As a preface, let’s review what an Integration Platform as a Service (iPaas) and a Data as a Service (DaaS) is. iPaaS can best be explained as a middleware product that helps businesses connect and integrate different business applications. The DaaS main product function is providing data in a qualitative manner; it’s mainly about the user getting access to data in a simple and meaningful way. Being that both are from the Software as a Service (SaaS) world they both have the Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), and you would not have to install any service. Across all verticals and company sizes, the challenges remain the same. When connecting any system or partner (i.e. supplier, brand, warehouse, retailer) there is a common goal – finding the sweet spot between providing the connection protocol, business workflow and providing an easy to use data structure.
Disadvantages of iPaas
iPaaS solutions are great and provide tremendous value to organizations, providing users a tool to connect all different types of systems, but like any tool, iPaaS solutions requires knowledge to use effectively. iPaaS systems can connect via many different protocols (HTTP, FTP, SFTP, AS2, etc) and can deal with all types of data formats (EDI, JSON, XML, CSV, etc), but at the end of the day, having an understanding of the data and getting the full value from it is what makes the big difference. Between managing all the different aspects of communication points and then having a complete understanding of all the data transmitted can be a very hefty task for any integration department.
Many platform integrations involve building data structures for specific integrations, and if data does not fit in the structure, it will not get organized properly. This allows integrations to go to market faster, but does not future-proof these integrations. In a world dominated by cloud applications, updates can be pushed frequently and the call for changes in data structures effects many different integration pieces.
The Logicbroker Approach
Logicbroker takes a holistic approach to B2B and commerce integrations. From years of experience in the field, we have seen nearly every type of data model, business flow, communication protocol, and data formats in the space. Our goal is to fuse all of these pieces and combine the flexibility and power of an iPaaS with the data integrity of a DaaS and become the perfect Data Platform as a Service (dPaaS) for the Digital Commerce world and order warehouse/management.
How do we do it?
Our Data Model:
Our data model, which focuses mainly around order lifecycle, is one feature that sets logicbroker apart from an iPaaS system. For all document types (Order, Acknowledgement, Advance Shipment Notice, Invoice, and Inventory), the data models have been created based on a database of multiple trading partners specifications.
One key features of our model is that the hard labor of Data Classification has been done for you. All of the fields from integrating all partners in the logicbroker platform have been classified and put into the canonical model. For Example, when you see “CustomerNumber” this is where you will always see customer number, regardless if you need it or what document format it came from. For every integration, a certification process is done to classify all data coming through the system; much like a cleansing process.
Another key feature with this data model is that it does not change. It is the same data model used to create all file formats- both inbound and outbound. We ensure that no data is dropped, so that you can pull or push any important documents through our system; and if you need more information in the future, it is always there for your flexibility.
Our data model gets “smarter” with every integration. With each new integration, rules are updated to improve the data model so that it can handle different inputs or outputs previously unseen and put them in the standard format.
As is the case with any best-in-class iPaaS solution, the key is to maintain flexible business processes and workflows. The workflow engine that runs on our received documents can be triggered based on the document status (Submitted, Ready to Ship, Ready to Invoice, etc), run on a schedule, or data can be handled in real time. This allows Logicbroker to meet the business flow needs of our partners. For example, if an order needs to go into a warehouse management system and an accounting system, the workflow will be configured to send to each in the required system’s format.
Of course, Logicbroker has the flexibility to handle many different types of flow, but like the data model, we have a standard set of statuses that ensure one partner’s flow does not affect another’s, and that regardless of the flow, the documents can be tracked and reported against in a standardized way.
For example, if an order is being sent from a retailer like Best Buy, that order may go to four different systems and may have four different workflows that run on that one document. We manage those workflows by fitting them into our standard “milestone” workflows. These milestone workflows indicate important events for the workflow, such as when a new document (shipment, invoice) is received and linked to the original order. This enables a consistent experience across all partners in our system and ensures all monitoring and reporting tools can be leveraged.
Our Communication Formats and Protocols:
Again, as with any good iPaaS solution, you need the flexibility to map and process different document formats and communicate them through various protocols. What sets our tools apart from a traditional iPaaS is that our tools are developed around our standard data model. Our format mapping tools are built around our standard data model and standard flows. Our standard data model revolves around our API.
When logicbroker needs to map an XML file to a CSV, we will review both to see where it sits in the data model and our flows. We do not do a direct mapping from XML to CSV, but instead we follow a process mapping the XML to our standard API model, and then we map our standard API model to the CSV. This gives both parties the flexibility to change to another format at any point. So if that CSV format needs to change to JSON it can easily be updated. In addition to these formats, the connectivity flexibility is built around it as well.
The ability to add workflows to send documents to different configured protocols can be done simply by adding a new workflow or creating a new endpoint. So, if you need to send an EDI document via AS2, it is as simple as configuring a workflow to send the document type in EDI format via AS2. All connection tests are available during the configuration, and these workflows can be configured per partner or partner to partner relationship. Even if you need data transmitted and results provided in real time; our standard Rest API endpoints with customized validation rules and responses are always accessible automatically with no workflow configuration. Or custom API endpoints can be created by utilizing custom request and custom responses. This can be useful if you want to utilize an existing API integration with another system. Let’s say there is an integration you did to pull orders from Magento using the SOAP API. We can create an endpoint that takes the request, maps it to our data model and provides the same responses that you would expect from Magento. The only thing that would change is the HTTP endpoint that you communicate with. This will help aggregate your API connectors so you can connect to multiple systems using one endpoint and format.
The greatest part of all these features is that there is no code deployments necessary. All of these features are available as configurations.
Our Service and Tools:
The problem with many managed services is that they are typically run by small companies that have very specific knowledge to the platform they service. This can be a problem as your company grows and scales to an enterprise level. However, our managed service is different in the respect that our platform was developed for ease and accessibility; it doesn’t take a PhD to configure a partner. In addition to a sound data model, there is an information accessibility model. Anytime a new issue or process never seen before is encountered, the resolution is posted in an internal knowledgebase. Information is not reliant on one individual, but managed by our internal community.
One of our biggest advantages is that our support team and partners use the same monitoring tools. When a notification is received stating that an order has failed to process, we will use the same event notification that our partner received via email. This is where our managed service can be very flexible; we can provide you with the direction and a full informational knowledgebase to manage and support your own integrations or you can elect to rely on our dedicated support staff.
dPaaS solutions are a new breed that help fuse the new integration as a service model with data, emphasizing the utmost importance around a sound data model. When you classify something you gain power over it. Once you are able to identify what a property is and what its properties are, you can then use it for analysis. In a world where data is king it is important that data be organized and treated as a king as well.
It is often missed when iPaaS systems or custom development systems are used for integration. Clearly they can be implemented with all this in mind, but from our experience we have seen them as an opportunity to quickly integrate disparate systems on a 1-1 basis, especially where speed is the goal.
Of course, the logicbroker platform fits in more of a niche market around supply chain data and order management, but the same ideas should apply when choosing an integration solution regardless of market. Every company has different needs, and it is from our perspective to provide flexibility around those different needs. We have built integrations with iPaaS platforms with other managed services and partner’s internal development teams. We have the data and the information, all you have to do is pick what pieces you want!