iPaaS and iSaaS: A Brief History of an Acronymic Sin

Acronym (noun): an overused, inaccessible linguistic shortcut that lazily shifts responsibility from the communicator to the audience. Acronyms dull understanding and slow adoption of really useful tools and strategies.

Consider immunizations. Health advocates are late to realize that a doctor’s overuse of antiseptic and nonsensical acronyms produces three clear results:

  • Doctors save time in exam room (unless I’m there, challenging every acronym)
  • Super Doc presents as Exalted Expert
  • Kids aren’t immunized, because parents are skeptical about what Doctor doesn’t take the time to explain, and about the alphabet soup of syringe attacks coming at their little boo boo

The world of software integration and automation often reminds me of the many “Doc knows best; just ask him” moments I’ve experienced since becoming a father.

Integration practitioners like Left Hook need to work very hard to avoid inaccessible acronyms that save us time, make us sound expert and important, but leave the potential client skeptical about what we do.

Among our greatest acronymic sins is the constant use of “iPaaS,” short for “integration platform as a service.” You’d think the term was Old English, given how rampant its usage is on our own website.

But after hundreds of client calls in 2016, we’ve realized that iPaaS is more Old Elvish than common tongue.  Even among deeply technical software professionals we talk to daily, the term gets more blank stares than head nods.

In fact, non-recognition has gotten so awkward we now use “integration platform” instead. Amazingly, it turns out that actually saying these “long” words saves us tons of time explaining the shortcut acronym.

Ok, we also accept that like many software terms, “iPaaS” isn’t going anywhere. Sometimes speaking Elvish is a necessary evil.

Since any fool can “know” while the point is to understand, let’s understand.

iPaaS: A Brief Acronymic History

In preparing this post,  a history of the term “Integration Platform as a Service” eluded my searches. Thankfully my undergraduate history degree (earned +20 years ago and rarely used since 1996) highly qualifies me to practice etymological techno-folklore. So here we go.

Using Google, I searched for the term “iPaaS” and “integration platform as a service” on a year-by-year basis beginning in 2000. No worthy hits appeared until November 2008, when a Philadelphia-area company named Boomi released Atomsphere, the first cloud-based integration platform with a subscription business model.

Curious to know if Boomi takes credit for coining the term “iPaaS,” I tweeted to Boomi co-founder and CTO Rick Nucci. He kindly replied with this helpful nugget:

Rick’s tweet confirmed what I found via Google. It appears that Boomi’s branding of Atmosphere as “the industry’s first integration platform as a service” is the first reference to the full “integration platform as a service” term. (Here’s the press release, marketing brochure, and another version of the press release.)

Absent new information (sure to hit my inbox), it shall be canonical: Boomi coined the phrase “iPaaS” in 2008.

If you know of an earlier use please play madman to my professor, and I’ll update this post ASAP.

Gartner: iPaaS Gains Industrial Strength

Gartner Research is a kingmaker in the world of middleware. Its research is widely cited and heavily publicized, none more so than its famous “Magic Quadrant” (abbreviated here as “MQ”) approach to understanding trends.

According to Wikipedia, Gartner published its inaugural integration-focused Magic Quadrant in 2009. Massimo Pezzini, among Gartner’s top software integration experts, first employed the term “iPaaS” at Gartner’s Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit in late November 2011.

His presentation noted that “iPaaS is an emerging form of delivering application and data integration capabilities that Gartner identified in 2010.” (I can’t cite his “identification,” because much of Gartner’s proprietary knowledge is behind a paywall.)

In January 2014, Gartner released its first MQ for the term “iPaaS,” as covered by Solution Review:

Integration by any other name would smell as sweet. Connecticut-based analyst Gartner has just released an inaugural Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) and a new technology category is born!

Despite this hoopla, Pezzini recognized that the term “iPaaS” was more a repackaging than a revolution. “[iPaaS] stands on the shoulders of giants,” he wrote in 2010. “The e-commerce B2B integration-as-a-service market, well established for many years, was a precursor.”

iSaaS: Citizen Integrators Get Their Own Acronym

Most tech goes DIY eventually, and integration platforms are no exception. As early as 2009 Gartner recognized the concept of “codeless programming” and the rise of the Citizen Developer:

Gartner defines a citizen developer as a user operating outside of the scope of enterprise IT and its governance who creates new business applications for consumption by others either from scratch or by composition…
By 2014, citizen developers will build at least 25 percent of new business applications.

In a flash of two years, citizen-oriented platforms emerged as “integration software as a service,” or the even more awful “iSaaS.”

Gartner differentiates the two types of integration tools this way:

  • iPaaS is for more technical “developers”
  • iSaaS is for less technical “citizen integrators”

(Do we really need two classes of software, and thus two acronyms? A subject for another post.)

I’ll end this part with an insightful, common-sense quote from Sachin Gadre:

Given the common cloud integration capabilities required by both, it makes sense to implement a single integration platform for both developers and citizen integrators that provides support for complex and simple DIY (do-it-yourself) approaches. Citizen Integrators can benefit from re-using capabilities built by developers. A consolidated approach towards integration will help both the parties otherwise integration silos will permeate with the organizations. (LinkedIn Pulse, 1/6/2016)

Conclusion: What’s in an Acronym?

We talk with dozens of citizen integrators and software leaders every week. You’d think that we’d only need to explain what “iPaaS” means to the citizens. But when pitching our managed integration services to CTOs and product managers of SaaS and app companies, the acronym gets in our way, taking more time to explain it then to simply use simpler language.

Since 2017, Left Hook is resolved to avoiding unhelpful technical jargon like iPaaS. Instead, we’ll try to meet our clients “where they are at” with clear, simple language.

This effort will be ever more important as our business matures and we expand our integration services to meet the needs of “citizens” and developers alike.

About the Author

Tom Elliott

Tom is the Co-Founder and CEO of Left Hook.

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