Whenever we work with someone else, we need to integrate.
Before software, that often meant aligning processes and timelines, or at least one part of the process.
Now, we use thousands of software tools in our work. We change tools frequently. And we use different tools than others in our team, others in our company, or other companies we work with.
Integration tools have existed for almost as long as work management software itself, and are more important than ever. But there are also more options than ever before.
This post breaks down six different categories of integration tools to help you identify the right one for you.
Integration-platform-as-a-service or iPaaS tools, are, as the name suggests, platforms for integrating different software. They’re designed for the technical user, often someone whose only job is to manage integrating tools within their company.
iPaas tools often provide integrations with legacy and enterprise software, and are focused on building complicated workflows involving multiple tools across large organizations. They are often used for complicated “process management”, and are based on the common trigger-action model: if this happens, then do that.
These platforms are also flexible — they often have robust APIs — but they are technical, and expensive. They’re powerful platforms for big companies who have the resources to dedicate people to working only on integration.
If you’ve read our post on the Integration Triangle, these are tools that have deep functionality and a wide breadth of integrations, if you’ve got the technical ability to manage them.
Integration-software-as-a-service, or iSaaS, is kind of iPaaS-lite. The software is similar: it deals with a wide variety of tools and use cases, and is based on the trigger-action model of building automations.
Speaking of automations, you’ll see the term used a lot more in reference to iSaaS tools. They are all about automating actions, as long as the processes or workflows aren’t too complicated.
These solutions are simpler to use, but less powerful. They typically aren’t as focused on enterprise-level tools, and don’t require technical expertise. On our Integration Triangle, these tools offer breadth and ease of use, but much less depth.
As the business world moves toward simpler, cloud-based tools, iSaaS providers will become even more popular.
Tools with automation
Work management tools across industries are realizing the power of automating routine tasks, and beginning to integrate their own automation features. Butler for Trello, Rules in Asana, Github Actions, Zendesk Automations, and Automation for Jira are all examples of automation tools being integrated natively.
And who doesn’t like automation? Automations are quicker and more reliable than humans, and save us from boring, time-consuming tasks.
The limitations with automation built into tools is that they are inward-focused, aimed at automating tasks within a specific tool. They tend to also be trigger-action type automations — one-directional, in the style of “if a happens, do b” — and are limited by the functionality of the tool they are built in.
These internal work management tool automations tend to be most powerful when paired with other methods of workflow management, and will no doubt play an important role in how people use work management tools in future.
These are integrations built by one tool provider to provide functionality in another tool.
For the most part, these are limited to being able to view details in another tool (viewing a task description in Slack, for example), or completing limited actions (liking or commenting on a task from Slack).
Native integrations can help provide visibility on what’s happening in one tool from another. The problem is that often the tools are in competition, and there is little incentive for each to work with the other.
That, or the integration isn’t viewed as part of the core business, and so is neglected or unpopular. Sometimes limited functionality can be more frustrating than not existing at all.
Single suite options are focused on building (or acquiring) tools to encompass the entirety of a worker’s needs. Microsoft is the best current example of this strategy, offering tools that span a wide breadth of modern workers’ needs.
There are often many benefits to working with a single tool provider. Integrations tend to be more robust, learning in one tool helps in others, and security concerns can be focused on a single provider.
Others besides Microsoft continue to pursue the strategy, and it is often a natural step when a product reaches maturity.
Hubspot, Atlassian, Salesforce, Zoho, and Zendesk are all other examples of companies moving in this direction.
There are a couple difficulties in the single suite model, however:
- Teams and departments within organizations rarely overhaul or introduce new tools at the same time, making it difficult to fully adopt a single ecosystem.
- A single provider rarely provides what is considered the best-in-class solution for a particular area. Adopting all the products from one provider means compromising in several areas, something teams and departments aren’t willing to do.
Industries go through cycles of consolidation, innovation, and breaking apart, and the integration space is no different.
Two-way / direct sync
We’ve left this section for last as this is where we feel Unito fits.
The companies in this category provide deep, two-way integrations which do not require technical expertise to set up.
They tend to be somewhere between iPaaS and iSaaS solutions — easier to use than iPaaS, but much deeper than iSaaS.
They provide deeper functionality than native integrations, yet allow users to choose the tools they want to use without being locked into a particular ecosystem or suite.
The challenge in this space is building breadth. Often companies in this space are purpose-built for a particular use case or tool pairing.
These tools, along with iSaaS, will continue to rise in popularity as the need for integration becomes increasingly important among modern work management tools.
The landscape is growing so choose wisely
The integration landscape grows daily. As work management tools continue to be developed for more and more specific use cases, and larger companies adopt more modern tools, integration tools will become even more important.
As the complexity of the work we do grows, the importance of making conscious decisions about the tools we use grows as well.
The common thread between these types of tools is that they offer different solutions for how to manage your work.
In fact, workflow management is becoming a category of its own. If you haven’t thought about workflow management in the context of your personal work, the work of your team, and the work of your company, now is a good time to start.
The tools you choose shape your work, and the work of your organization.
When chosen correctly, integration tools allow modern workers to do their best work.