Connectivity is a beautiful thing. We are connected to the world in ways we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. This inter-connectedness has given rise to application programming interfaces (APIs), with companies including Salesforce, eBay and Amazon paving the way for the modern web API over the past decade.
So what is an API? At the most basic level, it is a tool that allows applications to talk to other applications. A common metaphor to explain how APIs work is ordering a meal at a restaurant. At some point, you’ve probably been to a restaurant where the waiter takes your order and then yells it, in what seems like another language, to the cook. The cook then prepares precisely what you ordered. An API is similar to a waiter. Just as the waiter uses a language to get the cook to create the meal you requested, an API employs a specific language that allows you to access data from an application.
According to Gartner, “by 2018, more than 50% of B2B collaboration will take place through Web APIs.” It’s easy to see why. With an API, you can:
- Generate revenue: By providing third parties with an API, those third parties can create complementary applications. This opens up opportunities to gain additional customers and make your content or services accessible to a wider audience. Some companies even opt to sell their APIs.
- Save time: APIs allow you to consolidate reporting and data entry across multiple applications. Rather than log in to multiple applications, you can use an API to input, consolidate and view data and information from multiple sources, all in one place.
- Streamline operations: APIs make it easy to use and share data across an organization. For example, businesses can improve sales operations by using an API to consolidate information such as CRM, customer support and inventory data. This encourages the sharing of information across departments and improves operations.
There are many ways to take advantage of APIs. You can publish your own API so that others can leverage or use your data/content. For example, the Peak 10 cloud portal API allows our customers to view data about their backups, bandwidth, power and information without having to login to the site. We also have an API for our disaster recovery cloud so that customers can access pertinent cloud and bandwidth data.
You can also use another company’s published API. For example, if you need a feature for your website or mobile application, there’s likely an appropriate API. Google offers an API that makes it simple to add Google Maps to any website or mobile application.
It also provides a range of services and utilities for data visualization, map manipulation and directions.
At Peak 10, we use APIs internally for a lot of reasons but primarily because they save us time. APIs allow us to access important data and information from various programs without requiring us to open them and search for what we need. This saves hours, and sometimes even days. For example, we use an API provided by our partners EMC, VMware and Cisco to add capacity to our cloud environment in a matter of minutes and in an automated fashion (including any error checking and validation we require).
Previously, this process would take one of our engineers a minimum of three to four hours of work.
By enabling the sharing of data between internal systems and outside programs, APIs can do the hard work for you — and generate numerous business benefits.
Gartner, Hype Cycle for Application Architecture, July 2015