As businesses look to interconnect their technology platforms to prevent duplication and the development of information silos, APIs have become a go-to solution. But what exactly are APIs? What are their benefits? And where do they fit into your wider business strategy?
In this guide, we’re shining a layman’s light on APIs, covering what they are, how they work, and how they can benefit your business. Use the quick links below to navigate or read on for the complete guide below.
- What Are APIs and Why Are They Important?
- Three Types of API Explained
- What Are the Benefits of APIs?
What Are APIs and Why Are They Important?
API stands for application programming interface. They’re used to connect applications and technology platforms. Think of them as middlemen, joining the dots between apps and software that businesses use every day.
With an API, developers can create new interactions between applications. This makes things simpler and more intuitive for end users – streamlining processes, transactions, and everything in between.
To give you a clear understanding of what APIs are, it’s worth breaking down what ‘application’, ‘programming’, and ‘interface’ mean in relation to one another.
Let’s start with ‘application’. These are the apps or software platforms businesses use day-to-day to manage operations and communicate with customers, suppliers, and partners.
Next, ‘programming’ refers to the development stage of API. Developers write applications through a programming interface, designing and creating solutions that bridge the gap between apps and software solutions.
Lastly, ‘interface’ is all about how software works in conjunction with other applications. It’s concerned solely with the technical aspect of how applications marry up.
From this breakdown, it’s easy to discern the value of APIs from an operational standpoint. They effectively dictate how applications interact, communicate, and function.
Though there are different APIs for specific functions, they all share common elements. This includes:
- Tools – Tools refer to the components required to build new programs. They’re used for writing the applications themselves.
- Procedures – Also known as routines, procedures refer to the function a program performs.
- Protocols – Protocols define the characteristics and format of a program, outlining its purpose and how data is shared between two or more applications.
Three Types of API Explained
While APIs perform similar functions, a handful of unique variations have emerged whose characteristics mean they’re suited to certain applications and uses. Let’s take a look at three of the main types of APIs and where they’re typically used.
RPC stands for remote procedure call. This is the earliest form of API and also the simplest, since it involves executing a block of code on another server. Through an RPC API, businesses can request a service from a program on another server, even when the network details aren’t known. This is ideal for remote systems management. RPC APIs lend themselves to microservices for the transmission of short, lightweight messages without weighing down the network.
A SOAP API stands for simple object access protocol. It’s a highly specific API type that’s typically used by applications interacting with sensitive datasets, e.g., those held within a financial institution. Reliant on XML and programming, it offers a higher level of security than other APIs, making it the ideal solution for interactions between systems housing sensitive or expensive data and assets.
Since they provide a high level of security, SOAP APIs are often used for communicating sensitive data between different services and systems. They’re also commonly used for applications that require verification from the user.
In 2000, businesses needed a lightweight, uniform, and flexible way for different services and systems to communicate – and SOAP APIs with their inflexible structure couldn’t accommodate these requirements adequately. That’s when REST emerged.
Among the most popular and widely used types of API, REST APIs are used predominantly used for public web services and applications. REST stands for representational state transfer, and it’s a type of API that developers use in conjunction with HTTP functions. In layman’s terms, that means it applies to apps and web servers where a user makes a request, like a search, for example.
REST APIs are based on four HTTP commands, including GET, PUT, POST and DELETE. Essentially, they’re used for returning relevant resources to a user when a certain request is made within an application or online.
There are, of course, other APIs out there, but these are typically the most common solutions leveraged by modern enterprises with REST APIs being the preferred option for the vast majority of businesses.
What Are the Benefits of APIs?
As businesses big and small begin to tap into the potential of APIs, their uses and applications are becoming more wide-ranging. But what benefits and value can you expect from leveraging API services? Let’s take a closer look.
These days, businesses rely on a whole swathe of tools and applications as part of their day-to-day operations. And this can be problematic, particularly when data and information is duplicated across two or more systems – leading to inconsistencies that can affect the service you provide to your customers.
By implementing an API, however, you can more easily integrate the various applications used by your team. Interconnection via an API is ideal for streamlining processes and preventing duplication, boosting things like productivity and data accuracy in the process.
Many modern enterprises couldn’t survive without efficient automation. It removes the need for manual tasks, saving time and money, and boosting consistency. But automation doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it relies on the efficient interconnection of technologies to autonomously support a business’ operations.
That’s where APIs come in. They ensure effortless transitions between connected applications and platforms, facilitating enhanced workflow automation. That means you can automate more processes across all areas of your business, for improved usability, efficiency, and process management.
In today’s digital-first landscape, innovation is the key to consistent business success and growth. By utilising APIs, you can access cutting-edge technologies as and when they emerge, building a solid foundation which empowers your team to embrace innovative new strategies and working practices.
APIs present your business with the opportunity to lean on software that’s, by its nature, disruptive and innovative. Not only does this allow you to adapt to changing customer requirements fast, but it also establishes you as a progressive player in your sector, with the potential to open new avenues of growth and progression.
Improves the Customer Experience
One of the most significant advantages of leveraging API is the improvements it can bring to the customer experience. With consumers demanding more from businesses on all fronts, providing a top-notch offering and experience is essential to staying ahead of the competition and maintaining profitability. From providing your sales reps with mobile access to customer and product information to photo-capture deliveries for your drivers, there are so many innovative applications around to enhance customer service.
And with the ability to interact with customers in new, flexible ways, APIs offer near endless possibilities for firms to enhance the experience they afford customers, clients, and partners.
API might sound complex and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. By focusing on your business objectives and trusting in the right third parties, you can leverage this powerful value-add technology to your advantage.
At Intact, we recognise the potential of API integration, and have made it a central part of our business management offering. Giving you the solutions and tools to utilise the technology to its fullest, our products will support your business as you transition to an API-centric operational strategy. For more information or to speak to our experts, visit the homepage or get in touch today.