a bug that you are unable to comprehend. If you are maintaining integrations in-house, you stand at the risk of dealing with errors which you can get through.
Furthermore, maintenance also involves ensuring seamless customer experience. While it may look simple, it can truly be challenging in case an integration fails. Factors like how and when to inform the customer can be tricky. You need to not only fix the breakdown, but also communicate the challenge to the customer and address their queries, which can further add burden on your engineering team to explain the technicalities.
It is also important to note that while many challenges in maintenance like expiration of APIs, or changing permissions are easy to address, they require you to quickly diagnose the root cause of the challenge. This will need you to look into your integration infrastructure which might eat into your development time or take your focus away from building product functionalities.
How Unified API helps
A unified API stands as a single solution to help businesses address the challenges that come along with integration management. Here are a few ways a unified API does so:
Reduced costs and bandwidth
To begin with, a unified APi significantly reduces the costs associated with integration on several levels. On the one hand, it facilitates operational efficiency and takes care of all error handling and troubleshooting which ensures that your engineering team doesn’t have to constantly monitor integration, which can lead to a huge bandwidth drain. On the other hand, hard costs of hiring additional developers and even loss of revenue due to delayed maintenance redressal are reduced, if not completely eliminated.
Similarly, a unified API takes care of end-to-end maintenance not only of errors, but also to ensure that any new updates to the APIs are taken care of before anyone notices, and source API schema changes are fixed instantly. These integration management areas when absorbed by the unified API allow developers to focus solely on building and improve core product functionalities.
Greater security and streamlined authentication
A unified API comes with robust practices that can help improve the integration posture for any business. Practices like least privilege, continuous monitoring and logging, data classification and encryption, infrastructure protection via advanced firewalls, DDoS protection using load balancers, intrusion detection, etc. ensure that authentication which is a major part of integration management is streamlined. At the same time, other security threats are also addressed with these measures.
Easy API management
Integration management becomes a challenge due to the large number of APIs that developers have to manage as the volume of integrations increase. With a unified API, developers have to only learn about the architecture and rules of one API which is easier to understand and configure.
Wrapping up: TL:DR
It is quite evident that while integrations play an important role in SaaS companies, managing them in-house requires significant engineering expertise and costs and might lead to product delays or poor customer experience is not handled effectively. Some of the top challenges include:
- Diversion of focus of engineering team
- Multiple ways of authentication for different applications
- Security risks and threats from unauthorized access due to authentication failure
- Configuration challenges in ensuring real time syncing of incremental changes
- Keeping pace with management and expiration of webhooks
- Monitoring of API changes, endpoint permissions, etc.
While these are some of the top challenges with in-house integration management, partnering with an iPaaS can help address these challenges in many ways with:
- Integration lifecycle support
- Centralized view of all integrations
- High level of security and compliance to prevent unauthorized access
- Maintenance of webhooks
- Effective resource utilization
Thus, it is advisable for B2B SaaS companies to invest in iPaaS to take care of all integration management while your engineering team can focus on product development, functionality improvement and product enhancements.