How APIs Affect Your Business
You've likely heard us mention API development in recent posts, along with terms like integrations, automations, and high-functionality development. Incidentally, all of these terms fit together, but how is this technology affecting you as a business owner?
Today, we'll be describing API development in a simple, bare-bones way, how it fits into automating your business practices, and how it can affect your business (or is already affecting it!).
WHAT is an API?
The term API in an acronym for "Application Programming Interface", which is a fancy technical term for... a connector! That's right, an API simplified is really a connector— it connects what's happening on YOUR computer to what's stored on OTHER computers. Or, in other words, it connects data between two different devices or applications.
So, as a connector, an API is the "middleman" between two different digital places. The company Mulesoft came out with an amazing video that simply describes APIs— in the video, they compare an API to a waiter in a restaurant.
If you think about it, a waiter in a restaurant is a middleman. They take your order, give it to the kitchen, and then bring out your food for you. An API essentially does the same thing— it takes your computer's request, sends it to the device or application you're requesting data from, and brings the data back to you. Voila, a middleman!
APIs in Practice
APIs are very often the best solutions for connecting data, and so thousands of APIs are already being used by tens of thousands of website owners! You likely use APIs often in your day-to-day browsing, and your business website or application might well be set up with at least one API already.
Again from Mulesoft's video, a great example of a typical API is a third-party travel-booking website, like Expedia, Kayak, or Booking.com. When we visit one of these booking websites and search for the best available flight plans, APIs are what allow us to see the different available options, times, and costs. This is because various airlines' data are being pulled from their internal databases with APIs, and they're brought back to display on the booking website we're visiting.
A very common API example, especially for business owners, is the Stripe API. Stripe is one of the most-used credit card processing applications available, and using the Stripe API to connect Stripe to your web application allows you to use all of Stripe's functionalities, like accepting and validating payments, tracking payments and customers, and maintaining subscriptions and recurring charges. With the Stripe API, you can use all of these pre-built functionalities quickly and easily.
The alternative to using an online payment API like Stripe is to create your own credit processing application, which would take a LOT more time and money to do, and it would likely be less efficient and robust than Stripe, because, let's face it— Stripe's whole company specializes in online credit card processing, and they're really good at it. There's usually no point in spending a bunch of time and resources to create a new application when an affordable and efficient API is already available for use.
But, where do these APIs come from? APIs that are already available for use have setup resources that can be found online by developers. If you need a connection between data, and a specific API for your needs doesn't already exist, then your developer can develop and set up a new API themselves.
Common Business APIs
APIs are being used to connect business websites and applications constantly. Below is a compilation of different applications with which APIs are often used to connect data:
► Point of Sale systems
► Payroll applications
► Management applications
► Marketing applications
► E-commerce applications
► Client Communications and Email
► Onboarding applications
► Appointment and Scheduling software
► Accounting and Payroll applications
► Order and Shipping applications
► Label Creation applications
► Batch File automation
► Database storage
► Social Media integrations
This is just a short list of API solutions that are becoming increasingly common in various industries. There are literally thousands of APIs and a hundred thousand more possibilities of new APIs that can be developed, so whatever data your business can benefit from connecting to can likely be handled with an API.
APIs and Automation
If you've been reading our recent posts, you may have noticed that APIs sound EXACTLY like point-to-point integrations, and you're right! APIs, like point-to-point integrations, connect devices and applications together. This is because APIs are a TYPE of point-to-point integration. There are other types of point-to-point integrations, and in some cases, an API may not be the best option for success. However, APIs are OFTEN the best and fastest solutions for connecting data, and they're becoming incredibly popular and widely-used, especially among businesses.
Integrations, including APIs, are often the best way to achieve process automation. If we go back to the example of the Stripe API, we can see how Stripe automatically takes care of credit card processing and organizing the payment data for you to view and store. If you want to automate your entire commerce process, it can likely be done through using various APIs. Besides payment processing, there are APIs for ordering and shipping applications, label-creation , client communications... depending on what your process calls for, you can likely automate the entire thing piece by piece with various APIs.
And, this is EXACTLY what businesses all around the world are doing. Business automation is increasing everywhere and with every type of business process. Soon, businesses who aren't implementing APIs and automating their business functions will be left far behind their competitors. This is because automated processes free up so much time and resources that they allow businesses to increase production and grow, while businesses who still take care of every process by hand typically need to continue using all hands on deck to maintain where they are. Everything is online nowadays, and it's not going to change anytime soon!