What does API mean for business?

In our ever more connected world, it is frustrating, inconvenient, unhelpful and inefficient when things don’t work well together. Take the applications, software and programs we use on a daily basis, for instance.

Each has its own particular job to do, accessing, processing and presenting specific data in a way that’s usable and friendly. However, if the information that each of them creates isn’t digestible by another, finding ways to transfer it between them is likely to be a tedious, time-consuming and costly ‘cut and paste’ operation.

On the other hand, if you are able to connect these disparate apps, software and programs, data becomes a transferable digital asset that can be unlocked, released from one application and passed to another.

That connector is API.

What is API?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. It’s a piece of programming that enables two apps not specifically designed to work together to seamlessly interact and exchange information. In other words, Application Programming Interface is the ‘missing link’ that enables information to flow frictionlessly between two points without the need to ‘cut and paste’ data.

That makes it much easier to overcome the barriers both within and between businesses and organisations that previously prevented content, resources and data from flowing across their different systems.

What does API mean from a business perspective?

Among other benefits, it makes it much easier to develop software to automate tedious, laborious and time-consuming tasks. Consequently, what used to take hours can now be achieved in seconds, creating commercial processes that are much more streamlined and efficient. As a result, people are better able to do their job and to achieve more with less, improving productivity and reducing costs.

Using API to connect one product with another also means you are better able to leverage the power of both, allowing you to develop new, innovative products that help improve the experience of customers or clients. For example, they no longer have to waste time and effort switching between applications, and can do things they weren’t able to do before, like having greater visibility of the whole delivery process so they can track their orders from warehouse to final delivery.

And by giving customers new ways to engage with you digitally, companies are able to foster brand loyalty, as well as extend their reach.

Just as importantly, API’s capacity to release information and make it universally available does much to facilitate data as a service (DaaS), enabling it be to gathered from multiple sources and provided on demand.

At a practical day to day level that we all familiar with, this is the difference between being able to view prices from 10 different stores on a comparison site as opposed to having to visit each store in turn. Or having a Smartphone app that is able to bring you the latest updated information when you hit the refresh button because an API is able to talk with a remote server.

Growth in API software

APIs give consumers the building blocks they need to consistently and efficiently aggregate and access new and disparate services, the impact of which on individual businesses can be considerable. Expedia.com, for instance, generates 90% of its income through APIs that allow people to book flights, cars and hotels through third party websites, while eBay gets 60% of its revenue thanks to APIs that allow it to list its auctions and items for sale on other websites.

Not surprisingly, given their power shape-shift several pieces of software into a tailored tool capable of delivering enterprise level processes and services, there has been a significant rise in the number of APIs available – up 13 times since 2007. According to programmableweb.com, who track the evolution of the new ‘API economy’, there are more than 12,000 APIs being offered on the market. There are, for example, more than 100 APIs for Google alone, the most popular of which is Google Maps.

Some are predicting that we will see 1 million available APIs by 2017!

Despite such recent growth, APIs are not new and have been widely adopted over the last ten years. Built using the REST architecture that underpins the web, they were, however, the preserve of large visionary enterprises, who used them to increase application functionality, improve business processes, or as a conduit for passing data to customers and partners. However, in what is now a second phase of API industrialisation, highly dynamic companies are coming to market with business models that are entirely based around providing frictionless access to data and backend processes.

Among these are some of the world’s fastest-growing and most disruptive organisations, like Netflix, Airbnb, Spotify and Uber, whose success has been largely dependent on using APIs to share data and grow their reach.

With the accelerating proliferation of devices, not just mobile phones, but smart watches, TVs and wearable sensors, API adoption will be driven ever deeper. Increasingly, even the smallest businesses in traditional sectors will be turning to APIs to connect with customers and partners so as to better meet their changing expectations. They will also be able to expand into markets they may never previously have considered, all without the need for expensive, bespoke and time-consuming programming.

With APIs, the technical needs of the developer have come together with the needs of the marketer and end user. Digital assets acquire momentum as they are given new and greater value beyond the four walls of a business, as partners and stakeholders of a company, as well as external developers, find innovative ways to use them.

Integration platforms like Zapier, which “connect the apps you use to easily move data between them”, ‘democratise access’ even further by making it faster and easier for users or system administrators to set-up new API connections between applications, without technical expertise.

APIs and CRM

With greater volumes of data, and growing numbers of communication channels, being able to capture and organise information about people and companies from disparate sources is key to creating efficient operations. Not surprisingly, in a competitive environment, companies that are better able manage their customer relationships are more likely to succeed.

That’s why companies from the smallest through to large enterprise organisations are increasingly adopting CRM systems as a way to grow and harvest high volumes of customer data so as to deliver effective messaging to ever more segmented markets. For instance, with the right APIs in place you can:

  • Embed a CRM application into a mail client like Outlook, avoiding the need to constantly switch between applications when you want to send messages to customers or clients
  • Automatically route new leads from a website directly into your CRM software for immediate follow-up by your sales team
  • Pull financial information from an accounting package like QuickBooks into your CRM, so you can quickly review outstanding transactions and balances
  • Generate new revenue streams from your existing data sources

Act! and API integration

When Swiftpage bought Act! from software firm Sage in 2013, thanks to its rich functionality and cost-effective pricing, it was already a well-established CRM program among US businesses, according to the CRM Switch 2013 Survey, particularly among smaller companies with fewer than 100 employees.

With the launch of Act! v18.1, we have introduced new features and services that recognise this new API reality. So, by using Act! Connect — an API that offers expert support and resources — we have made it easy for our subscribers to integrate Act! with hundreds of popular business tools, which means they can work both smarter and faster.

So, far from being just another technical tweak, APIs have a real strategic significance, particularly so with the Internet of Things (IoT) all set to digitise countless products and services. With API-first design introducing a new era in software engineering, we are very much at a game-changing moment, the effects of which will ripple across businesses and organisations everywhere.