In business, there’s always time that can be saved and dollars that can be better spent. The more fluidly and efficiently the mechanism runs, the further it will go.
Business leaders know that the gears that comprise the mechanism include more than just the right people in the right positions. Now, more than ever, technology plays a massive role in day-to-day operations. The right digital tools don’t only assist the human capital that powers products and services. The right digital tools provide their own capabilities that allow people to do more and companies to do better.
APIs have emerged as a critical component in an organization’s operations.
To more fully understand just how critical APIs are for an organization’s growth, let’s consider just one of the key features of APIs: they can be relatively easy to create and manage. This has been leveraged across the web, by independent developers looking to create successful APIs, to major corporations like Twitter looking to expand their reach by opening access to their platform via external APIs.
In this article, we’ll explore some reasons why your organization should build an API, provide you with tools for developing APIs, and share best practices for API development.
Before we go too far, let’s start by defining what an API is.
What is an API?
For those who could use it, here’s a quick refresher on APIs—not just what they are, but how they work.
An API, or application programming interface, is a set of instructions or functions that allow two systems to exchange data or functionality.
First, a call is made to a data source—think of this as a database that houses information that an application or user would want. The call is made with the API, and just as a keypad on a phone would operate as the interface for making a phone call, the API is the interface for one service to access data from another.
Again, just as a phone number would act as a format that defines the terms of the communication in a phone call (who is being called), an API uses a specific format to specify the type of request being made between systems; in this case the request is either to Get, Post, Put, or Delete information.
After the request is processed, the API sends a response in the form of a successful execution.
There are two main types of APIs:
- REST (representational state transfer) APIs
- SOAP (simple object access protocol) APIs
Just as the process of how APIs work is an easy one to understand, the argument for why every company should be using APIs is an easy one to make.
3 reasons why you should build an API
The way in which APIs are transforming how businesses do business might make some nostalgic for how social media revolutionized how people connected with each other and the world.
The social media model was simple: make making connections easy. With Facebook, for example, Person A created an account and then connected with two friends, who themselves were each connected to four friends. In a matter of minutes, and without much effort, Person A had ten connections.
Similarly, APIs make making connections easy, though in this case instead of connecting people, they connect apps or services.
One platform, let’s say a local bookstore, provides on its website a way for users to not only browse their inventory, but, through an API, also browse the inventory of a warehouse from which the local bookstore can order if it does not have a desired title in stock. In this example, the API connects customer with product, which results in a profit for the local bookstore.
It’s difficult to imagine a business that would not benefit from utilizing APIs. Let’s look at the 3 top reasons for building an API.
Related: Why API integration is critical
1. APIs can increase usage of your platform
Web users are increasingly sophisticated in their tastes for services that are not only
intuitive, but also anticipate their needs and preferences. A robust ecosystem of APIs on your platform is necessary if you’re going to keep these users—and the suite of app allegiances they each carry—engaged with your product. This makes for a more used (and “stickier”) service.
Evernote is a cloud-based note taking and organizing app that allows users to create, customize, label, search, and send notes. This can be a useful service to many to have all of one’s notes expertly curated and easily accessible through just one app. However, most user footprints extend across many apps and, therefore, their data does not exist in a vacuum. Through APIs, the user can distribute certain notes via their Gmail, Slack, or Microsoft Teams accounts. This functionality retains the Evernote user instead of losing him or her to another service.
2. APIs can connect your people and streamline your business processes
When integrated into your business applications and processes, APIs provide efficiency and connectivity across lines of business. This translates to solutions for your clients.
When your company’s help desk receives a ticket through ServiceNow, depending on the source or level of urgency on the ticket, it can be sent to the appropriate individuals in the organization. If the ticket came from a prospective client, an API can facilitate communication with the client’s primary contact in sales. And if the ticket needs immediate action, an API can prioritize the request through a platform like Slack.
3. APIs can satisfy your tech-savvy audience, and drive your revenue
Once you’ve built a product people love, you can capitalize on their enthusiasm by providing premium features through APIs.
Canva, a cloud-based SaaS, is a graphic design platform that allows users to create and publish a wide range of visually-enhanced content, from social media ads to résumés. Canva offers generous functionality with its free version, within which many apps are connected via APIs (e.g. users can post their creations easily to Instagram or MailChimp). But Canva’s premium features, such as advanced photo editing tools, exist behind a paywall. Many Canva users will want to use the platform to create professional-level designs, and will pay for the API that will allow them to do it.
Related: 4 reasons to adopt API management
List of potential tools for developing APIs
As APIs have exploded onto the digital transformation scene, so have the tools used to create, monitor, and test them. The following services and platforms offer a range of API development capabilities and tools, and are provided below in one of three categories.
No-code development tools:
Low-code development tools:
API testing services:
Every good build starts with a solid plan, so let’s take a look at some best practices in API development.
Best practices for building an API
Here are are some of the most important considerations in API development:
A secure API is one built with authentication and authorization protocols to protect data at the receiving end of the API call, control who can gain access to the API, and limit the amount of data transferred. Three common methods of authentication are HTTP Basic, API Keys, and OAuth.
It’s important to provide clear and comprehensive instructions for developers who want to use or integrate with your API. Your documentation should act as a reference manual, and include the functions, classes, return types, and arguments of your API.
Need for speed
A major incentive for using REST APIs as opposed to SOAP is their potential for speed. Some APIs will need to return responses much faster than others—a dashboard that displays real-time stock market data, for example—and knowing this prior to building the API will determine which API type to develop.
Capping the number of calls (or “requests”) a user can make to your API over a period of time (either seconds, minutes, days, weeks, or months) will ensure that the call volume doesn’t slow down performance by exceeding demand expectations and therefore clogging your servers or overwhelming your apps.
You can build in data logging as a feature of your API to capture requests made (the popularity of the API) and responses failed (the need to fix the API). The more you apply performance data to your API development, the more successful you’ll be!
A critical step prior to launch is testing the API for reliability, performance and security. Developers can test their APIs with their own code or, as mentioned in the previous section, can use services such as BlazeMeter and Loader.
Need a better way to manage your APIs?
Workato, the leader in integration-led automation, offers an API management platform that allows your team to manage the full lifecycle of APIs, both internally and for external partners.
You can see the platform in action and better understand how it can help your organization by scheduling a demo with one of our automation advisors!